Bored Body Language: 2 Ways to Tell if Someone Is Checked Out

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Dictionary of Body Language" by Joe Navarro. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Can you tell when someone is bored or impatient? Do they just look at their watch or twiddle their thumbs?

Retired FBI Special Agent Joe Navarro knows how to read people, and he wants to help you learn to interpret nonverbal communication. In his book The Dictionary of Body Language, he teaches you how to read emotions by understanding subtle cues in people’s physical behavior.

Continue reading to learn how to detect bored body language in people and determine that they’re probably checked out.

Bored Body Language

Boredom is an emotion you can often read through body language. Navarro names the following bored body language cues as typical indicators that someone’s bored or feeling impatient.

Action #1: Resting the Chin on the Hands, With Slack Features 

According to the author, people who are bored often rest their chin on their hands (palms up) while wearing a slack expression. (Shortform note: According to some experts, how many hands you use to support your head suggests different feelings. If you rest your head in one hand, it may actually signal interest. If you rest your head in two hands, that usually means you’re bored or tired.)

Action #2: Tapping the Fingers in a Cascading Pattern 

Navarro argues that, when people tap their fingers on a surface—starting with one finger and then following with the others in a quick, cascading pattern—it usually indicates that they’re impatiently waiting for someone or something to finish. For example, you might see students doing this as they’re waiting for class to end.

(Shortform note: Tapping fingers doesn’t always indicate boredom—you might do so because you’re nervous or listening to music you enjoy. However, it’s arguably important to pay attention to such habits as they can give people the wrong impression of your feelings. Research suggests that 55% of all human communication happens nonverbally, so body language makes up a large chunk of others’ interpretations of your thoughts and feelings. Plus, the other person won’t necessarily know why you’re tapping, and they may jump to the most common explanation (boredom). Therefore, if you don’t want to accidentally offend people, you may want to keep your finger-tapping to a minimum.)

Bored Body Language: 2 Ways to Tell if Someone Is Checked Out

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Joe Navarro's "The Dictionary of Body Language" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Dictionary of Body Language summary:

  • A former FBI Special Agent's guide to body language
  • Why you should assess body language cues collectively, not individually
  • The body language cues that indicate stress, boredom, anger, doubt, and more

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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