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Body language: Crossing the legs

Crossing the legs, like crossing the arms, indicates a defensive attitude. While arm-crossing is a subconscious attempt by a person to protect his vital organs- the heart and the lungs, crossing the legs is an attempt to protect the genitals.

Of course, crossing the legs seems like a silly and ineffective way to hide the genitals but our unconscious mind rarely works rationally, or, to be more precise, works in ways that don’t seem rational to us.

When a person feels extremely defensive, he might cross his legs in addition to crossing the arms thereby achieving a complete sense of protection since all his ventral delicate organs are covered. This gesture is usually observed in a person who is standing at a distance from a group because he feels unaccepted, self-conscious or anxious or simply because he’s a stranger to the group.

Such a vulnerable position demands an action that makes us feel secure and by subconsciously protecting all our ventral delicate organs, we successfully achieve that sense of security.


The leg scissors

Sometimes, when people are feeling mildly defensive, they don’t fully cross their legs in the standing position. Instead, they simply cross one foot over the other while the displaced foot rests on the toes. This is a kind of partial legs-crossing gesture. The defensive feelings are not intense but somewhere in the back of his mind, the person is unsure and feels that he might get ‘kicked in the nuts’.

This gesture can also convey a different kind of attitude. When a person is totally committed to a conversation, unwilling to leave, he might ‘fold up’ in position and rivet himself to the spot by taking up this gesture. 

The logic behind this is that when we are afraid of something we want to run away from it and so our bodies remain in an ‘alert’ position. But when we don’t feel like running away from a situation, we tend to fold ourselves into position just like animals fold themselves up when they’re relaxing or sleeping. We can’t run away if we are riveted to the spot and have to unwind first in case we decide the situation has turned unfavorable.

We do this gesture when we know we have to stay in one place for quite a while, for example when we have to wait for a person, a bus or a train. When people know they are about to engage in a long conversation, they may lean against the wall and take up this gesture conveying the non-verbal message, "I'm not going anywhere. Keep talking."

Sometimes both the attitudes of defensiveness and 'unwillingness to leave' can be simultaneously present. When people, especially young couples, meet each other for the first time, they feel a bit defensive but also don’t feel like leaving since the experience is a bit exciting. So it’s common to observe the ‘leg scissors’ gesture in such situations.

If you observe two people talking to each other for the first time and both take up this gesture, 
mirroring each other, you can safely assume that they are either committed to the conversation, feeling slightly defensive in the back of their minds or both.

If one of them uncrosses his legs, it either means that he is opening up to the other person or preparing to leave. If the other person continues the ‘leg-scissors’ position, then it means the first person wasn’t opening up but preparing to leave because the rapport has been broken without re-establishment.

men talking

This is how you do elimination to figure out the meaning of gestures that can have more than one meaning. You have to look at the whole situation, everything the precedes and succeeds it. Had the first person really ‘opened up’ to the other person, then both of them should’ve assumed the ‘opened up’ position as per the rules of rapport establishment. But since that did not happen, it probably means they got off on a wrong footing!

Legs crossed while seated

It conveys the same ‘closed’ and defensive attitude as that in the standing position.  During a conversation, it can indicate a ‘withdrawn’ attitude and it has been observed that people who cross their legs in the seated position tend to talk in shorter sentences and reject more proposals and are more inattentive to what’s going on compared to those who sit in a more ‘open’ position.

Apart from the usual defensive attitude, the seated 'legs-crossed' position can convey a lot more. For example, it is common observation that, while seated, women frequently cross and uncross their legs if they like what’s going on or are in the company of people they like.

I have told repeatedly in this section that women use submissive gestures to display attractiveness. Sitting in a leg-crossed position, besides revealing the thigh, also signals a submissive attitude and therefore women unconsciously assume this position when they sit to appear attractive, and they do. Many polls and surveys have revealed that men find the seated legs-crossed position the most attractive seated position a woman can take. 

woman crossing legs

woman crossing legs?
Work of art.
Also, sitting with legs crossed reduces the overall perceived size of a woman. Dominance and submission are proportional to body size. More the body size, more dominant an organism is perceived to be. Less the body size, more submissive an organism is perceived to be. This is one reason why men like to be bigger or taller and women want to appear at least thinner, if not shorter.

When we are interested in someone, we tend to cross our legs in the direction of that person such that both our knees point to that person. Again, this gesture is also more frequently observed in women. In a seated position, if they like a guy they are talking to they’ll take up this gesture and if the guy is also interested, he’ll soon follow suit and mirror her gesture. 



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