I began to make a post for today regarding being able to determine who wants to leave a situation by noticing the way in which their feet were pointed and placed and considered it, without the knowledge of this post, quite a feat to be understood and so I decided I should, first, take a step back and further explain the concept of clumping in nonverbal communication.

While this blog is primarily a reference tool for those who experience difficulty in social situations where they cannot maintain focus on the face of their interlocutor, my students must know that in regards to nonverbal communication it is absolutely essentially to read gestures in clumps and not in singularities.

A clump is just as the word sounds; it is all of the nonverbal gestures that a person is making while they are expressing themselves. I touched briefly on this in a previous post regarding the feet but now I want to move higher up the leg to explain that while one may tell certain intentions from the foot it is crucial to note also what other parts of the body are doing.

(As watching stationary body parts often inconclusively explanatory in this science I’ve been wanting to experiment with and utilize the animated gif for this blog. Bear with me, this is my first attempt at making and using this image format.)

I was sitting outside of a local coffee shop this past week and saw that something was about to occur that I was aware would be acceptable for me to film and utilize for this blog. Firstly I will work with the animated gifs and then explain what had actually been occurring in that moment.

Consider the feet, with the blue jeaned legs, in the following images.


There are very few, if any, things that we can say for certain having meaning in this gif. There a some general things that can be said to have meaning though. Firstly, he is engaged in some form of group activity. Secondly, as evidenced by, when at the end, his feet land pointing at the men standing to each side of him, he has some form of intention towards them.

The problem, now, is we cannot take it much further than that without having more nonverbals with which to work. In other words, we need more nonverbals to clump in with what his feet are doing so as to understand precisely what his interaction markers (what stage of the interaction he is in), regulators (what is controlling the flow of the interaction) and intention cues (where his intent is in the moment) are.

So let us move up the leg to his hips to show how sine qua non clumping is when reading nonverbals.


Now there is much more information from which to infer what this man’s nonverbals are indicating.

Consider what Givens, in the Nonverbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs and Body Language Clues, has to say about what Hands-on-Hips indicates; “hands-on-hips shows that the body is prepared to ‘take steps’ [and that] the outward-bowed elbows […] widen, expand, and visually ‘enlarge’ the upper body, making it look more powerful in size.

It is noticeable, now, that this man is a police officer. What isn’t noticeable is that he is engaged in making an arrest of a man who had violated his parole.

As he stands with his hip cocked, “prepared to take steps,” and his left hand is on his left hip, his left elbow jutted out to, “enlarge the upper body,” and in his right hand – a set of handcuffs. His feet are pointed at the criminal who is in the middle of this group of police officers.

While the animated gif does not contain any sound you can notice that, at a specific point, he turns, places his hand in his pocket, turns back and widens his stance to point his feet directly at the officers with whom he was working.

In the coffee shop that day, directly before he turned and placed his hand in his pocket you could hear the most important sound of all – the clicking ratcheting noise of the handcuffs… This man no longer need the posture he was holding; his intent was directly clear and the reason for his posture was resolved and so he immediately took on another posture – one that reflected no longer needing this focus on the criminal but rather one that reflected focus on his partners in that moment.

This is a basic, albeit somewhat intense, example of why clumping nonverbals together to understand their meaning is required when making an inference from body language.

The feet, the hand on hip, the posture, the sound of the handcuffs, whom he was facing, when and why all factor directly into the entirety of the meaning of the situation.

And so while we may be able to infer certain things just from looking at the feet we must also know that the feet are not the sole provider of the intention cue. Neither the hand, the face, the shoulder, the shirt nor head movement alone can ever convey what needs be conveyed in a broader, more holistic, manner of nonverbal communication.


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