Are you sitting comfortably? Or in a way that you want to send some kind of message? Not entirely scientific it may be, the notion that nearly all of our interpersonal communication is non-verbal is one that won’t go away. Indeed, since most of this silent chat is unconscious – both the ‘speaking’ and the ‘reading’ of body language – only the dedicated might hope to master this all too foreign tongue. But, all the same, perhaps we should think more carefully about its impact on our display of sockage: after all, it’s a long held standard of proper formal dress that one should wear socks of knee length so that when one crosses one legs no bare calf is ever revealed.
In a world of more casual dressing, the knee-length sock may have been consigned to the football pitch and public school uniform. But crossing one’s legs is still with us, despite once being deemed effeminate. It’s an expression of a desire to protect privacy, much like what is called the ‘figure 4’ crossing (ankle on knee) creates a physical barrier said to denote defensiveness or combativeness. Either way, as notes Robert Phipps – body language expert and author of ‘Body Language: It’s What You Don’t Say That Matters’ – “you need to be wearing good socks and shoes, because certain sitting positions highlight aspects of dress that people don’t usually see much of – and that brings us into another area entirely, the language of dress.”
Body language is complicated enough: Phipps not only reports that some 1000 different standing and sittings positions have been documented, but stresses that one’s sitting position is constantly shifting given the context and flow of the conversation. And that awareness that you’re dressed ‘properly’, even down to your socks, can subconsciously give you a wider repertoire of body language to ‘speak’ with.
Leaning in, hands on knees, may suggest attentiveness, for example. Furthermore, it could also signal one’s desire to speak – and this is how it’s typically interpreted. The body language of sitting is even reduced or expanded depending the seat one is sat in. It’s said that communication is more open when both parties are more visible top to toe, rather than with the barrier of desk or table between then.
But, he says, sitting positions can typically be reduced to a desire to take up more or less space, by subtle turns indicating reservedness/nervousness or openness/confidence. Or, of course, simply the cocksure. “So-called ‘man-spreading’ – when you sit with your legs wide apart, even if that means taking up other people’s space – is just a crotch display,” he says, disapprovingly. Take this all too macho position and few will be admiring your socks. But nor may they be thinking too highly of you either.