portrait of business woman, confident and crossing her arms on white isolated background

Body Language: Arm-Cross

Understanding body language means holding the keys to clear communication. Modern managers learn the secrets of communication in special training seminars. But knowing what they know

might as well help you in your career: you’ll know how to control your emotions and lead an interview (even a job interview) or you’ll know the real intentions of a dialogue partner.

So today I am going to talk about a simple gesture: arm-cross. This is when you fold your arms over your abdomen, generally hiding your hands under your upper arms. Some people hide just one hand, others simply cross their arms and touch their biceps muscles with their fingers or their palms. No matter how you look at it, this is a self-comforting posture used mostly unconsciously to alleviate nervous tension.

In special situations this position might also suggest self-importance or disagreement. The signs are clear: straight back, raised elbows pointing out plus a general self-sufficient attitude.

For example:

  • Women often cross their arms in front of men they don’t like and in not so easy to handle situations – that’s pretty simple to read.
  • Men rarely cross their arms in a self-preservation pose. They do cross their arms to show (mostly involuntary) self-confidence and arrogance.

These are just general examples. Both men and women might show similar reactions is special situations.

Woman crossing her arms. Useless to tell you that the crossed arms posture is a no-no when you go to a job interview, when you talk to an employee, and especially when you talk to the press. All these situations might be nerve-wracking, but it is important that you don’t let your body send out negative messages. It is also pretty important that you don’t allow negative non-verbal signs put you off.

If you search for arm-cross online you are going to find enough pictures and almost no pertinent information. I hope this entry is clear enough and I am waiting for your questions and feedback.

Book Review: Communicate Clearly by Robert Heller

A nice little pocketbook, easy to use, with a lot of basic information that will help you learn enough about successful communication. It has less than 80 pages so you could really read it on your way to your next job interview. Although the chapter on Body Language is quite short, it has enough basic information to help you strengthen your non-verbal communication skills. This is one of the books I often recommend to my clients because it is easy to read and even easier to understand.

25 thoughts on “Body Language: Arm-Cross”

  1. Yesterday a friend of mine planned to buy a book called “Body language” :) Good communication and understanding of other people is very important.

    “Men rarely cross their arms in a self-preservation pose. They do cross their arms to show (mostly involuntary) self-confidence and arrogance.” – well, it’s true.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Smiles. Thank you for reading, Justinas! And thanks for paying attention to details. 😉

    PS: you should tell your friend to follow my entries. The information here is free.

  3. I cross my arms all the time. I just find it more comfortable than letting my arms dangle by my side. It’s a bad habit, I’ll admit that. But I’m pretty certain its not and involuntary display of self-confidence and arrogance. :) I hope people don’t read it that way.

  4. It looks like you use this as a “self-comforting posture used mostly unconsciously to alleviate nervous tension”.

    The signs of arrogance are pretty clear: “raised elbows pointing out plus a general self-sufficient attitude”. I believe you are on the safe side if you don’t have a patronizing attitude.

  5. You have to be careful not to read too much into something as simple as crossing your arms. I do it quite often not because I’m nervous, angry, or defensive, but because I’m cold. It’s an easy way to keep my hands warm.

  6. OK, this is a funny, but pertinent observation. I suppose I should write in the post: take care how you read body language when people are cold! Lol!

  7. I think the important thing to get out of this is that there are many different meanings for arm-cross. But the most important to look out for is the tight arm-cross, as you mentioned above. I too cross my arms alot, but it usually a loose arm-cross. You can easily tell if they are cold because they typically rub their hands up and down their bicep. :-)

  8. Thank you Erica for underlining the most important aspect of the article. I have to tell you though that even the loose arm-cross is a self-comforting gesture. It might be interpreted as a border between you and the rest of the world. It’s self-reassuring and calming, relaxing if you want. It’s not a bad thing to cross your arms, but there are situations when this simple gesture might send out a negative message.

    My point: better avoid crossing your arms in a tensed circumstance (as mentioned in the article: business meetings, job interviews, encounters with the media, etc.)

  9. I think the arm crossed thing is bogus. I have been doing it since I was little and people have always told me not to do it. Yesterday, I did at work to lean on myself, I was waiting on someone and my boss told me he would fire me if I did it again. He’s a german and freaks if I have my hands in my pockets too! My grandfather was german also and would freak about the hands in the pockets thing too! Anyway this job is so stupid, I can’t stand around even for a second without him in my businees telling me to do something, he wants me to be busy working all the time, I ‘ll be so glad in 6 weeks when I can quit.

  10. Well, Heather, there is a reason for people to freak about this, especially in jobs that need impeccable body-language. I don’t know where you work, but if your boss is ready to fire you for such a thing, you should probably be more careful. I’d fire one of my people too for such disregard of PR norms, I hope you understand why. When you work in a public position you have to be careful about these things.

  11. Hell, my name is Ben, and I am a high school student doing a research project on body language for my psychology class. You seem to know quite a lot about this area, is there any way you could help me along?

  12. Hi, I was wondering about the comment that women cross their arms in front of men they dont like, maybe its just wishful thinking but cant it be misinterpreted as sexual tension or something, because theres this girl I like that does it, but you never know with women right? Just a thought.

  13. Maybe she is just shy? :) You cannot read body language out of a context – you should tell me more about what she does when she crosses her arms. Some girls are simply frustrated about the size of their breasts and they cross arms to hide them.

  14. I think you nailed it, she does have issues with her breasts being small, although she doesnt strike me as being shy. Also I dont think she doesnt like me because we were friends and all, but maybe she doesnt like me that way. The other thing she did while we were speaking was she crossed her legs.

  15. Like Marco, i too have a girl that i like that does this. She will often go out of her way to talk with me. We work in the same building and we will often have 30min conversations during work time. If she is sitting down she never crosses her arms but when standing she does. She shows alot of other signs of interest with eye contact, smileing, and playing with her hair. Ive just always been thrown off when she crosses her arms. She doesnt seem to do it in a defensive way but it is still confusing. Is this a bad thing?

  16. I believe that in some cultures. specially among South Asians such as Indians, Pakistanis, etc. it is common to cross arms when one is listening to respected adults, parents,teachers or a supervisor. it is meant to show respect and obedience. However, this can have a completely opposite effect in North America as it will be perceived as putting up barrier against what is being said or in worst case as not being attentive. Do you agree? Has this cultural differnce being noticed at work place and employers/teachers made aware of it?

  17. Interesting. I am retired now but I have a vivid memory of one time during my career when I applied for a position in the company. During the interview. I felt quite a t ease with the person giving the interview and I thought it was going well. When I did not get the position, I asked the HR department why I was turned down, as I had all of the qualifications for the job. Looking at the interviewers comments, she told me, ” t says here that the reason for disqualification was crossing arms during interview.” Since then I have given many interviews myself and the one thing I have NEVER looked for was to see if some crossed their arms or not.

  18. I know what you mean but some of us never stare like when I was at work and I needed to discuss something with a female colleague and she pulled her blazer together as if to hide them. I found the incident quite offensive because it felt like she accused me of something which I never did. In any case I’m sure that some women will do this to some men but not others so I was interested in what it could have meant. If you’ve done it, what was the reason behind it?

  19. I sit with my arms and legs crossed with my hands up the sleeves ( i don’t know why i do it) but i only do it i have a fleece on and the other reason is i feel comfortable.

  20. My girlfriend crosses her arms when we’re lying in bed together, does this mean part of her doesn’t like me?

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