How to Read Body Language that Qualifies for Conversation

3 min read
15 Feb

There have been countless occasions in my life that I’ve attempted to make conversation with someone, only to get one-word answers and lack of their attention. Has this ever happened to you? What if I told you it was easily preventable?

Did you know that 100% of conversations begin with some form of body language?

How to read body language: Place.B.E.T.S.

I developed a framework I like to call “Place.B.E.T.S. on people”. Always Place.B.E.T.S. on whether or not someone is open to having a conversation with you. Though it would be fun to literally do that, I am referring to an acronym I created. It’s an easy-to-remember checklist you can run through when you're evaluating a person’s openness to having a conversation:

P: Preoccupied

A preoccupied person is almost always a bad person to strike a conversation with. What I mean by preoccupied is doing any of the following or more: 

  • Looking at a phone
  • Working on a computer
  • Wearing headphones
  • Reading a book

You should always "put yourself in their shoes." 

“If I’m in the middle of a great book, emotional texting conversation, or a train of thought doing work on my computer, do I want anyone to talk to me?” 


"Will I be rude enough to tell them to get lost?"


"Will I shift my undivided attention to them if I don't want to talk?"


"Will I give them nonverbal signals that say 'I am busy' and hope they pick up on them?"


Remember... people are not rude enough to say how they feel most of the time. You should always assume on the side of caution.

If it's very urgent you must have a conversation with that person, you can always ask them "Are you in the middle of something important?" and remember to use a soft, friendly tone of voice. 

If you give them an out like that, they will be more likely to talk to you because you were courteous enough to ask. Contrarily, they will feel better about telling you that now is not a good time. By asking first, you can ensure you will have their undivided attention or know that now is not a good time for conversation. 

B: Body positioning

Always be aware that how you are standing has a major influence on who you are open to talking to. There’s usually a reason people stand in the places they do. 

If someone is directing their body toward you, it’s a good indication that they're open to having a conversation. Of course, the closer to you that they're standing, the more accurate this indicator is.

You can tell where someone’s interest lies by looking at their feet.

Thinking about this idea logically, where do we normally point our feet? We point them subconsciously in the direction we’re looking to go. This is also extremely useful when determining where someone’s attention lies during a conversation (especially when in groups).  

For example:

Let's say you're standing in a group of 3 colleagues and 1 employer at a networking event. You're all trying to build rapport with this person. You're all involved in the conversation, but both of the employer's feet and body have been pointed at you for most of the conversation. Who do you think the employer is the most interested in? Probably you. Do we know for sure? No, we don't, but I would bet money on it.

More examples:

If someone is standing and talking to you, and one foot is pointing toward the exit, you’re losing their attention. 

If both feet are pointing toward the exit, you’ve lost them. 

If both feet are pointed at you, you (usually) have their full attention.

E: Eye contact

The first part of communication with someone is generally initiated by mutual eye contact. This gives acknowledgment of their presence and can be a strong indicator that they’re open to having a conversation.  

Try initiating eye contact with them from a distance. 

Eye contact held for 1–2.5 seconds (as a rule of thumb) is a good indication of interest.

Any less than that and it was an accident, and any longer than that it will start to get kind of freaky or shall we say “counterproductive”. 

People do have this crazy thing called “peripheral vision,” and they usually know if they're being stared at. If they refuse to acknowledge that you exist by returning the eye contact, then they're not open to having a conversation the vast majority of the time. 

You can also send a strong indication that says “Don’t talk to me” by refraining from returning eye contact if they're looking at you. Keep in mind that there are people who are just totally oblivious to everything around them. Keep ticking other Place.B.E.T.S. criteria to see if oblivion is the likely cause.

T: Time to Spend

Does the person look like they're speed-walking down the street trying to get to work on time? Are they looking at their watch a lot? That’s a good signal they need to be somewhere.

How you use your time conveys a message.

Always be respectful that people who look busy are A) genuinely busy and they don’t have time for conversation or B) looking busy to give the impression of “Don’t talk to me.”

Are they out for a slow Sunday stroll on the other hand?  People who look relaxed, happy, and look like they have time to kill and are great candidates for conversation. 

S: Smile

Think to yourself, why do people smile? Most would say it's because we see something that we like – something that makes us happy. 

When you smile at someone, then you're sort of saying “Hey, your presence brightened my day.” When you think about it like that, that’s a pretty nice compliment when someone smiles at you, isn’t it? 

How about when someone smiles at you who you have no interest in talking to? You might look away immediately or turn your back to them if you want to make it blatantly obvious that you’re not interested. 

When you both make eye contact and smile at each other, you both said to each other, “You made my day a little bit better.” Keep in mind, this isn’t a foolproof message. You can’t assume someone wants to talk to you solely because they smiled. 

However, that's why there are four other indicators in the Place.B.E.T.S. system to help give you the best odds of great conversation. 

I don’t ever want to see you suffer through an unwanted conversation ever again! When you start to Place.B.E.T.S. on people, I promise you’ll attract people who want to talk to you – not who feel they have to talk to you. 

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