Body Language 68 Shock

February 21, 2020

The differences between facial expressions indicating shock versus those of surprise or fatigue are small.

In this article I will discuss my take on how you can tell these three emotions apart from the shape of the open mouth, along with other cues that point to a specific emotion.

When a person is experiencing shock, the mouth goes wide open, as in the accompanying picture. The mouth is open and makes the shape of the letter “O.” The eyes are generally wide open to the fullest extent and the eyebrows and forehead are pulled up as much as is humanly possible.

This is the classic look of a person who is in shock. I believe there is a difference between a shocked facial expression and one of a person who is surprised. Often a surprise is something that is happy to the person, so I would look for more of a smile while still having the mouth full open.

The second picture conveys the emotion of surprise better than the first one, at least in my mind. Her mouth is open, but there is definite smile involved.

Notice that the person is showing her teeth whereas the person in shock will tend to not show teeth. Of course, the surprise could be something negative, but that happens in a minority of cases.

With a negative surprise, there would still be an open mouth, but the expression would resemble more of a frown. That is actually pretty rare.

If you look up pictures for the emotion of surprise, you will see that nearly all of them are showing a smile, and the majority of them have hands to the face in some way: often holding a cheek or even both cheeks.

In the case of fatigue, you also see a wide open mouth, but with a yawn the hand is usually attempting to cover the mouth and the eyes are shut tight, whereas with surprise or shock the eyes are fully open.

A yawn can originate in different ways.  Often it is a form of mirroring the gestures of others.

I am sure we have all caught ourselves yawning immediately after another person has done the same thing.

Another cause for a yawn is insecurity or doubt.  If we are anxious about something, we will tend to yawn a lot more. Notice yourself yawning while sitting in the waiting room at the dentist.

With all three of these gestures, the mouth is wide open, but the ancilliary cues give us enough information to interpret the emotion correctly.

What is of interest here is that you need to assemble various bits of data in real time and put together a mosaic of the cluster of signals to interpret an expression accurately.

Several different emotions involve an open mouth, so you need more data than just that fact to understand what the person is experiencing.

The last statement holds true for all types of body language gestures. The particular one in this article is a case in point how slight differences can mean entirely different things, and you need to be alert to look at the whole picture.

There are two ways you can use this information professionally. First, you can ask the right questions based on an accurate reading of the other person’s emotions.

For example, you might ask, “Why do you find that statement to be shocking?” Alternatively, if you see a smile in connection with a wide open mouth, you might ask “What about what I just said is surprising to you?”

A second way you can use this information is to make note of your own body language in specific circumstances. Are you confusing other people when you yawn as opposed to reacting with surprise?

In other words, keep track of how accurately you convey your true emotions with your gestures.

In every case, you need to use Emotional Intelligence to make an appropriate reflection of how you are interpreting the gestures. Doing that will enhance the trust other people put in you and thereby strengthen your relationships.

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


Leadership Barometer 38 Better Meetings

February 17, 2020

What is the biggest waste of time at your place of work? For most professional employees, the answer is, “meetings.”

Each of us has experienced frustration with ineffective meetings. Most of these are face-to-face situations where a bunch of people gather around a conference table with an objective to accomplish something.

Meetings also happen on the phone and online; the venue does not matter. It feels like the “process” is painfully slow, and the progress is difficult to appreciate.

If you have not experienced this, check your pulse; you may be dead.

More productive Meetings

Let me start with a question. What is the most precious commodity in the world? Stop reading and think about this question. I really want you to ponder what is precious. Is it “love,” “money,” faith,” “family,” “freedom,” “health”? Give it some real thought before you read on.

To answer the question, how would you define “precious?” You might equate it with value in terms of intrinsic or extrinsic reward. You might view it in a social or family context.

I believe there are two factors that make something precious: how difficult it is to obtain, and how important it is. It is the old “supply and demand” analysis. If something is in great demand, but is extremely scarce, it will be incredibly precious.

Take diamonds, for example. They are highly prized by human beings (not sure why) and they are extremely difficult to find (because they look like regular rocks in their natural state and there are so few of them.)

For example, there is a story told by Earl Nightingale about a poor farmer in Africa. He was unable to sustain his family because the soil on his farm was too arid. He tried to grow crops for years and tried to irrigate the land, but the soil was too weak.

Finally, he heard of the discovery of diamonds in a mountain region in another area. He sold his farm and moved to the mountains to prospect for diamonds. He never found any and his family perished.

Meanwhile, the person who bought his land for a pittance found an interesting rock that he took home and placed on his mantle. A couple years later, a visiting geologist recognized the kind of rock and asked the farmer if he knew what it was.

To his amazement, it turned out to be the largest diamond ever found in Africa. Further, the property was replete with similar rocks. It turned out to be the richest area for diamonds in the country.

So, the original farmer was literally surrounded by “acres of diamonds,” but did not realize it. He went to seek his fortune elsewhere and perished with his family due to starvation.

Leaders in the workplace are also surrounded by acres of “diamonds,” but we may not realize it. The diamonds are the people in the organization.

If treated right and exposed to the right environment (like polishing) nearly every person will turn into a valuable gem for the organization. The trouble is, most leaders, just like the original farmer, fail to realize the incredible value that surrounds them every day. What a crime.

If you will accept the “supply and demand” argument for what makes things precious, let’s explore what is the one thing in this world that is truly scarce. What is it that we cannot get more of no matter how we try.

Is it love? No, we can get more of that. Is it money? Certainly not. Is it any kind of metal or mineral? No. Is it faith? No, we can increase that by changing our viewpoint. I submit it is time.

Oh sure, we can increase our total time on earth by improving our health risk factors, but I am talking about the time we each have every day. We each get exactly 24 hours every day. Nothing we can do will increase that. No one gets less, and no one gets more.

We all want more time desperately, but none of us can get more of it on a daily basis it. It is fixed. Therefore, by the law of supply and demand, time is the most precious commodity.

What does this have to do with meetings? Well, if you are like most people, one of your top time wasters is meetings. We need to make them more efficient and productive.

If we do this well, we have more time for the other important things in life. In fact, by increasing our effectiveness at meetings, we can actually “manufacture” time for later use. We can “Save time in a bottle,” as Jim Croce put it.

Would that be worth it? Well, that is probably the easiest way to get some more of the most precious commodity for yourself and your team. Let’s examine some of the typical time wasters in meetings and suggest some antidotes. We’ll start with the granddaddy of them all.

Griping

Griping is the most significant time waster in meetings. Think about it. You know the routine. Everyone arrives at the meeting with their head full of issues and problems they are dealing with in their working world.

As the “early birds” are patiently waiting (by the way, having people arrive late is another huge time waster) for the late members, someone says something like, “Can you believe they are increasing our medical deductions again?”

That gets someone else to chime in on how unfair it is, and pretty soon the floodgates are open. Out pours fresh steaming venom onto the table.

When everyone has finally arrived and the group is immersed in self-pity and derogatory remarks about the cost of medical insurance. If gone unchecked, this can go on for most of the meeting, completely usurping the original agenda.

The antidote to this waste of time rests with the leader. He/she is responsible for keeping the agenda and not letting the meeting lapse into a gripe session. An easy technique is to acknowledge a need for the group to do some venting, but put a “stop loss” on it.

The leader might say, “It looks like there is a lot of energy around the medical deductions. How much time do we want to spend on this subject before we launch into the positive things that must be accomplished in this meeting?”

The group might agree to spend 5 more minutes venting. It is now up to the leader to stop the discussion after the 5 minutes and say, “OK, we all agreed to move on after 5 minutes. Any more gripes about the benefits will be done outside this meeting. Let’s move on to the agenda and make some positive steps toward our vision.”

If people persist in venting, it is up to the leader to shut this down.

Have an agenda

An agenda is very important for any meeting. If it is worth getting everyone together, it is worth a few minutes to set the topics and objectives for the meeting. This can prevent wasting time when the team wants to wander off topic. Again, it is up to the leader to keep the group on task.

Summarize frequently

An often-ignored technique in meetings is the periodic summary of decisions. This can be a real time-saver. After 10 minutes of discussion on the new safety policy, the leader might say, “Let me summarize this discussion. We seem to be agreeing that we will set a new goal of zero lost time accidents for the next quarter. Is everyone on board with this decision?”

If the entire group agrees, then move on to the next topic. Have the notes indicate a decision was made by the group. If this step is omitted, there is no firm commitment to the decision.

People will talk around and about a topic and everyone will have their own opinion of the outcome. You can leave a meeting with wide variations in people’s minds about what actually happened. Summarizing each point as it is made, prevents this problem.

Summarizing also puts a cap on each topic, so the group moves through the agenda efficiently. The role of the leader is to facilitate the process. Done well, this will maximize the benefit of the time spent together.

Handling opposing views

Disagreements can create an incredible waste of time. A point is made, then someone offers a counterpoint. This lapses into a discussion back and forth about the issue. It can, and often does, become acrimonious.

As people “dig in their heels” to defend their position, the argument becomes more intense. Often it gets personal with statements like, “you are always trying to harpoon everything we are trying to do in this team.”

The crime is that, many times the individuals are not that far apart. They are just not listening to each other. I have been in meetings where two individuals spend a lot of time in “violent agreement” with each other, but neither of them realizes it.

Reverse roles

There are two antidotes for this problem. First, get the opposing parties to express the position of the other person in their own words. That will uncover if the argument is a “tempest in a teapot.” It also ensures that each party really understands the opposing viewpoint.

Agree to Disagree

The other technique is the “Rule of Three.” If the point- counterpoint goes on for three iterations, it is unlikely either party is going to “win” the argument. This is the time for the leader to say, “I think you two should agree to disagree on this point. It is evident that neither of you are going to sway the other, so let’s table this discussion or take it outside so we can get back to the agenda.”

Using the Rule of Three can save huge amounts of time in meetings.

Be Punctual

The leader is responsible for starting and ending each meeting on schedule. It is impolite to arrive late for meetings. As a leader, you can stop this behavior simply by not waiting for the lagers.

Make sure there are some important decisions at the start of the meeting. If someone comes in late, do not go back and review what was already done; let the inconsiderate person catch up after the meeting.

I use a technique in my on-ground classes where I go over the hints for the next week’s assignments at the start of the class. Once I had a tardy student turn in the wrong assignment. She came to me and complained that I did not explain the rules well. I told her that the rules were explained at the start of the previous class, but she was not in attendance at that time. She quickly got the message.

The same rules apply in the online environment. If you make a commitment for the start of a meeting at 8 pm, be there at 8 pm. Recognize that there are family or personal emergencies that can make that impossible in rare instances.

The problem is that some people have a tendency to excuse themselves from their obligations on a regular basis. This behavior needs to be extinguished by the team. We need to be sensitive to real emergencies, but intolerant of those who habitually make excuses for holding up others.

These are only a few of the rules to make better use of time in meetings. Most of these are common sense ideas, but they are often forgotten in the normal work environment. The best way to make sure you are not wasting time is to remember how incredibly valuable it is, and act that way.

The preceding information was adapted from the book The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Robert Whipple is also the author of Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.


Body Language 67 Afraid

February 14, 2020

A person who is experiencing fear may show it in several different ways with his or her body language.

In this article I will highlight the most common ways people express fear without speaking. First, we need to understand that there are an infinite number of different sources and magnitudes of fear.

You might be afraid that the rumor you heard about a layoff this month could be true. Depending on your seniority and several other factors, you could be afraid of losing your job.

On the other extreme, I may be convinced there is a thief with a gun in my apartment about to enter the room where I am trying to sleep.

The type and intensity of the body language signals will depend not only on the reason I am afraid but also my current ability to tolerate uncertainty and not show it. This spectrum of signals makes the interpretation of one’s body language signals a chancy endeavor.

As with all body language, when trying to interpret what you see, you need to take into account several factors:

1. Is there a cluster of signals that all point in the same direction? If so, that will greatly enhance a correct diagnosis

2. Is this person from a culture different from the one I am most familiar with? Although fear is a primal feeling, how it is expressed in body language can be unique to a specific culture. The likelihood of misinterpretation goes up dramatically if you are observing a person from a different culture than your own.

3. Is the observed body language as a result of a specific stimulus or is it a habitual pattern for this person?

4. If there is a specific stimulus, is the reaction immediately following the stimulus, or is there a delayed reaction?

5. Is the person picking up and mimicking another person who is making an overt signal of fear? If so, the gesture may not be genuine; it could be an imitation.

6. Is the person making an attempt to hide the emotion, or is the reaction obvious to everyone?

7. Is the person consciously attempting to look a certain way or is the reaction an unconscious and authentic gesture, at least at first?

These are the main factors that will influence the specific gesture in reaction to fear. Here are some of the common facial and body reactions to fear that we have all seen at some point.

Contorted Facial Muscles

The narrowing of the eyebrows and wrinkling of the forehead is a pretty good give away that the person is experiencing fear. You need to be careful though, because the same facial contortions are common with anger. Look for more corroborating signals.

Hands to the mouth

Usually both hands will go to the mouth when a person is experiencing high fear. It may take the form of symbolically biting the nails, or it may be to actually cover the mouth and eyes. The person is trying to disappear from sight.

Arms outstretched

Another gesture of fear is a kind of blocking motion made by outstretching the arms in front of the person with palms facing the thing being blocked. Here, the idea is to put up a figurative wall between yourself and the offending person, animal, or thing. In this gesture, the head may be lowered and shoulders raised as we cower in fear. The posture is to make yourself a smaller target.

Behind an object or blanket

Children will often express fear by hiding behind something, like a couch cushion or a blanket, then the gesture is to peek out ever-so-slightly from behind the safety of the screen. Adults often hide behind other items or excuses. If one is afraid of the outcome of an effort, the fear may be manifest in procrastination.

Open mouth

The mouth is usually open when a person is experiencing high fear. The idea is to give a symbolic primal scream, even if the sound is inaudible. People in fear do not look tight lipped, instead they normally will be showing their teeth.

In a business environment, be alert to less obvious, but symbolically equivalent signs of fear in a person. Reach out to determine the nature of the fear and attempt to engage the person in some dialog about it.

The verbalization of fear and the brainstorming of ways to mitigate the angst are both ways to calm the person down. Helping another person who is in mild fear regain his equilibrium is an excellent way to build rapport and trust.

Adults develop patterns to help them deal with fear in ways that may not show in overt body language. They use compensating actions, and if you can recognize these signs, you can address the underlying cause to help the person, even though no specific physical signals are evident.

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


Body Language 66 Mirroring

February 7, 2020

Mirroring in body language means that one person mimics the movements of the other person while they are in dialog.

Usually mirroring happens unconsciously, but if you are paying attention and looking for it, you can gain some important insights whether you are in discussions with an employee, negotiating a big deal, or even trying to get through to your kids.

In general, when a person mirrors the body language of another individual, it means there is a positive bond between the two people, at least on the topic currently being discussed. If you are chatting with another person and his hands are folded on the table, see if yours are folded as well.

According to George MacDonald in his blog for coaches, mirroring and matching are techniques widely used in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or NLP, an interpersonal communication model created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the 1970s.

The idea is that people feel most comfortable around those people who are like them – they feel that their point of view is understood. The more someone believes you are like them, the easier it is to develop trust and rapport at the unconscious level.

If you spot mirroring behavior, one logical question is who started the chain and who is doing the mimicking. Actually, it does not matter who initiated the gesture, the mere fact you have both assumed a certain position means there is a good chemistry going on, and you have the opportunity to use that knowledge to enhance the conversation.

Building Rapport

You can build greater rapport with another person by reflecting back some of the body language the person is showing. The huge precaution here is not to overdo the reflections so they become obvious. If you go too far, you will put the other person off with clumsy imitations. Simply lean in the direction of the gestures you are seeing, and you will deepen trust with the other person.

If the person sitting across from you just crossed her legs, don’t immediately cross yours like it is a mechanical thing. However, through the natural gaps in the conversation and inevitable changes in posture, if you end up with your legs crossed, that is usually a helpful sign for the conversation. Just do not try to force gestures, let them happen naturally, but do pay attention for similarities in body position when you see them.

Authenticity

When sending body language signals, it is essential to be authentic. Trying to put on a show at any point will usually label you as a phony and trust will be broken.

Mirroring creates synchronicity

When we assume the body position of another person, it becomes easier to get on the same wavelength and communicate in constructive ways. We listen better to people who appear similar to us. The listening leads to more understanding, which becomes the basis for trust to grow.

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


Leadership Barometer 35 Motivation

January 27, 2020

The concept of motivation is one of the most misunderstood terms in leadership education. Reason: Many leaders don’t fully understand the nature of motivation, so they try to achieve it using ineffective tools.

This article focuses on the learning from Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory and why those concepts can be used to create higher levels of motivation in any organization.

Typical low motivation

I believe the average organization obtains only a tiny fraction of the potential human effort that is available. My guess is that most organizations receive less than 30% of the discretionary effort that resides in its people.

Even if my number is off by quite a bit, it still means that we could double productivity and still have people working at less than their capacity. Wow, that represents some wonderful low hanging fruit. But how do we get that effort to come forth?

Motivate your people?

As a leader, how many times a week do you say, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” When you do, you reveal a misunderstanding that often leads to lower rather than higher motivation. Seeking to “motivate employees” is the most common thought pattern leaders use every day, so what’s wrong with it?

Trying to motivate workers shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved. Leaders who think this way are putting the cart before the horse.

While the temptation to get going may seem irresistible, it is not a wise strategy. Leaders do not make the necessary mind shift to do the things that actually do improve motivation and catch the wind of trust. So, what is the cart and what is the horse? The horse is the culture of the organization that either enables or extinguishes motivation. The cart is what people ride in, or how satisfied people feel at any particular moment.

Why do many leaders try to reverse the conventional order and try to motivate people by simply trying to make them feel better? Some reasons may include:

Poor understanding of motivation

The notion that by adding perks to the workplace, we somehow make people more motivated is flawed. Over 50 years ago, Frederick Herzberg taught us that increasing the so-called “hygiene factors” is a good way to stay in the cart (reduce dissatisfaction in the workplace), but a poor way to increase motivation and actually get to our destination. Why?

Because goodies like picnics, pizza parties, hat days, bonuses, new furniture, etc. often help people become happier at work, but they do little to impact the reasons they are motivated to do their best work.

Taking the easy way out

Many leaders believe that by heaping nice things on top of people, it will feel like a better culture. Enlightened leaders realize the only way to improve the culture is to build transparency and trust. By focusing on a better environment, managers enable people to motivate themselves.

Using the wrong approach

It is difficult to motivate another person. You can scare a person into compliance, but that’s not motivation, it is fear. You can bribe a person into feeling happy, but that’s not motivation it is temporary euphoria that is quickly replaced by a “what have you done for me lately” mentality.

When leaders approach motivation as something they “do to” the workers, it has the wrong connotation.

The word “motivate” should not be used as a verb.

I cannot motivate you. The only person who can truly motivate you is you.

Instead, I can create an environment where you choose to become motivated.

The difference between those two concepts sounds like double talk, but it is a crucial leadership concept to grasp.

Focusing on perks

Individuals will gladly take any perk you are willing to give, but the reason they go the extra mile is a personal choice based on the level of motivational factors, such as trust and empowerment.

Trying to force morale

Some companies have a kind of pep talk on a daily basis followed by a company cheer before employees are allowed to work.

There are two ways of looking at this practice. In most groups, these pep rallies have only a short-term positive impact on morale. In fact, many groups eventually stop the practice altogether because of the incredible negative impact on morale.

The supervisor is uncomfortable because she knows people hate the “morning meeting” and the discipline of the company cheer before going to work has become a joke.

Most people feel the activity is a waste of time, because their morale comes from sources other than pep talks.

It does not matter what the boss says at the start of each shift. What matters are the signals sent a thousand times all day outside of the rallies. The ritual of a morning meeting only serves to underscore the hypocrisy, and therefore, has the reverse impact of what was intended.

In some groups, the pep rally concept actually does produce higher morale and is a sustainable positive force in the company. What factors might allow this to happen?

The meeting itself

There is some actual benefit if the meeting contains useful information or some kind of social support that people find helpful.

Often the meetings are a time to remind employees of new policies or drill on the location of recently moved articles.

By enhancing basic communication, these meetings help managers perform a basic function that would be hard to achieve in an e-mail or other form of announcement.

It also gives employees a chance to question the information for sanity or just to verify understanding.

In some situations, managers use the morning meetings for reinforcing good behavior. This technique can help, but it must be sincere or it will actually backfire. Insincere praise is deadly in an organization because it lowers trust.

So, if WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) has enough positive power, then a morning meeting might actually work.

The centering thoughts

Rather like an exercise in yoga, some meetings help people compartmentalize their lives so they can display the right persona for customers.

They can filter out the chaos or distractions going on elsewhere in their lives and focus on the tasks at hand. This would be the equivalent of a team “suiting up” before a public sporting event.

A pre-existing environment of trust

If the leader has achieved a culture of trust where people see congruence of words and actions, the leader will have more credibility.

This is the equivalent of a coach in sports. In this case, a rallying cry for team spirit may actually inspire some people to put forth more effort.

At least the company cheer has the potential to generate some fraternal feelings that are often helpful. Without the element of trust, these cheers have little chance to produce a positive impact.

Employee ownership

If the meeting is sponsored and designed by the employees for their own benefit, then it has a much better chance than if it is a management-driven event.

This shows the link between empowerment and morale. When the workers are respected for being mature enough to design and conduct a meeting, with perhaps some guest appearances from management, the dynamic can be a liberating influence.

The flip side of this is if certain cliques within the worker ranks own the process to the exclusion of others, the chosen ones will alienate the rest of the group and eclipse the benefits by feeding a silo mentality.

In an excellent environment, daily meetings can be helpful for the above reasons. Communication is enhanced, which helps transparency, and it gives managers the opportunity to model reinforcing candor.

In general, the early shift meetings should be avoided if there are trust issues among people in the organization.

Some people would argue that is precisely the reason to invoke the technique in an attempt to remedy a low trust situation. I think where low trust is a pre-existing condition, the dangers outweigh the benefits.

Since many organizations have extremely low trust, it is a good idea to proceed with great caution when considering trying to enforce morale through daily meetings. The old adage feels all too real for many employees, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

Most organizations obtain only a tiny fraction of the effort that is possible from the people they employ. A key measure is what percentage of discretionary does your culture elicit.

No organization can get a sustained 100% of the potential effort of people. That’s because it would require a continual flow of Adrenalin that would be fatal. But if my estimate is accurate, most organizations can double the effort of most people by using the Trust Model and still have them operating at a comfortable 50% level from their peak. The key enabler to this leap in productivity is the existence of real trust within the organization.

The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics


Body Language 64 Hand Slap

January 24, 2020

The hand slap is a gesture that is normally exchanged between friends. It often takes place in two parts, especially if both parties are standing.

First the individuals slap their hands together at shoulder height or above (this is known as a “high five”), then one individual puts the same hand at waist level palm up and the other person slaps it with his palm down.

For this gesture to work as intended, it is imperative that both people have the palm of one hand engaged in the exchange. If a person slaps another person anywhere on the body without palm-to-palm contact, it is almost universally interpreted as a put down: like “a slap in the face.”

It is also possible to have both hands involved in the gesture. Some people prefer that method but the meaning is the same regardless of whether it is one or both hands.

There are numerous examples of when a hand slap might be the appropriate gesture to use. Let’s examine several situations and discuss how the slap works as a congratulatory gesture.

Cheering on a runner

Imagine your spouse is a runner in a marathon. You are standing on the sidelines, and there is so much cheering, your mate would never pick out your voice. But as she passes by you, she gives you a hand slap gesture as a thank you for your support.

An example in the work setting would be a worker completing a difficult assignment ahead of the due date. The manager might give this person a welcoming high five.

After a supervisor makes a great welcoming speech

Suppose a supervisor has just given an amazing onboarding talk to a group of 15 new hires. It is well known that getting new employees off to an excellent start emotionally does wonders for their successful incorporation into the organization. The manager, who was watching the training gives the supervisor a high five as he walks to the back of the room.

A speaker comes off stage

The person waiting in the wings gives the hand slap gesture as a way to indicate the speaker nailed the presentation. No words need be said for the meaning to come through loud and clear.

Manufacturing team does a product change in record time

Suppose a group of employees on a packaging line has taken on the challenge to make product changes more efficient. They try several new ideas and come up with a way to get the job done in half the time it normally takes. The supervisor does a high five with all of the team members as a way to congratulate them.

Slapping yourself

If a person slaps himself, it is normally a gesture of frustration rather than congratulations. Most often a person will slap herself on the forehead with the palm of her hand to indicate that she just made a bone-head move.

The only frustrating part of the hand slap gesture is if one person wants to do the two part variety but the other person only participates in the first half of the gesture. The cure for that kind of awkward situation is to take your cue from the other person. If you see no sign of the second half at waist high, then don’t offer it.

On flip side, if the other person sticks out her hand waist high with palm up, it is an indication that she wants to do the full double hand slap. You need to be alert to pick up the desire of the other person in real time.

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


Leadership Barometer 34 Skip the Sandwich

January 20, 2020

There are literally thousands of leadership courses for managers. In most of them, one of the techniques advocated is called the “sandwich” method.

The recommended approach when a leader has a difficult message to deliver is to start with some kind of positive statement about the other individual. This “softening up” is followed by the improvement opportunity. Finally, the leader gives an affirming statement of confidence in the individual.

Some people know this method as the C,C,C technique (compliment, criticize, compliment)

The theory behind the sandwich approach is that if you couch your negative implication between two happy thoughts, it will lessen the blow and make the input better tolerated by the person receiving the coaching.

The problem is that this method usually does not work, and it often undermines trust along with the credibility of the leader. Let’s examine why this conventional approach, as most managers use it, is poor advice.

First, recall when the sandwich technique was used on you. Remember how you felt? Chances are you were not fooled by the ruse. You got the message embodied in the central part of the sandwich, the meat, and mentally discounted the two slices of bread.

Why would you do that? After all, there were two positive things being said and only one negative one. The reason is the juxtaposition of the three elements in rapid fire left you feeling the sender was insincere with the first and last element and really only meant the central portion.

A manager might be able to slip the sandwich technique past you at the start of a relationship. At that point, you do not have a pattern to guide your subconscious thought. Later, if the manager has a habit of using the sandwich, you will become so adept that you will actually hear the second and third part of the sandwich coming up before they are even uttered by your manager.

This interesting phenomenon also occurs in e-mail exchanges. Managers often use the sandwich approach in an e-mail. It might sound like this:
“Your review of the financial information this morning was excellent, Mike. The only improvement I can see is to use more charts and fewer tables of figures to keep people from zoning out. Given your strong track record, I am sure you can make this tiny adjustment with ease.”

If you know this boss well, you can anticipate there is going to be a “but” in the middle long before the boss brings it up. The last part is a feeble attempt to prop you up after the real message has been delivered.

If you received this message, chances are you would have internalized the following: “Stop putting everyone to sleep with your boring tables and use colorful charts to show the data.” You would probably miss the compliment at the start because it was incongruent with the second message, and you would certainly discount the drivel at the end of the message because it was insincere.

It is not always wrong to use a balanced set of input, in fact, if done well, it is helpful. If there really is some specific good thing that was done, you can start with that thought.

Make the sincere compliment ring true and try to get some dialog on it rather than immediately shoot a zinger at the individual.

Then you can bring the conversation to the corrective side carefully. By sharing an idea for improvement, you can give a balanced view that will not seem manipulative or insincere.

Try to avoid the final “pep talk” unless there is something specific that you really want to stress. If that is the case, then it belongs upfront anyway.
Examine your own communication with people, especially subordinates, to reduce the tendency to use the sandwich approach mechanically, particularly if you have to stretch to find the nice things to say.

You may find it hard to detect the sandwich in your spoken coaching, but it will be easier to spot in your written work. The habit is particularly common when writing performance reviews or when trying to encourage changes in behavior.

The sad thing for the boss is that he or she was actually taught that the sandwich technique is normally a good thing to do. That makes it easy to fall into a pattern of doing it subconsciously and not realize that it is actually lowering your own credibility, unless it is used very carefully, because you come across as insincere.

How can you reduce the tendency to use the sandwich approach if you already have the habit?

The first antidote is to become aware when you use it. That means you need to be especially alert when giving verbal input. It also means proofreading notes where you are rating people or trying to change behavior.

When you see the sandwich being used, change it. Give the request for modified behavior with no preamble or postscript in the same breath. Just frame up the information in as kind a way as you can, but be sincere in your words.

Do share a balance of positive and negative things as they apply, but do it naturally, not in a forced, 1,2,3 pattern.

A second way to stop using the technique is to teach others to stop using it. The best way to learn anything is to teach it to others. As you help others see their bad habit, it will remind you that it sometimes shows up in your own communication.

If you can reduce your tendency to use the sandwich approach by 50-80%, you will become a more polished and effective leader.

The third way to prevent this problem is to encourage the teachers of “Management 101” to stop suggesting this technique in the first place. It is not an effective method of changing behavior.

Instead teach leaders to give both positive and corrective feedback in a natural way and only include sincere and specific praise, never force something to butter up the other person.

People have a keen ability to sniff out insincere praise, especially if it is just after being corrected for doing something wrong.

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