Leadership Barometer 56 Don’t Enable Problem Employees

June 27, 2020

In any organization, there are situations where supervisors accommodate problem employees rather than confront them. Ignoring wrong actions models a “laissez faire” attitude on problem solving and enforcing rules.

It also enables the perpetrator to continue the wrong behavior. In a typical scenario, the problem festers under the surface for months, even years.

Ultimately escalation of the issue reaches a tipping point when something simply must be done. By this time, the problems are so horrendous they are many times more difficult to tackle.

A common example is when workers stretch break times from the standard 20 minutes to more than 30 minutes actually sitting in the break room.

The total duration away from work is more like 45 minutes from the time work stops until it resumes. The supervisor does not want to appear to be a “by the book” manager, so the problem is ignored every day. When things get too far out of control, the unfortunate supervisor is forced to play the bad guy, and everyone suffers a major loss in morale.

I once worked in a unit where one person suffered from acute alcoholism. His abusive behavior was enabled because his supervisor did not dare confront him. The employee had an excellent grasp of the technology used in the process, so the supervisor did not want to lose the person.

Finally, the situation became intolerable. When they called him in to confront the facts, he had been out of control for 15 years. His reaction to the manager was, “What took you guys so long?”

Following months of treatment, he became sober and was able to go on with his life as a positive contributor. Unfortunately, he was old enough by that time to retire; the organization had acted too late to gain much benefit from his recovery. The problem was clear, yet for years nothing was done.

In every organization, there are situations like this (not just health issues – tardiness, too many smoke breaks, or abusing other people are typical examples). Leaders often ignore the problem, hoping it will go away.

The advice here is to remember the comment made by my example, “What took you guys so long?” and intervene when the problems are less acute and the damage is minor. In his case, that would have been a blessing; the man died a few months after retiring.

Taking strong action requires courage that many leaders simply do not have. They rationalize the situation with logic like:

• Maybe the problem will correct itself if I just leave it alone.
• Perhaps I will be moved sometime soon, and the next person can deal with this.
• Confronting the issue would be so traumatic that it would do more harm than good.
• We have already found viable workaround measures, so why rock the boat now?
• We have bigger problems than this. Exposing this situation would be a distraction from our critical work.

The real dilemma is knowing the exact moment to intervene and how to do it in a way that preserves trust with the individual and the group.

Once you let someone get away with a violation, it becomes harder to enforce a rule the next time.

The art of supervision is knowing how to make judgments that people interpret as fair, equitable, and sensitive. The best time to intervene is when the issue first arises.

As a supervisor, you need to make the rules known and follow them yourself with few and only well-justified exceptions. It is not possible to treat everyone always the same, but you must enforce the rules consistently in a way that people recognize is both appropriate and disciplined.

Be alert for the following symptoms in your area of control. If you observe these, chances are you are enabling problem employees.

• Recognition that you are working around a “problem”
• Accusations that you are “playing favorites”
• Individuals claiming they do not understand documented policies
• Backroom discussions of how to handle a person who is out of control
• Denial or downplaying an issue that is well known in the area
• Fear of retaliation or sabotage if rules are enforced
• Cliques forming to protect certain individuals
• Pranks or horseplay perpetrated on some individuals

These are just a few signals that someone is being enabled and that you need to step up to the responsibility of being the enforcer.

Sometimes supervisors inherit an undisciplined situation from a previous weak leader. It can be a challenge to get people to follow rules they have habitually ignored.

One idea is to get the group together and review company policy or simply ask what the rules are in this organization. Often people do not know the policies, or pretend they do not know, because the application of rules has been eclectic.

This void gives you a perfect opportunity to restate or recast the rules to start fresh. It can be done as a group exercise to improve buy-in. When people have a hand in creating the rules, they tend to remember and follow them better.

If you are not a new leader but are in a situation where abuse has crept in, using this technique and taking responsible action can help you regain control and credibility.

I advocate asking a lot of questions rather than just demanding everyone follow the rule. Here are some questions that can get a discussion going (note I will use the issue of break time here as an example):

• Do you understand the need for some limitations for the length of breaks?
• Do you think we are better off if we apply the rules the same way for everyone?
• Is it possible for the crew to enforce the rules without the need for a supervisor?
• Do we intend to follow the rules?
• What should happen to someone who does not follow the rules?

The reward for making the tough calls is that people throughout the organization will respect you. Problems will be handled early when they are easier to correct. The downside of procrastinating on enforcement is that you appear weak, and people will continually push the boundaries.


Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.


Body Language 79 Skeptical

June 14, 2020

There are many different ways we can express skepticism without using any words. This article will highlight some of the typical body language gestures that can be seen if a person is skeptical.

There are numerous facial cues you can use to identify a skeptical person and also some telltale hand gestures. We will start by observing the eyes.

Eyes

A skeptical person will often look at you with a sideways glance. The message is “do you expect me to believe this?”

Alternatively, the person may be squinting at you like what you are saying is painful or just does not compute.

A third option with the eyes is having them wide open in a somewhat surprised stance or looking over the rims of his glasses.

Eyebrows

The eyebrows will often be raised as the person contemplates what as just said. The connotation is – really?? Sometimes the eyebrows will be pulled toward the bridge of the nose as an indication of confusion, concern, or disbelief.

Head tilt

Often you will see a tilted head when observing a skeptical person. The message being conveyed is that the person is thinking something is definitely wrong with what you just said or did but cannot quite figure out what it is.

Mouth

The most often mouth gesture for a skeptical person is a kind of pout. Alternatively, you might see the mouth pulled slightly to one side and either be open or shut. The connotation is that the person is straining to believe what you just said.

Hand gestures

There are many different hand gestures associated with a skeptical person. A common one is stroking the chin area. The person is trying to rationalize what was just said, so he is pondering the meaning.

Another common hand gesture is with arms extended and the hands palm up and open. It is like the person is trying to feel the weight of what you just said.

You might see an extended index finger pointing at you or even a “time out” signal with the tips of one hand touching the palm of the other hand.

What to do

If you see a cluster of these kinds of gestures, you can be pretty certain the other person is skeptical about what is going on. The best approach is to invite dialog with a question. Here are a few examples of questions that may draw the other person out.

Do you find this hard to believe?
You seem doubtful – what’s wrong?
Can you tell me how you feel about what I just said?
Does this seem right to you?
Is there another way of looking at this?

Then, pay particular attention to the response you get and try to avoid getting defensive. The other person is entitled to his or her opinion, and you need to handle the conversation with tact in order to start rebuilding any lost trust.

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



Body Language 78 Faking Emotions

June 7, 2020

Sometimes people will try to fake or disguise their emotions. I believe the hit rate for doing that successfully is pretty low. There are an infinite number of ways we send signals to other people without uttering any words. We lump it all under the term “Body Language.”

We may think that we can fool others into thinking we are happy when we are actually experiencing another strong emotion. When we do that, we send mixed signals that lower trust and tend to confuse people.

The number or permutations when trying to disguise emotions is so large, we cannot begin to explore a substantial portion in a brief article. I will just mention a few examples here to illustrate my point.

Human beings have a remarkable ability to sniff out conflicting signals. They may not be able to decode what the true emotion is, but they can sense when something is not genuine.

In the attached photo, the woman is faking a smile, but the eyebrows tell us that she is not really happy.  Also the head tilt is a mixed signal inconsistent with happiness.  Something is wrong here, and we need to investigate what it is.

When we meet someone for the first time, there are many layers of information being conveyed, according to body language expert Bill Acheson of the University of Pittsburgh. The layers are time, space, appearance, posture, gesture, facial expression, eye contact, breathing, touch, and smell. Bill says, “There are twelve layers of information and we pick up every single detail at some subconscious level.”

When we try to manipulate one factor by focusing energy on a masking gesture, we are still sending out a huge amount of data on the other factors that will look inconsistent.

I suspect you have had the experience of meeting someone where you were thinking, “I don’t trust this individual. I am not sure why, but something is wrong here.” For example, I once met a CEO who made a specific effort to avoid all eye contact while we were shaking hands.  That was back in the day when shaking hands was acceptable. It was creepy.

On the other extreme, you have met people in your life that came across as truly authentic in every detail. You have a tendency to naturally bond with those people instantly because you sensed that you could trust them.

I had an experience of going to a meeting where I was very angry at one of the participants. I won’t go into the details of why I was livid, but I tried to hide the fact with a pleasant air and small talk. I suspect that my attempt to hide the truth came across as phony because she had a look of high discomfort throughout the meeting. I was at fault for not being authentic.

The purpose of this article is to remind us all that our true emotions are on display at all times. Try to hide them at your peril. What you are actually doing is lowering the possibility of a trusting relationship.


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



Body Language 86 Zoom Boom 3 Distractions

May 25, 2020

This is the third of four short articles highlighting the differences from in-person body language and body language when using a virtual platform.

Distractions during a virtual meeting are inevitable, but there are many steps you can take to minimize them.

The first rule is to keep yourself on mute when you are not actually talking. That way, if the phone rings or the dog barks, the other people in the meeting will not be aware, and you will not have caused an interruption.

If you are participating from home, let other people in your house know you are having a meeting or have some kind of signal so other people do not inadvertently cause an interruption. In our home, we shut the door to our office as a signal we are busy and do not want to be disturbed.

Try to anticipate your needs for the meeting time. Go to the bathroom, if possible, before starting a meeting and make sure you have some water or coffee available so you do not need to get up and leave the room.

Have any props you want to use at hand so you don’t have to go off camera to hunt them down during the meeting.

Plan to arrive at the meeting 5-10 minutes early so you can deal with any technical challenges from your end before the meeting starts.

It is unfair to others to arrive 5 minutes late and then have a problem getting your microphone to work properly. Check things out yourself before the meeting starts.

If you have a camera, it is best to use it unless bandwidth is a problem. Some people would rather not show their face because they might be having a bad hair day.

Keep in mind that when people cannot see your face at all, it is rather like a conference call for them. You may have the advantage of being able to see the other faces, but they cannot see you.

Make sure you allow roughly equal air time for all participants if it is a meeting format. Don’t forget to include people who are phoning in. Just because you cannot see their faces does not mean you can ignore them.

A webinar format usually implies that the person or panel in charge will be doing most of the communicating. Just be sensitive to the need for others to have adequate airtime and don’t monopolize the conversation.

A huge distraction for any meeting is a phenomenon called a “Zoom Bomb.” This is where someone who is not part of the meeting breaks into the format and puts up some obscene or hurtful information.

I have experienced this, and it is completely disruptive to the meeting. It literally sickened me.

Zoom has done a good job of providing tools to prevent a meeting from being bombed. They are a little more cumbersome than to operate without the tools, but they are well worth using because of the magnitude of the hurt a bomb can cause.

Here is a list of the tools available at this time.

1. Have people register for the meeting, so you know who to expect.
2. Always use a system generated meeting address and a password. You can select any password you wish.
3. Enable the “waiting room” feature so that people do not enter the meeting without the host giving them access.
4. Disallow screen share for all participants to start out, You can enable all to share the screen once the meeting is locked.
5. Once people have all arrived, lock the meeting. This will prevent anyone else from entering.
6. The host or co-host can dismiss any disruptive person, so be prepared to use that feature if need be.
7. Keep your software up to date.

If you use care, the meeting disruptions will be minimal. The few that do happen will be cause for laughter rather than frustration.

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


Body Language 85 Zoom Boom 2 Lighting

May 18, 2020

This is the second of four short articles highlighting the differences from in-person body language and body language when using a virtual platform.

The topic of this article is the lighting and background that is evident in the picture when you are using your video camera.

A common mistake is to sit between the camera and a window, especially on a sunny day.

You will show up as a dark blob in the foreground, and no facial detail will be available to the other participants.

If you have too much light in front of you, either from a window or the computer screen, it can reflect off your glasses and make it hard for people to see your eyes. The cure for this is to screen out the excess light or purchase anti-glare glasses. Another solution to this problem is to wear contact lenses.

I have made videos using the rims of glasses with no lenses in them. That is a good solution when you are alone and just talking at a screen, but when you want to participate with other people in a meeting, you need to be able to see them clearly.

If you have an overhead light, it can be overpowering and make you look washed out or reflect off a bald head so you look like a light bulb. Here again, the solution is some form of light screen so you are surrounded by indirect, but adequate light.

It is important to experiment with the lighting so that other people in the meeting can see your face. Try to create a professional looking environment rather than an obvious bedroom, basement, or attic when working from home. The same rules apply when you are working in an office setting.

Avoid overly complex or messy backgrounds that distract attention from the facial area. Whether at work or at home, try to avoid having the camera pointing toward a high traffic area behind you.

Sometimes having other people in the background is unavoidable, because you are supporting a meeting while in a coffee shop or at the airport. In these situations, people will understand your dilemma.

Many people choose a virtual background, but these do not work particularly well unless you are using a green screen behind you. The picture you input will show as a still or moving image, but when you move, the shape of your head will be grossly distorted until you remain motionless for a few seconds. This movement can be very distracting, although it sometimes provides some comic relief.

What to do

The best approach is to spend time and energy on your setup so that it shows you in the kind of way that reflects professionalism. Have an area set up with the camera and proper lighting and background. Make provision for having meetings in the morning or the afternoon where the challenge of sunlight can be dealt with easily.

For example, I have a window above my work table. If a meeting is in the morning, the shade I use provides just the right amount of light. In the afternoon, if it is a sunny day, there is too much light, so I have a sheet of feather board I can quickly place in front of the window to block the excess light.

Recognize that not all participants may have access to good quality bandwidth where they are located. Expect that some members of the group will need to call in. In these cases, you will have to go by tone of voice and the words that are used to determine the mental state of the individual. There is no video image.

In some cases people will have a picture but use the phone for audio.  Remember to assign the phone number to the appropriate breakout room or the person will not be heard in the breakout.

Consider also your attire. You want to dress as you would if you were at work in a meeting. If you would not wear a colored polo shirt to a meeting in your office, then don’t show up in one for a virtual meeting. If you dress down just because you are working from home, it does not reflect well on you for business discussions.

Even though the Zoom environment seems more informal, you always want to look your best and display a professional demeanor.


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


Leadership Barometer 48 Recovering From a Mistake

May 1, 2020

I have always been fascinated by mistakes. As human beings, we share several things in common; making mistakes is one of them. The vast majority of the time we blunder into mistakes innocently.

Obviously, if we could see mistakes coming, we would take steps to avoid them. The mistake is usually like a mouse trap that is sprung on us while our focus was on something else.

The interesting thing to me is how we react after a mistake. It is here that I learned a great lesson in leadership and trust. The lesson came years ago when I was a young manager.

I was in Japan negotiating a deal for some equipment. I had inadvertently left some material on a table while a group went out for lunch. Some of the material would have been damaging to our negotiating position if it were leaked to the other side.

Upon returning from lunch, I realize that I had left things in a state where they could have been copied and later used against us. I did not know if anybody actually did copy some pages, but I felt horrible about my lapse.

Upon returning to the home office in the US, I immediately reported to my boss’s office and said, “Dick, you would never know this if I didn’t tell you, but I made a mistake when I was in Japan this week.”

He looked up at me with a smirk and said, “Whatd’ya do?” I explained my lapse in detail. He said, “You’re right, Bob. That’s not the smartest thing you ever did. The smartest thing you ever did was to tell me about it.”

From that moment on, I felt a much higher level of trust and respect for me in the eyes of my boss. I believe it gave my career a significant and lasting boost.

The key point in the above lesson was that he really would never have known anything about it if I had not admitted the gaff. It was the unprompted admission that spoke much louder than the sin.

Since then I have studied the impact of admitting mistakes for leaders, and come away with some observations.

Let’s suppose that I have gathered several leaders into a room and asked them to answer the following question: “After you make a mistake, in terms of maximizing respect for you, is it better to admit it or try to finesse it?”

Nearly all leaders would say admitting the mistake has a much greater probability of increasing respect. The irony is that when subsequently a mistake is made, most of these same leaders choose to hide it, blame someone else, or pretend it didn’t happen.

The real conundrum is that if you were to tap the leader on the shoulder at that time, you would hear “I did not want to admit my mistake because I was afraid people would lose respect for me.”

This situation illustrates that intellectually, most leaders know how to improve respect and trust after a mistake, but many of them tend to not act that way when there is an opportunity to apply it in the field. It seems illogical.

Perhaps in the heat of the moment, leaders lose their perspective to the degree that they will knowingly do things that take them in the opposite direction from where they want to go. I believe it is because they are ashamed of making a mistake.

When you admit an error, it has an incredibly positive impact on trust, because it is unexpected. This is especially true if you are a leader.

Perhaps this is one of the differences between IQ and Emotional Intelligence. Intellectually, leaders know the best route to improve trust, but emotionally they are not mature or confident enough to take the risk.

When you admit an error, it has a positive impact on trust because it is unexpected. As Warren Bennis in Old Dogs: New Tricks noted, “All the successful leaders I’ve met learned to embrace error and to learn from it.”

Respect is not always increased if a mistake is admitted. For example, here are three circumstances where admitting a mistake would reduce respect and trust:

1. If this was the third time you had made the same mistake
2. If the mistake was so stupid it reveals you as being clueless
3. If the mistake was made in an effort to hurt someone or part of a sinister plot

If you find yourself making these kinds of mistakes, it would be wise to reconsider if you are right for a leadership position at all.

The vast majority or mistakes are honest lapses where something unexpected happened. For these so-called “honest” mistakes, it is far better to admit them and ask for forgiveness than to try to finesse the situation or blame others or circumstances. It is a tangible demonstration of your integrity, and that improves trust.

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, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind


Leadership Barometer 46 Addition by Subtraction

April 16, 2020

The title of this article came from a student in one of my online classes on Team Dynamics. He got the phrase from an “extraordinary” Chief Master Sergeant named Jim, currently serving at the Pentagon. I really love the phrase because it is so simple, yet so profound.

We are all familiar with some of the problems that occur when working in teams. In this article, I want to focus on the impact that can be made by a single person who is a misfit in the group and slows down all team progress.

I need to be careful to describe the phenomenon correctly. Normally, I am an advocate of having diversity of opinion and styles within a team. Reason: respectful differences in outlook or opinion are healthy because they usually lead to more creative and robust solutions.

If you have a team of clones who all think alike on most issues, you have a mono-culture that may seem to work well, but it will probably lead to myopic solutions. In general, having “different” people on a team is a good thing.

Unfortunately, we have all had the experience of being on a team where one individual simply stops forward progress on a regular basis. The root cause may be a personality deficiency or some kind of chemistry problem between members.

The person may become moody or bellicose and derail group processes at every opportunity. In rare cases there is an intent to stop the efforts of a team, sort of like a sport.

I am not writing about a person on the team who fills a Devil’s advocate role from time to time in order to prevent the group from slipping into a dangerous group think. Nor am I referring to the person with a concern or observation who voices it in a polite way.

The person I am describing is one who habitually takes a contrarian view and refuses to accept the fact that he or she is derailing conversation rather than fostering a balanced discussion.

I advocate that any team should have a written and agreed-upon set of expected behaviors. These statements indicate our agreement on how we will treat each other along with specific consequences for members who do not comply.

If peer pressure and body language fail to convince the person to stop the disruptive behavior, then it is time for the person’s manager to do some private coaching. Sometimes that can make at least a temporary improvement

However, some individuals just cannot or will not change. Stronger measures are required. The solution is rather obvious. The person needs to find some other way to get entertainment, and should be excused from the team.

This surgery is really “addition by subtraction.” Reason: once the problem person is removed, the entire team will breathe a sigh of relief, because now decisions and progress can occur more easily.

I recall removing a disruptive member of a team years ago. Grateful team members came to me with tears of gratitude in their eyes saying, “Oh thank you! Removing Frank from the team took some courage, but we are so grateful to have the ability to navigate without him. Life will be so much better for all of us because of your action.”

Removing a problem person from a team is often a painful process. Egos can get bruised or there may be an ugly scene. My advice is to take the action, but only after you have exhausted all remedial efforts.




Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations


Body Language 83 Handshakes Post COVID-19

April 13, 2020

I am having to modify my leadership training material as a result of COVID-19. I do a section on the impact of Body Language on trust between people.

Historically, I have discussed the handshake at length because how you do it impacts the first impression people have about you, which has a huge impact on the trust you can achieve with the other person.

We may get back to shaking hands post COVID-19, but it will likely be quite a while before people are comfortable doing it.

Every culture has some form of touch ritual for people when they first meet. I suspect they will all be impacted by the pandemic we have experienced in 2020.

In western cultures, and several others, the handshake is the preferred method of greeting a person you are just meeting. What are the options, and how will they impact the ability to bond with the other person?

Fist bumps

The fist bump is assumed to be far less contaminating than a full handshake for two reasons. First, the contact area is much less, and second, the duration of the contact is far less. Still, if I am going to be uncomfortable with a full hand shake, I am also going to be a bit leery of a fist bump for quite some time.

Elbow bumps

Having the elbows touch is suggested as an alternative, but it is a really poor one because it is difficult to maintain eye contact when doing it, and the intimacy is destroyed by the awkward position required to do it. When watching two people try to do an elbow bump, I usually see it followed by an awkward kind of laugh as if the whole thing is some kind of joke. This could become less of an issue in the future, but I really doubt it.


Thumbs up

Here you can maintain a good distance from the other person. It is a positive and friendly gesture that sends a good signal. There is no touching at all, so the possibility of contamination is greatly reduced. Unfortunately, the intimacy of the handshake is lost with a thumbs up.

Wave

A cheerful wave may be as good as a thumbs up gesture. Here you can combine a facial expression of gratitude for being able to meet the other person. That is the most important ingredient that made the handshake so valuable in the past.

We have to modify our habitual touch ritual that we learned as children and have been using all our life, up to this point. That’s too bad, because the handshake was a powerful way to show your eagerness to meet the other person. In my programs, I stress that it is possible to plant a seed of trust in the first 10 seconds, and a large part of doing that was a proper handshake.

The substitute greeting gestures are never going to replace the value of a handshake as a way to have two people bond when first meeting. That is an unfortunate reality, which means we will need to work extra hard to demonstrate our emotions without touching in the future, at least for a while.

Pay attention to how you greet new acquaintances in the future and select a method that you feel conveys the right spirit and that you can apply consistently. We may return to the handshake someday in the future based on some kind of immunization program, but I believe the scars left by this huge disruption of COVID-19 will have a long memory in the minds of most people.



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



Body Language 73 Coy

March 27, 2020

How can you tell if another person is being coy? In this article I will give some tips to recognize the body language gestures associated with being coy and give some ideas to deal with the situation.

I will start with being coy in a business setting and then cover the same topic from a social point of view. The former usually involves someone being somewhat evasive while being coy in a social setting runs the gamut between deception all the way to overt flirtation.

What is being coy?

The definition of coy is “pretending to be shy or modest.” Another definition from Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary is..”marked by cute coquettish or artful playfulness.” A third perspective of being coy includes a reluctance to make a commitment or give details about something regarded as sensitive.

Eyebrows

When a person is being coy, he will usually have one eyebrow noticeably raised. You do not see both eyebrows raised, because that gesture would normally be associated with the emotion of surprise or even shock.

The clandestine look is what gives the gesture the appearance of some mystery. That can be what creates the playfulness of the gesture. The uncertainty of what he is thinking enhances the effect.

Eyes

A coy person will usually be looking sideways. He does not look up or down, but the eyes are noticeably looking to the side. It is an evasive kind of movement, like he is making an effort to hide something.

He rarely will make direct eye contact when being coy because that would reduce the mystery effect.

Cheeks

When a person is being coy, you usually see only one cheek as he will turn his head and not look at you straight on. He may also have a tilted head to accentuate the expression.

Mouth

There is often a slight pulling back of the one cheek in an effort to make a mysterious smile. Alternatively, the mouth can also form a sober frown, as in the picture.

Chin

Often the chin is lowered a bit as if to hide something. It would be unusual to see a coy person with his head held high. Part of the secret look is to lower the chin.

In a Business Setting

Being coy in a business setting means that there is something a person wants to express but prefers to only hint at until the other person begins to get a message. It can also mean reluctance to give information the other person wants.

The desired outcome is rarely sexual, as in social expressions of being coy. Many of the body language signals will be the same, as is shown in the picture above of a male being coy in a work setting.

Perhaps he knows something, but he does not trust the other person enough to reveal it. Perhaps he is playing some kind of game where he wants to stall for time for some reason. This is not necessarily negative, since a person can have valid reasons for keeping something private.

One approach to break the tension is to ask the person if he is uncomfortable at the moment. If he agrees, then you have the opportunity to make open ended questions in an attempt to find out the root cause of the discomfort.

Being coy is also used in marketing when an organization wants to build anticipation for a new product but is not quite ready for the grand announcement.

The art of being coy is often seen in political situations where a candidate is not ready to announce his or her true intentions. This application often comes across as artful dodging, which tends to lower trust because people recognize they are not getting the full truth.

Being coy in a social setting

The most well-known examples of being coy occur in a social setting, rather than a business or political setting, as in the attached picture.

The gestures are usually intended to be provocative and involve another person. People would not make these movements if they were alone.

The smile may be slightly pulled to the side reminiscent of the Mona Lisa look. The half-smile is an indication of potential pleasure. She may also exhibit pursed lips as if in a mock kissing gesture.

Conclusion

When a person (male or female) is being coy, you have to recognize that there is some kind of agenda going on. Be careful to not misinterpret the coyness as attraction. There could be a number of things going on. The best advice is to remain unsure until you have other indications for why the person is making these gestures.

Look for the opportunity for some dialog. Observe more and try to ask open ended questions for more data. If the person begins to open up, then you can improve the accuracy of your understanding and not make unwarranted assumptions.


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



Body Language 72 Exasperation or Rage

March 20, 2020

When someone is completely exasperated or enraged, it is usually easy to tell. The body language gestures are rather specific and well known.

Rage is an extreme form of anger that has a special category because the person experiencing it nearly loses all control of her body. The extreme gestures of exasperation or rage are usually short lived and give way to more typical expressions of anger.

Here are a few things to look out for when dealing with an exasperated person.

Puffed out Cheeks

The genesis of this gesture is an exhale but with a closed mouth so the cheeks puff out. Of course, the steam coming out of her ears is imagined, but the look is unmistakable. This person is really upset.

Followed by open mouth with verbal gasp

The mouth opens and the person shows her teeth as she either screams or just gasps. The connotation here is that whatever happened to her is so extreme that she cannot imaging how to contain her anger and finds it hard to find adequate words to describe the situation rationally.

Hand gestures

With a person who is exasperated, the hands are usually involved in the body language. Usually you will see both hands extended in front of the sternum with fingers rigidly curved as if the person is holding two invisible grapefruits. This symbolic gesture is a visual signal that the exasperated person needs to be restrained so as to not strangle the person causing her the angst.

Hands to face

The secondary gesture may also include hands to the face. The person would put both hands to her cheeks as she tries to restrain herself. Another form would have the person putting her hands on the top of her forehead as if she is trying to keep her skull from exploding due to the extreme pressure.

Eyes, eyebrows, and neck

The most common gesture with the eyes and eyebrows is a furrowing of the brows to reflect anger.

Another common gesture is a complete wide-eyed show of rage. A person who is totally enraged may have bulging eyes that look like they are about to pop out of the face.

You may also see obvious bulging ligaments in the neck, which is a common occurrence with rage.

An exasperated person will often roll her eyes in disbelief. It is like she is saying “How can you be so stupid?”

Pointing

If the object of her anger is right there, you may see pointing with the index finger or a rigid vertical hand as she starts to verbalize what is upsetting her so much.

What to do when another person shows exasperation

People at this extreme need space to come to grips with what is going on inside. They need to feel heard, even if that cannot say a word. They often need time before they can speak. They are also looking for some form of response, but you need to be careful how you respond.

The first thing to do is not escalate the situation by mirroring the body language of the person expressing rage. Remain calm and let the other person blow off the initial steam without any comment. In this moment, it is so tempting to fight back, but that almost always makes things worse.

Think about being kind and caring at this moment. Don’t brush aside the whole thing, but also try to not appear condescending. Do not belittle her for losing control. Let the enraged person have her full say and consider carefully what response would de-escalate the situation.

By remaining calm, you take the fuel away from the anger of the exasperated person, but recognize that in some circumstances remaining calm can further enrage the person, so you need to read the body language accurately to know how to respond. It may be helpful to allow a cooling off period before trying to make a difference.

Once the person has regained composure, ask open ended questions to draw her out. Once she has expressed the root cause of the problem, then she may be able to hear and consider some ideas for how to move forward.

I think it helps to acknowledge the other person’s situation and show as much empathy as you can, once you are convinced the person is ready for dialog. If the situation were reversed, you might have had a similar reaction. By this method you can talk the other person down to earth and begin a constructive conversation of how to address the problem in a mature and rational way.

These actions will form a basis to start rebuilding trust with the other person. It may be a long way back to full trust, but you have to start with the proper baby steps.

Things to avoid doing

Do not go on the defensive or walk out. Do not attack or blame the person experiencing exasperation or rage. Refrain from snide remarks or making character assassinations.

Do not block the other person from expressing herself. Do not bully her into talking if she is not yet ready to talk. Don’t crowd the person; give her space. Refrain from dismissing the person.

The other side of the equation

The other side is what is going on inside the person who is witnessing the rage of another person. Someone expressing rage may be a trigger to those who have been abused in prior situations with someone else, like a parent or abusive spouse. A set of coping mechanisms may kick in as needed.

For example, the person may completely withdraw as a means of physical protection or experience genuine terror. If she was the potential trigger for the rage she is seeing, then strong feelings of guilt or shame may surface.

Both parties must use good judgment to de-escalate the situation and regain control. Once the situation has stopped boiling over, it is a good idea to debrief the flare up to identify things to do in the future that will prevent a recurrence. If done with sensitivity and kindness, the ugly incident may become the foundation for building higher trust between the individuals involved.

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