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How to read your families’ body language

by | Oct 7, 2016 | Funeral Profession

A woman with crossed arms sitting at a table

As a funeral director, families come to you with immense needs and a short deadline.

In a few short days, you have to somehow plan a highly-personalized ceremony for a person you’ve never met based entirely on their will (if they have one) and a group of people you may have just met.

Families going through these times of loss often struggle to give you the details you need, which is why being able to read their body language can make all the difference. We’ve put together a few tips for reading body language that should help you better understand your families.


One of the best ways to read someone’s body language is not to look for specific movements or stances, but to look at them as a whole and determine whether they appear to be comfortable or uncomfortable.

If you’re meeting with a family and, say, one particular family member is doing all the talking while another sits there with their arms crossed, a worried expression, or they won’t look at anyone, that should be cause for concern. Perhaps they are worried that things aren’t going the way they should but are too afraid to speak up.

On the contrary, if someone appears to be relaxed and engaged with the conversation, and is nodding their head, then you know everyone is on the same page.

Consider Sadness

When it comes to reading body language as a funeral director, the fact that the families we serve are typically sad during our discussions has a huge impact on their body language. When you’re trying to determine if someone is uncomfortable with the conversation or just sad because of their loss, it can be hard to discern between the two.

One clue to look for is whether the person’s body language is tight or loose. If they are tight — their arms crossed or their fists or jaw clenched — they are most likely uncomfortable. If they are loose — shoulders slumped, frowning, hands open — they are likely just sad.

Consider Interaction

When two people are having a conversation, it can be easy to discern how engaged they are by how they interact with one another.

When someone is engaged and in agreement with you, they:

  • Nod their head
  • Look you in the eyes
  • Lean toward you
  • Appear open and relaxed

When someone is not engaged and in agreement with you, they:

  • Don’t nod their head, and may even shake their head
  • Look away often, off to the side or down
  • Lean away from you
  • Are tight and uneasy

Someone might say they agree with you, or that they like your idea, but their body language might say otherwise. It’s important to pick up on these cues if you want to make sure everyone is on the same page and getting what they want or need.

Common Body Language

There are a few types of body language that are common and might help you better understand your families:

  • Toes pointed away. They are engaged with you out of respect but want to leave the conversation.
  • Fake smiles. If they smile with their mouth, but you don’t see it in their eyes, it isn’t genuine. This is one you may not want to worry about too much, as the families you speak to are likely unhappy because of their loss — it doesn’t mean they are unhappy about the conversation.
  • Pursed lips. This can be a sign of discomfort.
  • Turning away. This can be a sign of discomfort.
  • Crossed arms. This can mean discomfort or even disagreement.
  • Wandering eyes. Looking around or away can be a sign of discomfort.
  • Increased blinking. This can be a sign of discomfort.
  • Fidgeting. Twisting hands, tapping feet, shaking legs, and other types of fidgeting typically point to discomfort.

Everyone Is Different

It’s important to remember that although this advice might work in many situations, each individual has their own way of showing their emotions through body language. Use these as a guide, but also consider your own intuition and don’t be afraid to ask your families questions to make sure everyone is on the same page.


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