Your Body Language Gives Away Intent

May 23, 2015

Business handshakeBrandon was a 22 year old I happened to meet at a Speed Networking event at my local Chamber of Commerce. His ability to connect with me instantly was impressive.

Without saying a word, and even before we shook hands, he let me know that he was truly anxious to meet me. It was so powerful that when we did shake hands a second or two later, rather than say “It’s nice to meet you,” I said, “Congratulations, you are going to be a very wealthy man.”

The gift that young man had was an amazing control of the body language he exhibited when we first met. He made great eye contact and showed by his facial expression that he truly wanted to get to know me. It was the kind of expression you see on the face of that one puppy in the pen at the pet shop that just captures your heart instantly.

Our body language gives away what is going on in the back of our mind. It is extremely difficult to hide our pattern of thoughts. It just comes out of every part of our body naturally.

I have been studying body language for about 40 years, and there is still a lot to learn. The topic is extremely engaging and insightful. The language we use to communicate with others using facial and body expression is far more complex and intricate than any verbal language is.

We know many of the signals intuitively, but we also miss many important signals that are there but hidden to us.

This article is not intended to be an exhaustive treatise on the complexities of body language. Rather it is to recognize the amazing power of being able to read signals and a warning not to rely on body language signals too much.

The truth is that understanding body language correctly requires more than just knowing the particular body positions and their meaning. You can never be certain if a particular kind of body language is a true signal, just a random event, or a misleading gesture.

The way to increase the odds of interpreting body language correctly is to study what the different signals mean, then apply the following areas to your interpretation. The five C’s will help you interpret body language correctly.

1. Context –

You must consider what is going on around the signal, what happened just before, where the person is located, what else is going on, etc. For example, if I am talking with you and I scratch my nose, it probably means I have an itch on my nose.

But, if I am on the witness stand and have not touched my nose for an hour, it is a different context. When the prosecutor asks me about the bloody knife, and my finger goes to the side of my nose as I answer the question, that is a strong indication that I am lying or at least exaggerating.

2. Clusters

Since there are many body language signals going on with each person at any given time, you should not ascribe heavy meaning to any single one. Instead, look for patterns or clusters.

I can witness you rubbing your palms, rapid blinking, hair on arms standing out, foot movement, heavy swallowing, and shifting of weight. I might also notice more perspiration than normal. With a cluster of signals like these, I can be certain you are experiencing anxiety.

3. Congruence

If your words, your tone of voice, and your body language are telling me the same thing, chances are I am getting a true signal. When you are saying one thing, but your body language shows a different pattern, I need to be alert that you may be trying to deceive me in some way.

I need to be vigilant and test more for congruence. If there are several indications of incongruence, it could signal that you are not telling me the full truth.

4. Consistency

Look for patterns in people’s behavior. If a student in one of my classes habitually likes to sit with her arms folded because that is a comfortable position for her, then that is a baseline. I should not think it is a signal when she folds her arms.

For another person who rarely folds his arms, if I notice he does so immediately after making a statement about his boss, I might suspect he is being defensive and look for other signals to corroborate the suspicion.

5. Culture

People tend to forget that cultural differences in body language are huge. For example, if you are an Eskimo, moving your head up and down means “no,” while shaking your head from side to side means “yes.”

An obvious difference in culture is the issue of proximity. When talking with a person from a middle eastern culture, expect the gap between you and the other person to be significantly less than when addressing a person from a western culture.

Correct interpretation of body language needs to factor in these five areas. Taking these things into account allows us to be more accurate when we read meaning to body language.

Become a student of body language yourself. You will find it is a vital skill, and the more you develop it the more you will improve both your ability to understand the intentions of others but also send more consistent signals yourself.


Write Them Down

May 16, 2015

Writing businessmanAs I visit companies of all types and sizes, I am intrigued with the number of organizations that have not committed their strategy into written form. I ask if they have values, and often they start talking about honesty, integrity, customer focus, or employee satisfaction. I get some vague statements about ethics thrown in for good measure.

Then I ask where the values are written. Sometimes the leader can pull a dusty old paper out of a drawer where the items vaguely resemble what I was just told.

More often I am told the values are posted in the conference room and the break room. I go and look, and there is indeed a slightly-torn or smudged paper on the bulletin board.

If I ask the employees about them, they tell me “Oh yes, we have the values posted, but “they” do not follow them.” If the values are posted but not followed, they do more harm than good, because they serve as a reminder of the hypocrisy.

There are several organizations where the words are in the minds of the executives but not even written on paper, let alone implanted in the hearts of the employees where they can do some good.

The three simple rules with values are 1) write them down, 2) talk about them every possible chance, and 3) follow them. If you are missing any of these three steps, then you are forfeiting most of the power of having values in the first place.

The exact same discussion applies to the vision of an organization. If the vision is not committed to writing and included in discussions with employees, it loses its power to direct the daily activities of the population to move toward the future with confidence.

These two things are most important to write down, but I believe the entire strategy should be committed to written form. That would include the following things at a minimum: vision, mission, values, behaviors, strategies, tactics, and measures.

Many organizations make a production out of generating the strategy that the resulting tome is way too heavy for the employees to lift, let alone read and understand.

I usually reduce the entire strategic framework to a single sheet of paper. On the front side we have the vision, mission, values and behaviors.

On the reverse side there is neat array of the top 4-6 strategies (too many strategies defeats the purpose of focusing effort) along with a few major tactics for each strategy and precisely what measure we intend to use to track our progress for each tactic. I like to laminate the document as a way to indicate legitimacy.

Usually the entire process of developing the single sheet framework takes from 8-16 hours of interface time with a management team. That is enough time to engage everyone in the process and far less that the burdensome six to 18 month process that creates open hatred for the process among the staff.

If you drive an efficient and high energy process to create the strategy for your organization and commit the resulting framework to paper then you have a much higher chance of being a successful organization.


White Lies

May 9, 2015

young businessman in suit telling a lie with the fingers crossedI suspect there is not a soul alive that has not told a lie at some point. Even though our parents taught us to tell the truth, sooner or later we have all violated the rule.

If you have never told a lie, write to me and I will nominate you for sainthood.

The thing about lying is that it is rather easily detected by observing the person’s body language.

I recall one incident when my boss asked me if I had read a particular book. I said yes, but I really had not read it. I was pretty sure he saw through the fib. There must have been a dozen ways my body was saying “no” while my mouth was saying “yes.”

What is fascinating is the huge array of body language that is going on all of the time. It never stops, and much of the body language we send out is done unconsciously.

We see that kind of deception in children most easily. If you ask Johnny who tipped over the vase, he will shrug his shoulders indicating he does not know. If you ask “was it you,” he will say “no.” He is afraid he will be in trouble if he tells the truth.

But all parents know to watch the eyes for the truth. The mother knows instantly that Johnny not only knows who broke the vase but that it was him.

We teach our children that the bigger sin is to hide the truth than to break the vase, but only some of them learn the lesson.

It is sad that so many people in positions of authority never did learn that lesson and get caught time after time in lies or half truths.

It is so common with politicians or celebrities that we end up wondering if any of them can be trusted. I am sure some of them can be, but my first inclination is to not believe what any of them say, especially if they are accused of doing something wrong.

They might say it is a “no spin zone,” but if you believe that I have a bridge I want to sell you.

What adults need to realize is what we try to teach our children: it is better to be honest and admit the mistakes we make, because all human beings are fallible.

Lying about a misstep is easily detected because we cannot hide our subconscious body language. Next time you are tempted to tell a half-truth, remember that your credibility is on the line, and do not follow the example of many public figures who frequently embarrass themselves.


Humble Leaders

May 2, 2015

HumbleHumility is a key characteristic for everyone to embrace. True humility is rarely seen in the ranks of leaders. Ego, rather than humility, seems to be the more common trait in management circles. Let’s examine why this is and suggest some ideas to modify the pattern.

Anyone who has reached a leadership position has a tale to tell. He or she got there through a series of steps and events, some of them deserved and some of them just being in the right place at the right time or knowing the right people.

We can believe in synchronicity or nepotism, but still it usually takes a lot of energy and talent to get ahead. People in the organization may look at a newly appointed leader and remark how he “lucked into it,” but, as Earl Nightingale said in Lead The Field, “Luck is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity.”

There should be some level of personal satisfaction for a leader when he or she emerges from the pack and is elevated. It is a kind of milestone that should be celebrated.

Upon reaching a higher level, the leader quickly becomes aware of an increase in power and influence. I once got a big promotion, and a Dilbert-like IT employee in the new organization started calling me “thou” and “thee” until I put an end to it.

It is very easy to let the trappings or perks of a higher level inflate one’s ego. There is nothing wrong with appreciating one’s self worth if it is kept in proper perspective and the person also appreciates and publicly acknowledges the worth of others.

Unfortunately, many leaders do lose perspective and start acting like jerks. Scott Adams, inventor of the Dilbert Cartoon Series would have needed to make a living in some other field if it were not for hubris on the part of leaders.

The role of humility in creating and maintaining trust in organizations was well documented by Jim Collins in Good to Great.  Collins identified passion and humility as two common traits of the most effective leaders – he called them “level 5 leaders.”

It is easy to see the impact of a conceited leader on the organization. If the leader is so brilliant, then nobody else needs to be vigilant. People lose heart and will to help the cause. This forces the leader to be more all knowing and perfect because real support is not there.

Warren Bennis put it this way, “One motive for turning a deaf ear to what others have to say seems to be sheer hubris: leaders often believe they are wiser than all those around them. The literature on executive narcissism tells us that the self-confidence top executives need can easily blur into a blind spot, an unwillingness to turn to others for advice.”

Leaders who are convinced they are so macho and smart have a difficult time hearing what people are really saying. I love James O’Toole’s observation,

“…it is often the presence of excessive amounts of testosterone that leads to a loss of hearing.”

It would be easy to say “don’t be too full of yourself” and show the benefits of humility. Unfortunately for the narcissist leader, changing the thought patterns and behaviors is extremely difficult.

The problem is the blind spots that Bennis refers to. Goleman also noticed the same tendency when he identified that leaders with low Emotional Intelligence have the most significant blind spots.

The issue of leader hubris is perhaps the most common schism that exists between the senior levels and the workers. If it is so important, what can we do about it? Is there a kind of anti-hubris powder we can sneak into the orange juice of over inflated executives? Oh, if it were only that easy.

What we are talking about here is reeducating the boss with influence from below. We want to let him know that his own attitude is getting in the way of trust. Reeducating the boss is always tricky. It reminds me of the adage, “Never wrestle a pig…you get all muddy and the pig loves it.” What do the sailors do if they are facing a Captain Bligh every day? Mutiny is one option, but it can get pretty bloody.

The road to enlightenment is through education. One suggestion is to form a kind of support network with the employees and leaders on the topic of leadership. Book clubs where employees along with their leaders take a lunch hour once a week to study the topic can begin a constructive dialog.

You can’t just march into the bosses office and say, “You are a total narcissist, knock it off and get down from your pedestal.” You need to use a water drop treatment with lots of Socratic Questions.

Shaping the thought patterns of a superior in the organization is a slow process, like changing the face of the planet in Arizona. Drop by drop and particle by particle, the sand and soil have been moved to reveal the Grand Canyon. Changing a leader’s approach might not take eons, but the slow shaping process is the same, only in human years.

Some leaders will remain clueless regardless. I know one leader who will go to her grave totally blind when it comes to her attitude about her own capability and superiority. If she was reading this passage, she would be nodding her head affirmative and be 100% convinced that I was referring to somebody else, not her. Perhaps the only hope for a leader like this is some form of radical shock treatment in the form of a series of pink slips.

If you are a leader, try this little test. If you are inclined to think you don’t have any hubris and are a humble servant leader all the time, chances are you have some serious blind spots. Go and get it checked out! If your mental picture is one of an imperfect person trying to learn more about how to lead, then you are probably okay.


Trust Lubricates

April 25, 2015

dripping oilI have been studying and writing about trust for over 30 years. Today as I was responding to a ping back in LinkedIn, I thought of an analogy that had never occurred to me.

Trust acts like a lubricant in that everything works better and runs more smoothly when trust is present.

I am a mechanical engineer by training, and I know how lubrication lowers the coefficient of friction which allows machines to run better and not overheat.

Let’s explore this metaphor and see how it applies to our everyday life. Here are six ways trust acts like a lubricant.

1. Trust makes communication work better

When people are at odds with one another, they often do a lot of talking but very little deep listening. As the differences of opinion, become more apparent, the tone and volume become more heated, just like a shaft would sound if the bearing had gone dry. The scraping and screeching will just get worse until the whole mechanism freezes up.

2. Trust smoothes the roughness

People are often not very kind to each other. We can be rather egocentric and usually think about what is best for number one. We can become abrasive like rough sand paper when other people advocate something that would not be optimal for us. Trust helps fill in the low spots and smoothes out the roughness so people can interface with less friction.

3. Trust helps us find win-win solutions

When we have a difference of opinion, we often dig in our heels, knowing that our perspective is the correct one. We all wear a button that says “I AM RIGHT.” Trust helps us see that there may be more than one legitimate way to look at an issue, so we have the opportunity to invent creative solutions that work better for both parties.

4. Trust keeps the temperature down

A major function of a lubricant is to lower temperature. The reason mechanical parts overheat without oil is that there is no way to dissipate the heat. Oil in a car engine allows the cylinders to continue their momentum without freezing up. Without oil, a car engine would overheat and seize up quickly, thus destroying the engine. With people, trust wicks off the overheating of emotions and allows people to disagree without being disagreeable.

5. Trust polishes relationships

The bond between people will be very strong and supportive when trust is present. Just as lubrication keeps the oxygen away from surfaces that could tarnish or rust, so trust keeps acrimony from destroying the love and affection people have for each other. When trust is high, personal relationships sparkle just like highly polished metal.

6. Trust acts as a preventive

In the stress of everyday pressures, it is easy to become inflamed or at least anxious. Trust is a kind of balm that soothes the nerves and allows people to be calm in stressful situations.

Knowing you have my back gives me more confidence that all will be well. Just as we use grease to prevent stored parts from rusting, we can use trust to keep us well mentally.

In any organization, if you have high trust, the entire organization is going to run smoothly like a finely crafted machine.

The trust provides all of the wonderful properties of a lubricant. Work to develop higher trust within your organization.


How Trust Helps Solve Problems

April 18, 2015

Leadership SolutionsThe level of trust in a group has a profound impact on the ease with which they solve problems.

I sit on several Boards of Directors, and one of them is a pretty low trust group. When a problem comes up, it seems the team is always tiptoeing around the interpersonal issues.

Low trust groups often fail to solve the real problem and frequently have to deal with a lot of acrimony, often unrelated to the problem.

This low trust group can discuss things for an hour and not even get close to the real problem at hand. We quite often end up putting “BandAids” on the symptoms hoping the problem will resolve itself. We all know the world does not work that way.

It is very frustrating because we waste a lot of time and energy with low output.

Another BOD I sit on is a particularly high trust group. They solve problems quickly and efficiently because they get to the heart of the issue fast without people playing games with each other. One hallmark of high trust groups is that they solve problems quickly and with high quality solutions while having fun.

The quality of solutions is higher because people are not afraid to voice creative ideas. They don’t need to protect themselves from ridicule. Brainstorming possible actions is spontaneous, light, and often comical.

It is important to assess the level of trust on every team. There are numerous surveys available online if you just do a quick search. As an alternative, I have developed a quick survey that can be very helpful at understanding the level of trust on your team. It is available at the following link

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ZZGQVD3 .

Take the time today to do an assessment of the trust level on your team. This is especially important if your team seems to struggle at times. Make sure all members of the team take the instrument and share the data.

If trust is lacking, then get a commitment to do something about it. Here is a link to several articles about trust on my Leadergrow Website

http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/17-trust

Putting up with interpersonal issues that result from low trust is a sign of mediocrity. You can move to excellence simply by investing some time and energy into raising the trust level. It is not impossible, and your team will become much more efficient.


Value Stream Maps

April 11, 2015

Navigation map with pin pointerThe technique of Value Stream Mapping is a part of the “Lean Thinking” tool kit. Lean Thinking is a methodology that grew out of the Toyota Production System, where we make sure the customer is serviced perfectly and then work to reduce costs by driving out all forms of organizational waste.

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a highly refined way to depict what is exactly going on in a process so we can visualize the sources of waste.

My favorite book on the topic is “Learning to See” by Womack and Jones. It is a short, well-illustrated book on the science of drawing Value Stream Maps.

The book title is a really good one, because what VSM provides is a much different perspective of any operation than managers are used to seeing. The maps are like cartoon strips of the various parts of the operation and how they interrelate.

The charts also show the dwell times between operations and the inventory levels.
As you physically walk through an operation, whether it is manufacturing, a law office, a clinic, a winery, or a garbage collection company, you see little parts of the system in operation, but most of what matters is hidden from view.

In fact, there are vital parts of the process that take place in what I call the “white spaces” in between the operations that we can see. VSM brings these aspects to visibility as if you were holding a heat lamp next to a document written in invisible ink.

I was describing this uncanny ability to one of my MBA classes recently and came up with an even better analogy. It is as if we knew there was a ship full of treasure at the bottom of a lake, but we had no idea where the ship sank.

The VSM technique would be like draining the lake so we can easily identify the location of the treasure. Once we can see the treasure, it becomes a much easier task to go and get it.

In any kind of operation, there is ample treasure to be gained by eliminating the waste. In lean language, waste is called “muda,” which is the Japanese word for waste.

We think of waste as rejects from production, but it is much more than that. There are actually seven different categories of waste that are present in most operations.

They are as follows:

1. Rejects – When we think of waste, we normally are thinking about the scrap that we throw out that cannot be sold to customers. Defective quality, also called rejects, is clearly one form of organizational waste, but there are six more types that we deal with in lean thinking.

2. Waiting for work – This is probably the most pervasive type of waste, yet it is often hidden from direct view. Whenever a person is waiting to perform his or her function, for whatever reason, that is a cause of waste that must be eliminated.

3. Over Production – If we are selling 10 widgets today, then anything more than 10 units manufactured is wasted effort. We tied up resources making product that the customer did not want to buy.

4. Transportation – Any time the product or any subassemblies are being moved from one location to another in order to cue up for the next part of the process, that is wasted time and effort. If you are a customer buying a wrench, you do not want to pay extra for the steel wrench to be moved to the plating department to have the chrome layer applied.

5. Motion – when the product is being raised up or lowered to get it to a position where the next hole can be drilled, that is waste. Reduce or eliminate the need for any motion in and between processes.

6. Inventory – Customers do not want to pay for things not yet built to be sitting on shelves waiting to become a finished product. All inventory is considered waste. All in-process and finished goods inventory is useless. The only inventory that is not waste is the one unit that the customer wants to buy right now.

7. Over processing – This is where we take three steps to sand down a part for painting rather than doing the entire job in one step. Whenever there are multiple steps, there is waste going on. The idea is to combine steps to reduce the waste.

Lean Thinking along with Value Stream Mapping aim to totally satisfy customer needs at every point in time while working to reduce all seven kinds of waste to the minimum.

These tools are extremely powerful, but they should only be used by people who are fully trained in how to use them properly. The reason is that significant problems can arise if untrained people try to use the tools.

If you are interested in using Value Stream Mapping and do not have a fully trained resource internally, check with your local Chamber of Commerce or Business Development Group to identify local resources who can help you get the proper mileage out of these important tools.

Alternatively, you can locate experts on the Lean Enterprise Institute, http://www.lean.org.


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