Learn The Signs Of Defensive Body Language

  • By: Phil Taylor
  • Time to read: 5 min.

There are many types of defensive body language gestures. You would have no doubt seen a few displayed by other people when they feel threatened or under attack.

The most common defensive body language is when someone crosses their arms in front of their chest. This is sometimes called a barrier or a way to protect vulnerable organs around the chest area. Most defensive non-verbals are done subconsciously, so it’s important to pay attention to them when noticed.

Defensive body language can be seen in many different situations, but it is most often seen when people are feeling threatened by something or someone. It can also happen when they feel like they are being criticized, judged, or blamed for something that they did not do.

When defensive body language is present, people often display one-word answers and short responses with an apologetic tone.

Defensive Body Language Examples

Defensive Body Language Examples

A defensive body language is a form of nonverbal communication in which someone tunes their body to take up less space and appear less threatening. There are many different ways people can do this, such as crossing their arms or closing their eyes or eye blocking, crossing the legs, physical barrier placing something in front of you and them, slower movement than normal, higher-pitched voice, and faster cadence than normal.

These gestures can be classified as either defensive body language signals.

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How To Read Defensive Body Language

How To Read Body Language Defensive

Reading body language is important to remember the context, environment, and conversation you see the non-verbal displayed in.

We then need to think about clusters of information around the defensive body language we have seen.


When thinking about context, we need to understand where they are, what time of day it is, and who they are in conversation with. Context is important because we need to build a picture first in order to start gathering data points in order to analyze the body language we are seeing.


The environment we see the nonverbal displayed in will help give us clues to the body language we are seeing. For example, if we notice what we think is a defensive display of crossing the arms, outside this could simply mean they are cold and want to warm up with a self hug.


We need to take the conversation into account before analyzing. Are they discussing work history in an interview or are they talking to a spouse about something significant like being spotted with another person?

This data is extremely important when reading body language and should not be dismissed to find out more about how to read people.

Check out this blog for a more in-depth look on how to read body language.

Reading Clusters

When someone is on the defensive, they will often make one or more of these gestures. When reading body language, we need to read clusters of information at a time. Single pieces of data will not give us the whole picture and could result in misinterpreting what is really being said.

Information and clusters to look out for:

Cross their arms across their chest

Touch their face or hair

Mumble or clear their throat

Gaze downwards

Slump in posture

Eye blocking


Head down

Taking up less space

Legs crossed

Fig leafing

If you see a few of the above non-verbals over the course of the conversation, then you can be confident that the person is feeling defensive about something, or threatened.

Is Defensive Body Language A Sign Of Tension

Is Defensive Body Language A Sign Of Tension

We cannot judge a person’s emotions solely on the basis of body language. It is important to look at other signals as well.

Tension can be misinterpreted as defensive body language because we will display a lot of the same signals or signs.

That’s why it’s important to not read someone without knowing their baseline first. To find out more about baselining check out this post.

Sometimes people can have mixed feelings about something and may have a defensive body posture without feeling tense. Context is king here when reading body language cues.

What Does It Mean When A Person Is Defensive

What Does It Mean When A Person Is Defensive

When people are defensive, they are often looking out for themselves and their best interests.

Defensiveness is a common defense mechanism that’s used when an individual is faced with criticism or feedback they don’t want to hear. It’s also a way of protecting oneself from the emotional pain of feeling offended or hurt by someone else’s words, actions, or intentions.

What Does It Mean If A Boss Uses Defensive Body Language Whenever He’s Around You?

What Does It Mean If A Boss Uses Defensive Body Language Whenever He’s Around You?

Defensive body language is when the person’s arms are crossed in front of their chest, their legs are crossed, or they are leaning away from you.

A boss using defensive body language around you could be a sign of one of three things:

1) They think that you’re not qualified for your job and want to put up some kind of barrier between themselves and you.

2) They might think that you’re doing something wrong at work and don’t want to get too close to avoid getting the blame.

3) They don’t know what to do in the situation they’re facing.


In conclusion body language is a form of nonverbal communication that uses physical appearance and body motion to express what someone feels or wants you to know. In most cases, the goal of body language is to communicate feelings or emotions, such as happiness, sadness, disgust, anger, love, and guilt.

Natural body movements can be unconscious and unintentional, which makes it difficult for people to fake them. The term defensive body language refers to a type of nonverbal communication in which a person’s body language communicates the desire to get away from or get closer to an individual or object.

Defensive body language is often seen in individuals who are uncomfortable with the proximity of another person, generally because they do not know that person. The other person might be sharing personal information, invading their personal space, or touching them inappropriately.

Reading defensive body language can be tough, but it’s not impossible. Understanding how to read the signs of someone feeling on edge could help you turn an uncomfortable interaction into one that is a more harmonious one.

We hope you enjoyed this post. Check out our other posts on body language here.