Body Language 63 Fist in the Air

January 17, 2020

The gesture of putting one’s fist in the air is a very common one, but it can cause misunderstandings if you do not couple it with corroborating signals.

Part of the confusion is that the different meanings are at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. For example, the fist-in-the-air gesture at a football game would normally be a way to cheer on your team to victory, while if there were protesters outside the stadium, that same gesture could signify rebellion, hatred, or anger.

In order to ascribe the correct meaning to the fist-in-the-air gesture, you must factor in the context in which it is given and most importantly the facial expressions that accompany it.

When this gesture is seen in public, it is normally part of a group activity where many people are giving the same signal. It is possible to observe the gesture on the part of just one person, but that is rare.

In this brief article, I will describe several applications where the fist in the air might be observed along with the most likely message being sent.

A cheer of support

A fist in the air can be a supportive gesture among team members similar to a high five. It means we are all together, and we are united in a common cause. We support each other and cheer each other on with the gesture.

For example, you might see a sales team at their convention use this gesture when it is announced that the team met the aggressive sales goal for the year. Everyone would enjoy the year-end bonus as a result of reaching the challenging goal.

Appreciation

You can witness the fist in the air gesture among adoring fans at a rock concert. You will see many people in the audience highly animated jumping up and down with their fists in the air as they sing along to the lyrics.

Defiance

You can also see the fist in the air at political or social rallies. The connotation here is still that we are united in a purpose, but in this case it is often a negative form of protest.

In the Workplace

Workers can display their anger over a new policy being introduced by having many people in a meeting start showing their fists in the air.

At times like this, the leader who is conducting the meeting needs to see the anger building up and make a preventive statement before the gesture is taken up by most of the workers and it becomes like a mob scene.

For example, the leader might see one person starting to put his fist in the air and say something like:

“I know this is not going to be a popular move, but I wanted to share the information with you candidly as early as possible, because you have a right to be informed of the action. You also have the right to understand the reason this action was unavoidable. I will explain some ways we can get through this difficult time together.”

Warning

A fist in the air done by an individual may be a warning to keep physical or emotional distance. The idea here is to tell the other person to back off or face a possible sock in the jaw. The gesture may be accompanied by a shaking of the fist as the wicked witch did in “The Wizard of Oz.” As she shook her fist she cackled, “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too.”

In a work setting, you can avoid this kind of acrimony by having acceptable behaviors identified in advance. If the whole team has agreed to treat each other respectfully, then the threats or warnings will be fewer.

Hate

When the gesture is coupled by a stiff arm, it is more serious and an indication of extreme prejudice against a person, group, or ideal. Another dead give away for this attitude is the facial expression. If the person looks angry, then chances are he is expressing some form of hatred.

The news showed an example of that at a White Supremacists Hate Rally at University of Virginia in 2017. Many of the marchers had their fist in the air as they chanted “Jews will not replace us.”

I once witnessed a large group of union workers with their fists in the air to express frustration and lack of trust with the management group. This public display of extreme disapproval was a major setback for the organization. It took months of effort to rebuild the respect of these workers.

The lesson here is to intervene with corrective measures before the frustration boils up to the point where people are shaking their fists in the air. Once people start using this gesture, it is a long and expensive road back to stability.

There are numerous examples of organizations that have pushed workers too far experience the push back of rebellion. The antidote is to build and maintain a culture of trust so that people feel heard and appreciated all along. That way the resentment never builds up to the boiling point.

Resolve or unyielding

When coupled with a clenched jaw and slight scowl, the fist in the air signifies an unyielding posture to what is going on. I am reminded me of the lyrics to a song, “I Won’t Back Down,” by the late Tom Petty:

I’ll stand my ground
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground
And I won’t back down.

You can see that there is a wide spectrum of possible meanings to a fist in the air gesture. You must be alert to the circumstances and the facial expressions to pick out an accurate meaning.

If you sense frustration building up, take special care to mitigate the damage before people start shaking their fists or you will be in for a long recovery. If you have managed to build trust by reducing the fear in your organization, you are less likely to need to take remedial actions.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”


Leadership Barometer 33 Downsizing Tips

January 13, 2020

Every organization deals with downsizing occasionally in a struggle to survive difficult economic conditions. These times are true tests of the quality of leadership.

In many cases, downsizing leads to numerous problems in its wake, especially lower trust.

The most crucial shortage threatening our world is not oil, money, or any other physical resource. It is the lack of enlightened leaders who know how to build trust and transparency, especially when draconian actions are contemplated.

We are in need of more leaders who can establish and maintain the right kind of environment. A serious problem is in the daily actions of the leaders who undermine trust, even though that is not their intention.

The current work climate for leaders exacerbates the problem. The ability to maintain trust and transparency during workforce reductions is a key skill few leaders have.

Downsizing is a unique opportunity to grow leaders who do have the ability to make difficult decisions in ways that maintain the essence of trust.

Thankfully, there are processes that allow leaders to accomplish incredibly complex restructurings and still keep the backbone of the organization strong and loyal. It takes exceptional skill and care to accomplish this, but it can be done.

The trick is to not fall victim to the conventional ways of surgery that have been ineffective numerous times in the past. Yes, if you need to, you can cut off a leg in the backwoods with a dirty bucksaw and a bottle of whisky, but there are far safer, effective, and less painful ways to accomplish such a traumatic pruning.

One helpful tool in a downsizing is to be as transparent as possible during the planning phase. In the past, HR managers have worried that disclosing a need for downsizing or reorganization might lead to sabotage or other forms of rebellion.

The irony is that, even with the best secrecy, everyone in the organization is well aware of an impending change long before it is announced, and the concealment only adds to the frustration.

Just as nature hates a vacuum, people find a void in communication intolerable. Not knowing what is going to happen is an incredibly potent poison.

Gossip and rumors generally make the problem bigger than it actually is, and leaders find themselves dealing with the fallout.

Human beings are far more resilient in the face of bad news than to uncertainty. Information freely given is a kind of anesthesia that allows managers to accomplish difficult operations with far less trauma. The transparency works for three reasons:

1. It allows time for people to assimilate and deal with the emotional upheaval and adjust their life plans accordingly.
2. It treats employees like adults who are respected enough to hear the bad news rather than children who can’t be trusted to deal with trauma and must be sheltered from reality until the last minute.
3. It allows time to cross-train those people who will be leaving with those who will inherit their work.

All three of these reasons, while not pleasant, do serve to enhance rather than destroy trust.

Don’t humiliate people

Another tip is how to break the news to someone who will be terminated. One way to handle the situation is to ask yourself how you would like to be treated if the situation were reversed. Would you like to be paraded down the hall to pack a box with your possessions and escorted outside the gate and forced to hand over your keys and badge?

Many enlightened leaders have handled the separation in a more humane way. They break the news to the individual and share that the employee needs to find alternative employment. They may even offer assistance with ideas on where to look and offer for a reference.

Then, the employee is not immediately escorted off the premises, but is allowed to pack things up over the next several days and say good bye to friends and work colleagues. Some employers have even experimented with letting the impacted worker use the facilities and equipment for a short while during the job search.

HR managers will quickly point out the risks of having formerly employed workers on the premises, and it is true that the person needs to understand that if he or she is disruptive in any way, then the leaving will be immediate.

The idea is that when you treat separated employees with respect and kindness, even when the news is not good, they respond with a better attitude, which generally improves the outcome.

The more powerful result is that the employees who are not leaving are also impressed by the way these former colleagues were treated. That factor tends to bolster morale a bit for workers who are now asked to take up the slack.

Full and timely disclosure of information and thoughtful exit processes are only two of the many tools leaders can use to help maintain or even grow trust while executing unpleasant necessities.

My study of leadership over the past several decades indicates that the situation is not hopeless. We simply need to teach leaders the benefits of building an environment of trust and transparency and how to obtain them.

Robert Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.


Leadership Barometer 62 Victory

January 11, 2020

The common “Victory” gesture is well known to us all. Habitually, we interpret the signal as one of strength and impending or realized victory.

There have been times in history where the victory sign, made by showing the first and second fingers in the shape of the letter “V,” had a different meaning. It is important to know when you are dealing with the common gesture versus some more esoteric flavor.

For example, the familiar usage to indicate victory is normally made with the palm of the person making the gesture facing toward the viewer. When the palm is facing toward the person making the gesture, it can have a completely different meaning. When coupled by an upward jerking motion of the forearm, it means “up yours.”

In Sports

We see the Victory sign made by athletes in every facet of the sports world. It is normally directed at someone out of earshot, and it simply means “we won.” It can also be shown before the contest, and in that case it means “we are going to win.”

In Politics

People running for office will often flash the victory sign in rallies as a show of confidence that they are going to win the race. You often see the gesture used in Congress when one side of the aisle is intent on prevailing over those nasty people on the other side.

Who can forget how Nixon frequently used the Double V with both arms outstretched. He even used it as he was boarding his helicopter immediately after he resigned from the presidency.

In War

The victory sign has historically been used when one side has won a battle. Who can forget the US soldiers riding through Europe flashing the victory sign at the end of WWII. Similarly, we recall Winston Churchill showing the victory sign as a way to instill confidence within the people of England that they would ultimately prevail. His famous admonition given at the time was “Never, never, never, quit.”

In Klingon

Of course, there have been variations on the victory sign, like the one on Star Trek when Mr. Spock would show the “Vulcan Salute” with four fingers split two on each side of the letter “V.”

The meaning of that gesture was very different from the single victory sign. It meant “Live Long and Prosper.” One interesting thing about that gesture is that it can be hard for some people to make it. I believe that is why Sheldon Cooper on “The Big Bang Theory” was so prone to use the gesture. It made him feel superior, because not everyone could do it. Can you?

In School

School children, and even adults often will use the victory gesture to signal another person across the room that they just aced a test.

Upside Down V

This gesture is not used a lot, but when you see it, the normal connotation is that our team was successful at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. There is no pride in this gesture at all.

It also has the negative connotation, because you have to make the gesture with your palm facing yourself. It is very uncomfortable to make the upside down “V” sign with your palm facing away from you. If you doubt that, try it now yourself.

The simple hand gesture of forming a letter “V” with two fingers is one of the most common forms of body language. Curiously, this gesture, unlike many others, is not highly susceptible to misinterpretation when going form one culture to another. You can use the signal often and anywhere, and rarely will you be misunderstood. In some parts of the world, the gesture is used a lot more than others.

For example, in Japan the gesture is used by young people who are being photographed. The gesture even has a name in Japanese: they call it “pisu sain.”

Go ahead and use this gesture freely, but just make sure your palm is toward the observer rather than toward yourself.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”


Leadership Barometer 32 Overload

January 7, 2020

Overload is a very common phenomenon in organizations. This article deals with the problem, the reasons it exists, and offers some solutions.

As organizations wrestle with global competition and economic cycles, the pressure on productivity is more acute each year. I do not see an end to the pressure to accomplish more work with fewer resources.

There comes a point when leaders overload workers beyond their elastic limit, and they become dysfunctional or simply burn out. As the constant requests for more work with fewer resources starts to take a physical toll on the health of workers at all levels, people become justifiably angry.

I see evidence of what I call “load rage” in nearly every organization in which I work.

Glass half full

An interesting flip side of this problem is the observation made by many researchers, and also myself, that working human beings habitually operate at only a fraction of their true capability.

I have read estimates of organizations extracting on average something like 30-50% of the inherent capability in the workforce; some estimates are even lower.

It would be impossible for anyone to continually operate at 100% of capacity, because that would require the adrenal glands to secrete a constant stream or adrenaline that would kill the person. However, if the estimates of typical capacity used are accurate, there is still a lot of upside in people, so why the “load rage”?

The Leader’s role

Leaders can help reduce the problem by reminding people that they really do have a lot more control over how loaded they feel by taking some pragmatic actions. Here are a few ideas:

Sliding scale
We tend to feel overloaded because we base our perception of how hard we are working at any moment on a sliding scale. We base our feelings of load on how busy we are, not on what percentage of our capacity is being consumed.

Many of our activities are simply traps that we invent because of habitual patterns in our daily work. We tolerate a multitude of inhibiting actions that steal seconds from our minutes and minutes from our hours.

We tend to excuse these diversions as not being very important, but in reality they are exceedingly relevant to our output and to our stress level. Let me cite a few examples:

The dreaded inbox

Look at the inbox of your e-mail account. If you are like most people, there are more than a few notes waiting for your attention. We have all kinds of reasons (really rationalizations) for not keeping our inbox cleaned out each day.

I will share that at this moment I have 4 “read” notes and no “unread” notes in my inbox, and it is stressing me out. I need to get that down to zero, but right now I am consumed writing this article.

If we are honest, it is inescapable that having more than 2-3 notes waiting attention will cause a few milliseconds of search time when we want to do anything on e-mail. That time is lost forever, and it cannot be replaced.

We all know people who have maxed out the inbox capability and have literally thousands of e-mails to chew through. These people are drowning in a sea of time wasters just like a young adult with 20 credit cards is drowning in a sea of debt. It is inevitable.

Complaining takes time

You know at least a few people in your circle of friends or working comrades who spend a hefty chunk of their day going around lamenting how there is not enough time to do the work. Admit it – we all do this to some extent.

Have you ever heard anyone say, “Looks like I have plenty of time and not much to do?” OK, old geezers in the home have this problem and so do young children who are dependent on mommy to think up things to keep them occupied.

For most of us in the adult or working world, our time is the most scarce and precious commodity we have, yet we habitually squander it in tiny ways that add up to major stress for us. I suspect that even the most proficient time-management guru finds it possible to waste over 30% of his or her time on things that could be avoided.

Stop Doing List

One healthy antidote, especially at work, is to have a “stop doing” list. Most people have a “to do” list, but you rarely see someone adding things to a “don’t do” list.
Think how liberating and refreshing it would be if each of us found an extra hour or two each day by just consciously deciding to stop doing things that do not matter.

Whole groups can do this exercise and gain incredible productivity. The technique is called “work out,” where groups consciously redesign processes to take work out of the system. If you examine how you use your time today, I guarantee that if you are brutally honest you can find at least 2 hours of time you are wasting on busy work with no real purpose. Wow, two hours would be a gift for anyone.

Shift your mindset

Another technique is to really load up your schedule. You think that you are overworked now, but just imagine if you added 5 major new activities that had to be done on top of your present activities. That would feel insane, but you would find ways to cope. Then if you cut back to your current load next week, what seemed like an untenable burden a few weeks ago would feel like a cake walk.

I can recall a time in the Fall of 2004 when I was teaching 11 different collegiate courses at the same time. That was in addition to writing a book, chairing a volunteer Board, and managing a leadership consulting practice. I will admit that was a little over the top, but I sure enjoyed the load when I intentionally cut it back to only three courses at a time.

Conflict eats time

Another huge time burner is conflict. We spend more time than we realize trying to manage others, so our world is as close to what we want as possible. When things are out of kilter, we can spend hours of time on the phone or e-mail negotiating with others in a political struggle to get them to think more like us.

The typical thought pattern going through the mind during these times is “why can’t you be more like me.” The energy and time to have these discussions can really eat up the clock time during the day.

Dithering

Dither is another issue for many of us. I already shared that while I am writing this paper, I am really procrastinating from opening up and dealing with the 4 notes in my inbox (oops – now 5). I typically get around 100 e-mails a day.

There are other things I must do today, but I am having fun writing this paper, so the “work” is getting pushed back. I will pay for this indulgence later, but at least I do recognize what I am doing here.

The point is that most of the time we lose is unconscious. We have all figured out how to justify the time wasters in our lives, and we still complain that there are not enough hours in the day.

The cure for this malaise lies in having a different mindset. The time challenge is really part of the human condition. I think it helps to remind ourselves that when we feel overloaded, particularly with work, it is really just a priority issue, and we honestly do have time to do everything with still some slack time to take a breath. If you do not agree, then I suspect you are in denial.

Now, I need to be excused to go clean out my inbox!

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com 585-392-7763. Website http://www.leadergrow.com BLOG http://www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.


Leadership Barometer 31 12 Rules of Success

December 30, 2019

Several years ago I generated a list of rules for success. It is important to write down a set of rules for yourself, just as it is to document your values. It gives you something to hang on to when there is too much confusion.

Another benefit of a list like this is that it helps other people know how you operate much quicker. I would review this list and my passion for each item whenever inheriting or joining a new group.

• The most important word that determines your success is “attitude” – how you react to what happens in your life. The magic learning here is that you control your attitude, therefore, you can control your success.
• Engagement of people is the only way to business success.
• Credibility allows freedom to manage in an “appropriate” way (which means if you are not credible, you will be micro-managed).
• Build a “real” environment – maximize trust – This requires honesty and transparency.
• Create winners – help people realize their dreams of success (which means, grow other leaders).
• Recognize and reward results at all levels (reinforcement governs performance).
• Operate ahead of the power curve (which means, be organized and get things done well ahead of the deadline).
• Don’t get mired down in bureaucratic mumbo jumbo, negotiate the best position possible, out flank the Sahara. However, feed the animal when necessary (which means pick your political battles carefully).
• Enjoy the ride – when it is no longer fun – leave.
• Admit when you are wrong and do it with great delight. Beg people to let you know when you sap them and thank them for it (which means Reinforce Candor).
• Provide “real” reinforcement that is perceived as reinforcing by the receiver. Build an environment of reinforcement.
• Keep trying and never give up. You will succeed.

There are many other things that could be mentioned, but if you can master the things above, most other things become subcategories of them.

For example, another bullet might be “Treat people as adults and always demonstrate respect.” That is really a sub item of the second bullet. Or another bullet might be “Always walk your talk.” That is one thing (among many) you need to do for bullet four to happen.

I believe every leader should have a documented set of beliefs such as the one above. I am not advocating that you adopt my list. Think about it and develop your own list.

Don’t worry about being complete, just start an electronic file and add to it over the years as you grow and encounter new ideas. You will be amazed how this simple task enables you to operate with congruence and grow in your leadership skill.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.


Body Language 60 Behind Your Back

December 27, 2019

When you have your hands behind your back, it can be interpreted in several different ways. It often is interpreted as apprehension or frustration. Some people link the gesture with anger. You really need to look for additional signals to interpret this gesture.

When shaking hands

Normally we shake hands by extending the right hand forward to meet the other person. There are special circumstances, like a surgery, that force a different approach, but the usual configuration is with the right hand forward. What we do with the left hand is optional and may provide some insight.

According to body language expert Bill Acheson, what you want to see is the non shaking hand moving forward and slightly upward as the other person approaches. That shows a positive desire to meet you, according to Bill. He describes and demonstrates the movement in the referenced video.

What you do not want to see is the other person hiding his left hand by putting it behind his back or in his pocket. That shows a negative feeling toward you.

When you are hiding a secret

When you hold one or both of your hands behind your back, it is often interpreted as having something you are trying to hide. Generally the gesture is figurative, but it could actually be literal, as in when a man hides flowers behind his back as he rings the doorbell of his girlfriend.

A gesture of openness with the hands is with the hand extended slightly forward with palms up. Keeping the hands out of sight begs the question, “what is he hiding from me.”

At ease

In the military world, when soldiers are asked to assume the “at ease” position, it means to put both hands behind their back and stand with feet apart in a comfortable stance. The connotation for some people of putting their hands behind their back is an indication of standing in a relaxed position.

Don’t know what to do with my hands

For some people, the hands behind their back is simply that they are feeling awkward at the moment and do not know what to do with their hands. You can see this movement often with shy children when they are put in the spotlight.

Defenseless and Vulnerable

Hands behind the back leaves the solar plexus, the one part of the body that is not protected by a skeletal structure,open and vulnerable. It can, therefore, be a signal of submission.

The gesture of putting hands behind one’s back can have so many different meanings that, like most body language signals, you need to consider the circumstance or look for other corroborating gestures before trying to assign a specific meaning to the gesture. Also, just as with nearly all body language, the meaning can be specific to a particular culture.

For example, when you are meeting a businessman in the Netherlands, you should avoid standing with your hands in your pocket and never leave your left hand in your pocket while shaking hands with your right (1).

Once you start looking for it, you will see examples of the hands behind back gesture in many social and business settings. Just remember that you cannot assume a precise meaning to this posture without further information. For sure something is going on, but you will need to explore a bit to determine exactly what it is.

(1) Kiss Bow or Shake Hands by Morrison, Conaway, and Borden 1994

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”


Leadership Barometer 30 Assume Best Intent

December 23, 2019

Assuming best intent is a simple concept that can save a lot of grief and acrimony in any organization.

Human beings have a curious way of jumping to conclusions when something done by another person does not track with our own expectations.

We jump to assign blame and think of all the evil things that might be behind the action.

In doing so, we fail to take into account a myriad of alternate scenarios that might explain the paradox as being something more benign. We have all experienced this phenomenon, and there is a simple antidote. Assume the best intent rather than the worst.

A place to view this phenomenon most easily is in e-mail communication. One person will dash off a note and leave out a critical part of the background for an action.

The person reading the note will say to himself, “Ed is clueless. He obviously is out to try to embarrass me with these statements. I don’t care if he is having a bad day or not, he has no business making these statements without getting his facts straight.”

So, what started out as an innocent note from Ed, turns into the fuel for an e-grenade battle. The response coming back to Ed assumes the worst intent, so it is far off base in Ed’s mind. Ed writes back a blistering note, and we are off to the races.

Several days later, after numerous notes and escalating distribution lists some manager steps in and asks these two feuding juveniles to stop the food fight. All of this acrimony and conflict could have been avoided if the recipient of Ed’s first note assumed the best intent rather than the worst.

He would have gone over to Ed’s desk and said, “Your note was confusing to me. I am not sure I follow how you concluded there was no information coming out of my group.”

Then Ed could have explained how that was not his message at all, the words just did not convey what he was trying to say. This gives Ed the chance to write a simple note of apology and clarification, which he is happy to do because he was approached in an adult manner.

This technique is helpful for all forms of communication, not just the online environment. If we teach people to assume the best intent whenever there is a disconnect, it prevents people from going off on each other inappropriately.

This action creates a significant reduction in conflict, and since conflict often gets amplified in the pressure cooker of the work environment, this little remedy can save a lot of hurtful turmoil.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.