Body Language 24 The Chin

April 20, 2019

Watching how people deal with their jaw and chin can help you understand what they may be thinking. A good example is to watch for clenching of teeth.

When a person clenches his teeth, the muscles on both sides of his face bulge out noticeably. This gesture might be accentuated by the jaw muscles getting red.

In the accompanying picture, the man has clenched teeth and a closed mouth, but the overall meaning is “So what” or “Who cares” because of the palm up arm gesture.

Anger

If the clenched teeth are showing, it is usually a sign of anger or exasperation. It is like the person is biting on an imaginary silver dollar to keep from blurting out how stupid your last remark was.

Sometimes the person clenching his jaw is not even aware he is doing it. I recall one boss I had who used this gesture a lot, and it was always a prime signal to those who were smart to back off.

Surprise

A dropped jaw is usually a sign of surprise. The person is momentarily incapable of grasping the magnitude of the event going on, so he or she opens the mouth wide while usually giving a verbal equivalent to OMG.

The dropped jaw can also be a kind of phony smile where the person is actually showing both his upper and lower teeth at the same time. The gesture is overdone, so it appears insincere.

Direction

Another chin gesture is where a person juts his jaw in the direction he wants to direct you. It may be to advise you to listen to another specific person and keep your own mouth shut. This gesture is often accompanied by a slight upward jaw movement.

Stroking of the chin while listening is a gesture that signals the person is contemplating the input or evaluating which option is more palatable. Men tend to use this gesture a lot, especially if they have facial hair.

Strength

Thrusting of the chin is a form of aggressive behavior. You can see this gesture if you watch a bully in a school yard. You can also see it in a Corporate Board Room. The connotation is “I am stronger than you, so back off.”

General Tone

We often speak of the “angle of the chin” as indicative of a person’s mental state. Chin up is a sign of pride. You might hear “She walked out of his office with her head held high and her chin up.” A slight upward angle of the chin is often seen when a person is emoting trust for another person. The connotation is “I am listening and I believe what you are saying.”

The opposite gesture is when a person has his chin down. This is a sign of feeling weak or dejected. It is usually coupled with a lowering of the entire head and gaze of the eyes. This gesture may also be a sign of shame.

Some people move their mouth from side to side with the lips closed. The best interpretation is that the person is evaluating what is going on. It is neither a positive sign nor a negative one. It is like the person is rolling around options in his or her mouth.

Wake Up

An interesting chin move is where a person will repeatedly slap under the chin with the back of his hand. This gesture is trying to make the person doing it more conscious of what is going on. It is a kind of “wake up” move.

A puckered chin is a sign of being protective. It goes along with a lowering of the entire chin area in order to protect the neck region.

Be alert to these chin movements, because they can tell a lot about the person’s mental state. Like all body language signals, you can be more confident you are interpreting it correctly if you see a cluster of signals.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Your Talk Listen Ratio

August 31, 2013

Talk and listenThe Talk Listen Ratio is one interesting measure of the skill of a leader. It is a pretty easy concept to understand, and If we look at the extremes, neither of them is a good place to be. If the ratio is over 80%, then the leader is monopolizing the conversations. Unfortunately many leaders operate in this range for much of the time. They may be able to get compliance out of people, but they are leaving the power of people off the table. On the other extreme, if a leader’s ratio is below 20%, there is going to be a detachment. This leader is too reticent with his or her thoughts. People will begin to wonder if the person is truly engaged in the mission of the group.

Since it is easy to see the extremes do not work well, it is axiomatic that a balance, like perhaps between 40% and 60% might work better. This means the leader is open with his or her thoughts, but also interested in the ideas of others. I recommend every leader ought to have some way to keep track, because most leaders are blind to the actual ratio they achieve on a daily basis.

You could make a recording of a few conversations to get some data, but I would not do that unless everyone involved agrees to being recorded. By getting everyone’s permission to record a conversation, it would alter the phenomenon being measured, so you would have a Heisenberg Uncertainty situation, where you destroy accuracy by trying to measure a phenomenon.

The optimal ratio is situational, of course. For example, if the leader was trying to outline her vision of the future for the organization, a higher ratio would be expected. The purpose of that conversation is to share her views. Ten minutes later, when that same leader is trying to console a worker who has just lost a loved one, the better ratio would be much lower, because the main objective is to let the person grieve.

My observation is that most leaders would be better off if they would take their natural tendency and lower the ratio by about 20%. If I naturally take up 80% of the air time, I might get a much better result by operating at 60%. This rule does not hold for leaders who naturally operate at 40% or lower. They should seek to maintain their current level or increase it.

I have found it to be possible to monitor your own ratio in certain circumstances. It is distracting to keep track, so the quality of communication is compromised. It is especially difficult to keep track yourself when you are emotionally upset or excited. In these cases, it is helpful to ask another person to make a mental note of your ratio and tell you later. The precision will not be to the second decimal place, but that precision is not required. If you can determine your typical ratio doing several kinds of discussions to within 20% accuracy, that is enough to allow you to change your habits through a feedback process.

There is nothing special in this technique, but I believe it is an extremely rare leader who actually cares about his or her ratio or makes any effort to measure or control it. If you are keeping track and working your way down the scale, you are likely one of the elite leaders of our time.