You've probably heard it more than once: "Don't cross your arms because you're closing yourself off or blocking others.

You may think that you are sending a negative message, but the truth is that this is a myth; if at some point crossing your arms is a 'negative' gesture, it is not as common as you might imagine.

What is common is that you do not know that in business, the first impression is fundamental; and depending on your style when you cross your arms in public as well as in photographs, you send totally different messages.

I will briefly explain each of them, with examples:

#1. The self-hugging

You may have noticed that you cross your arms many more times in public than in private; this first meaning is a 'hug to yourself' that provides comfort at any time.

He probably does it while listening to a lecture or while waiting for an event to start; at those times he doesn't intend to alienate anyone, he just wants to have some comfort.

When you are in a similar situation and you see someone crossing his arms, ask him if he feels comfortable at that moment... you will see that he answers yes.

How to identify it? The person's entire body seeks to become comfortable in the seat, and maintains that posture for two to three minutes with few movements before changing position.

#2. Reducing stress

When you're stressed, crossing your arms is a great way for your hands to give you a very, very comforting pat on both arms. In fact, we do it unconsciously, trying to pretend that someone else is supporting us.

This gesture calms and soothes, similar to the effect of rubbing your hands together, but more intense and lasting. It has nothing to do with blockages or comfort, but with anxiety.

How to identify it? Unlike self-hugging, the meaning of crossing your arms to reduce stress is obvious because it is a movement of a few seconds.

#3. It's just... it's cold.

Sometimes, the simplest explanation is the right one; we can get into a mental mess thinking that the person does not agree with what we are saying, is not listening to us or has a hostile attitude... and in reality, it is only the temperature of the environment that makes it seem like an operating theatre.

How to identify it? Although the SAPP method would allow you to draw these conclusions more quickly, you can differentiate between self embrace and cold because in the latter people not only cross their arms but also shrug their shoulders and keep them tense, as a way of generating heat.

Most likely, they have both hands 'protected' under their arms.

#4. Crossing your arms to hide your insecurity

Women who feel insecure and need to protect themselves from male eyes will cross their arms to avoid being so exposed; similarly, men who feel uncomfortable or threatened by other males of the species will make this defensive gesture.

It is not common for Trump to assume these attitudes, but here is an example.

In the famous debate between Kennedy and Nixon, the latter always crossed his arms because he felt unsure of Kennedy's image, despite being vice president at the time and having a high international status.

Meaning of crossing your arms

Notice how Nixon even bends slightly. He feels threatened.

How to identify it? Unlike the cold, the shoulders do not lift but orient themselves onwardsand by natural body mechanics they tend to slouch a little.

#5. Extreme fear

Beyond anxiety and insecurity, crossing our arms can mean feeling extreme fear; great concern will instantly cause us to cross our arms over our chests to protect our internal organs (our greatest concern since we have walked upright for millions of years).

How to identify it? The meaning of crossing one's arms under extreme fear is accompanied by constant manipulative gestures such as touching one's face and neck, at the same time as muscular contractions of the facial clusters (squeezing the lips, for example), and microexpressions of fear.

But not everything has to be negative, as there are very positive meanings such as the following:

#6. Reflection and Rapport

At first sight, seeing two men face to face leaning against a wall with their arms and ankles crossed, could mean an imminent verbal or even physical confrontation; but in reality, this position is a reflection between both of them, a characteristic of rapport or empathic bridge that indicates that both are in tune with the same ideas.

Additional information: In the example of the two men leaning against the wall, the fact that they are both looking for a comfortable position indicates that there is no conflict between them.

How to identify it? Two people assume the same posture; even though both have their arms crossed, if the posture of one seems to be a reflection of the other's it is a sign of agreement and emotional tuning.

#7. Self-control

There's no doubt about it: we sit on our hands when we feel upset and even angry, and more than a way to calm down is to contain us.

Children are the best protagonists of this gesture when we ask them to do something they don't want to do (that is, almost always). It's also a great way to communicate dissent without saying a word; we adults also do this when we feel frustrated, but as I mentioned earlier, it's not about pushing others away... but about controlling ourselves momentarily.

How to identify it? The scowl and the low chin are the perfect complements of a cross of arms that asks for time to lower the temperature and obfuscation.

#8. A pose of power

Poses of power are not only demonstrated with elbows out; in fact, the crossing of arms is also a strong demonstration of personality.

Usually we men do it, but it's a fairly common gesture for female police officers, for example.

It is normal for a nightclub bouncer to assume this position, as well as anyone who needs to intimidate others. Crossing your arms makes your ribcage look bigger and sturdier, and under a negative tint we know that this is the preferred stance of bullies at school.

How to identify it? By crossing one's arms to demonstrate mastery and power, it is done almost on the chest, rather than the solar plexus; the crossing looks higher than normal.

#9. Finally... you cross your arms to isolate yourself

Although we detail all the meanings of crossing one's arms, not because it is the least common, we will leave it aside: this gesture also serves to withdraw momentarily into an introspective state, creating a barrier both physical and psychological.


Our appreciations are often emotional, so this gesture will acquire a nuance depending on the affinity we have with the person.

We may be talking to a stranger and an acquaintance at the same time, both with our arms crossed, and the stranger we think "He's not convinced by what I'm saying", while the feeling our friend gives us is "He's comfortable listening to me, that's good!"

To develop your skills in deciphering the attitude of others, you can take our Online Diploma:

A lot of success,

Jesús Enrique Rosas - Director, Knesix Institute