Comfort Cues

What does it mean when a man adjusts the cuffs of his sleeve? I see this comfort cue behavior of adjusting a sleeve or touching a cuff given by men coming to to the front of the room to give a speech, getting ready to approach a women to flirt with her and other situations when they are preparing to do a difficult task.

A helpful way to read body language is through the comfort/discomfort lens.  When you are comfortable you tend to be open, and relaxed and you don’t fidget or touch your hands to your face or body. The self-touch in stressful situations is called a comfort cue.
When you are uncomfortable you may seek comfortable with self-touch. The touch stimulates the nerve endings in the skin and produces chemicals that sooth you. So when you read someone’s body language and they switch from comfortable open and relaxed to uncomfortable, closed tense and giving comfort cues that is interesting. You can ask yourself: what were we talking about when that happened?  What was I saying that suddenly uncomfortable for this person? What changed in the moment that they became uncomfortable?

·   Mouth Guard—Covering our mouths is quite symbolic. We cover our mouths when we do not want someone to know we’re upset, lying or if we’re suppressing a negative thought. We put our hands over our mouths so the truth won’t come out. Always look for additional submissive gestures given with the mouth guard that may signal nervousness, shyness or a lack of self-esteem.

·   Nose, Eye and Ear Rubbing—These signify discomfort, disbelief or disagreement: “Boy, that doesn’t smell right to me, that doesn’t look right to me, that doesn’t sound right to me.”

·   Fingers or Objects in the Mouth—This cue links back to childhood, when we sucked a bottle, pacifier, thumb etc. Self-touch gestures, like hands or objects in the mouth, communicate a desire to find sustenance and comfort.

·   Rubbing Motions—These motions are more complicated. Rubbing may be a means of self-assurance. For example, we may gently rub a gold chain around our neck just before an interview, symbolically making it shine.

·   Holding MotionsWhen we were little and we were anxious or scared, our moms or dads held on to us, and the holding motion assured us that everything would be okay. When we went to bed as children, we may have held onto a teddy bear or a blankie to reassure us that everything was all right. As adults, when we are anxious or afraid we repeat these motions to reassure ourselves that everything is going to be all right. We may hold our hands together, grip our arms in a self-hug, or hold a pen or marker as we speak.

·   Preening Motions—We use these motions to prepare ourselves for an interaction. You might touch your hair, rub out the wrinkles on your pants, adjust belt or watch, tuck in your shirt, and women may touch their collars and or jewelry. These self-touch motions offer comfort to us and may subconsciously remind us of when our mothers used to do these things for us before an important event, such as the first day of school.  

Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at Check out Patti's website for her new book "SNAP, Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma" at