Body Language 76 Contempt

April 27, 2020

What are the telltale body language signals for a person who is expressing contempt? Most of the gestures for this particular emotion are facial, however, sometimes the hands get involved as well.

Before describing the gestures related to contempt, we need to recognize there are various forms of contempt. In this article we will deal with the gestures associated with two types of content.

First we will explore the type of contempt where one person is upset with another individual and has reached the breaking point. Second, we will cover the form of contempt where one person feels superior to the other person

The first type of contempt is an extreme form of anger. Contempt means despising someone or having total lack of respect. In a professional setting, contempt is normally directed at another individual or group. I suspect it is possible to show contempt for your broken-down car, but nobody would be around to see the gestures.

Mouth

The mouth is always involved when showing contempt, but there are various ways it can be configured. The most common mouth gesture is a deep frown. Usually the jaw is set tight as are the lips. If the person has an open mouth, then the emotion is usually rage rather than contempt. It is possible to convey contempt with a sneer where the upper lip is curled upward showing teeth.

Eyebrows

Since contempt is an extension of anger, it is logical that many of the facial cues for anger will be evident. The classic frown with the eyebrows is a good visible cue, but you need to be a bit careful. Sometimes contempt can involve a rather placid expression with the eyebrows. If that is the case, look for a squint of the eyes and a piercing gaze.


Hand gestures

The most common hand gesture with contempt is pointing. This is a classic hostile movement that is intended to focus energy on the person who is being held in contempt. Another hand gesture might involve a flat hand extended palm up as if to say “you fool, how could you be so stupid?”

A person exhibiting contempt may have folded arms or put hands on hips. These two gestures are common with all forms of anger.

What to do

When you see evidence of this form of contempt, recognize that the person has gone way beyond annoyance and even anger. If the gesture is directed toward you, there is some serious repair work to be done.

The best course is to not mirror the gestures of the other person but calmly proceed to investigate the source of the problem. Do this with a sincere desire to uncover what is happening and no trace of a condescending remark.

You want the other person to open up and tell you what he or she is thinking. Only then can you explore ways to remedy the situation. Your sincerity will be evident by what you say and your body language as you say it.

You may want to put some time between the current interface and the problem solving phase. Sometimes having a cooling off period will soften the other person’s approach, but if you want to do this, be careful to not appear to reject the emotions.

Ask if it would be best to discuss this a little later and recognize the other person may insist on an immediate response from you.

Avoid becoming defensive and saying things like “you do not understand.” Those kinds of deflections will only increase the ire, because they will be interpreted as disrespect. Assume the non-verbal input is legitimate, because in the other person’s mind it is. Handle the conversation with care because often you can begin rebuilding trust right on the spot.

The other type of contempt

Here, the person believes he or she is better than the other person and shows it with body language. This is not a form of anger, but rather a strong feeling of superiority.

You do not see a frown or furrowed eye brows, in fact the body language is nearly opposite. The most obvious body language associated with superiority is the nose and chin in the air.

The message is “I’m too good to even talk to you.” Curiously, contempt can also be manifest by looking down one’s nose at another person.

The eyebrows would be level and not furrowed, and the eyes would be half shut as if to not let in more light than is necessary.

The mouth is closed and not clenched, as would be the case for contempt with anger.

What to do

When someone is giving you signals of feeling superior, there really is not a lot you can do about it. You might start reciting the Greek Alphabet, but that would only provide some comic relief. You could try to dazzle the other person by stating some obscure medical theory, but that would only play into the other person’s game.

Giving him a quick kick in the groin might feel satisfying, but it would not change his underlying problem, and it might get you killed.

The best thing to do when confronted with a person who believes he is superior is to turn around and walk away. Nothing you can say or do is going to impress a person who believes he is better than you. It is best to let the egomaniac stew in his own juice and don’t put up with the game he is playing.

Both Modes at the same time

It is conceivable that you might see both extreme anger and a feeling of superiority at the same time. In that case, you will witness a mixture of the gestures discussed in this article. The person will show obvious distain while also be on the verge of exploding with rage.

Wrap up

Contempt can come in lots of forms. In this article we have discussed the two primary forms of contempt and the body language gestures associated with them. See if you can think of other flavors contempt, and send me a note on them.




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.”


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 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.”


Body Language 47 Conflict

September 28, 2019

Conflict brings out all kinds of body language that is rather easy to interpret. In this picture, we see one individual trying to make a point but the other person completely blocking out the information, at least on the surface.

There is a significant caution before I get into the analysis to follow. You cannot judge the totality of what is going on from a single picture or view of what is happening. The attached photo, may not tell the whole story.

Anger

One person is speaking in anger or frustration, and the other person is obviously shutting her out and rolling her eyes upward. It is clear that there is conflict going on, but it is not clear where, why, and how the conflict began. It probably predates this specific conversation.

Also, keep in mind that in any situation both parties are acting according to their own viewpoint of what is right to do. Each person is totally justified in her own mind, and each is frustrated.

Information

When trying to assess what is going on in communication between individuals, you need a lot more background and information to figure out why each person is acting the way she is.

Is there a history of conflict between these two people? Does the speaker or listener have a history of conflict with others in the office? If a person habitually brings conflict to situations, others will not want to interact with her or will interact with her badly.

When a person is listening to another individual, he or she normally “attends” to the other person by looking at least in his direction and often making eye contact. There will also be some additional attending gestures such as head nodding or head tilting to indicate attention.

Engage

The listener may be day dreaming or totally focusing on what he or she is going to say next, but at least there is some attempt to look engaged in the conversation. There can be less overt ways a listener can show disinterest in the conversation. For example, the listener may start reading email on her phone or pick up a catalog and start leafing through it. Another common ploy is to just put a blank look on her face and show no emotion or connection to the conversation.

Blocking

Occasionally, you will run into an individual such as in the picture who has no intention of listening and tries to show it as graphically as possible. Here we see the woman actually blocking eye contact with her hand and making a sarcastic eye roll to enhance the signal. She clearly does not want to listen, and the situation between the two people has escalated to a point where she has no qualms about sending strong signals.

Safety

When a listener withdraws, it can be a clue that the person does not feel safe in the situation or with the person who is speaking. The body language is defensive and may be a way of protecting the person from harsh or demeaning words.

Another reason for withdrawal may be that the listener knows from experience that the interchange will not be positive or productive. Negative interchanges can have long term repercussions.

Whatever the outward signal, if the listener is showing little interest in the input, it is best to think broadly about why you are getting this behavior or just go mute. As long as you are droning on, the listener is free to show absolutely no interest in what you have to say. Keep in mind that what the other person wanted you to do in the first place was shut up, so the awkward silence may get extremely long.

If the speaker is one who creates conflict and the listener wants to avoid it, there is probably nothing the listener can say that will be accepted by the speaker, so the listener has no real incentive to say anything.

Avoid threats

One thing to avoid is saying something like “Why don’t you look at me when I am speaking to you?” A question like that can be interpreted as threatening. The same problem occurs with talking louder or faster. These actions will not remedy the situation, and they can even make the situation worse.

Situations like this point to larger or ongoing problems that have resulted in a lack of trust between people. The trust level needs to be addressed before open and meaningful communications can begin. It is wise for both people to think back on the progression of the relationship that brought them to this point.

Either person can act to improve the situation. Either can say, “It seems like we are not communicating well. I don’t want to be in conflict with you. What can we do to repair this situation?” However, if there is a persistent instigator of conflict, that is the person who has the most responsibility to repair the relationship and rebuild trust. The other person may have tried many things in the past to reach out or express herself, was shut down, and now has given up.

Each person needs to examine her contribution to the ongoing issues.

Trust

Obviously a good, constructive conversation requires that both parties participate roughly equally. If the speaker does not let the listener respond, it is not a real conversation and creates a breach of trust. If the listener withdraws from the beginning, even if it is a result of prior bad experiences, it does nothing to heal the relationship.

Bilateral trust is vital for mature conversation. When you run into a situation like the ones described above, don’t try to badger the other person into paying attention, and if you are the person listening, don’t withdraw. Work through the issues that you have. Investigate what may be causing the issues, talk it through, and and try to rebuild trust. It can take time, but reestablishing an environment of trust is well worth the effort for both people and the entire organization.

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.


Body Language 25 Ears and Hearing

April 27, 2019

Interpreting the body language associated with ears is challenging activity. For the most part, ears are receivers of information rather than providers. Ears rarely move; they are just stuck on the side of the head to enable listening. However, if you know how to observe them, ears can send some strong signals about what is going on with a person.

You can wiggle your ears by contracting the muscles on the back of your head. Other than that, ears do not move much. One exception was my father, who could actually wiggle his ears without moving his facial muscles. I could never figure out how he did that.

If you observe someone who is wiggling his ears while listening or speaking, he may have an uncontrollable tick or other nervous disorder. How else, other than movement, might we gain insight from observing the ears? The answer is color.

Normally the ears are the same color as the cheeks, but there are several situations that can cause the ears to blush or become red. Let’s examine some of these conditions.

Anger

When a person becomes enraged, the blood naturally flows to the ears and they will become much redder than the surrounding body parts. Of course, to read this type of body language, one must be able to see the tops of the ears. Women or men with hair covering up the tips of their ears have the ability to hide this condition under most circumstances.

Arousal

The ears become reddened when a person is aroused. Anything from a mild desire to raw passion will affect the color of the ears. I have not seen a study to indicate that the exact shade of the ear correlates with the level of passion. I would be interested in knowing this if anyone knows of such a study.

Embarrassment

The ears may also become red if a person is feeling embarrassed. However, usually when this occurs, the rest of the face will turn red as well.

Stress

Extreme stress can also cause the ears to become red for some people.

Temperature

Just as very cold temperatures can cause the ears to appear slightly blue, very hot conditions or intense exercise can create red ears. In this case you would know the reason because the face would be red and the forehead would be showing perspiration. Other conditions causing ears to become red rarely cause the sweat glands to secrete as well.

Sound Modulation

When a person cups his hand behind his ear, it is a call for more volume. Likewise, hands over the ears means too much volume, or it might be an indication the person is just not wanting to hear what is being said.

When communicating with another person audibly, make sure your volume is adequate for the other person to really hear the input. It is best to be in the same room with a person you want to communicate with, because that allows the other person the ability to view your entire body language and even read your lips as you speak.

The relation of complete hearing to trust is simple.  With incomplete information, people will make assumptions (sometimes incorrect) about your meaning.  They may believe that accurate communication has happened when it has not.

If a person has a hearing condition, such as tinnitus (ringing or hum in the ears), you need to take that into account to provide enough volume for the person to really hear you. Sometimes hearing loss is so subtle that the person is unaware of a problem. The antidote for this is to get a periodic hearing test.

Make sure there is not another source of sound closer to the listener than you. For example, if I am standing next to a molding machine you need to raise your voice or I am not going to hear your input. This situation is intuitively obvious, but it is often a source of poor communication at work and in the home.

If you have a particular person who often does not receive the full message, he or she may have a hearing condition or you may be communicating in a way that does not allow the person to hear you accurately. It could be that audio input is not the preferred channel of communication for the person. Check it out and modify your speaking pattern accordingly.

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.TheTrust 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


Body Language 4 Facial Expressions

December 1, 2018

The topic of facial expressions is endlessly fascinating. Keeping in mind that all body language is culture specific; still many of the facial expressions are the same no matter what culture is employing them. For example, a child in pain is going to have the same facial expression regardless of where in the world he or she originated.

There are many generalities in facial expressions. For this series, I will key off the Western Cultures to make specific points. Where specific gestures mean different things, I will give some examples to clarify.

There are literally tens of thousands of different facial expressions we use to convey our emotions. It would be impossible to cover them all in one article, but I will lay out some details of the specific parts of the face in my articles over the next several weeks. In this article, I deal with the entire face as a unit.

As Bill Acheson points out in his series “Advanced Body Language,” (www.seminarsonDVD.com) most body language occurs at the subconscious level. We are giving off signals with all facets of body language every moment of the day. The part of body language that we control consciously is facial expressions. You can be having a bad day and still try to wear a pleasant expression. Or you can be quite happy but appear to be angry if you wish. The problem is that when you try to force an expression that is not congruent with the remainder of your body language, it appears phony.

Take the example of the person in the picture above. He has a smile on his face, but his posture is not consistent with someone who is happy. His arms are crossed and he has a slouch. His eyes are squinting. The smile is not convincing and looks pasted on. While he is trying to look happy, the incongruent body language reveals another agenda. We are not really sure what the message is, but it sure isn’t a congenial look of happiness.

We can convey all kinds of emotions just by our facial expressions. For example, as you are reading this, can you convey the following emotions accurately?

Anger
Fear
Love
Happiness
Pain
Surprise
Disgust
Contempt

I think you will agree that it is rather easy to convey these emotions through facial expression. In his program, Bill Acheson shares some research that there is one emotion that men can convey with far greater accuracy than women. That emotion is guilt. His explanation is that for men, guilt is a two-person event “There’s things these guys have done that they thought was funny as Hell till they got found out.” For a woman, guilt is something that is experienced internally, so it is not easy for a female to show an expression of guilt.

One interesting exercise in reading facial expressions is provided by the Greater Good at Berkley Group. They have an online quiz that shows 20 facial expressions and you get to select from four possible explanations. The quiz is located at http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/ei_quiz/ You will find some of the expressions are easy to follow, but others are quite subtle.

Another example is to try to come up with a word that goes along with the following facial expressions.

 

For comparison to your list, here are the words I would use to describe these expressions in the order given. I do not expect us to agree on all of the interpretations, but I suspect many of them will be similar.

 

 

 

 

1. Pleased
2. Excited
3. Bummed
4. Coy
5. Upset
6. Calm
7. Exasperated
8. Incredulous
9. Scathing
10. Shocked
11. Pondering
12. Surprised
13. Withdrawn
14. Disgusted
15. Fatigued
16. Worried

Exercise for you today

Observe the facial expressions of your family and coworkers at a deeper level than normal today. Notice that you do this at a subconscious level every moment of the day. If you can make the practice more of a conscious activity, you will gain skill in this technique at a rapid rate.

Also notice how you react when one part of a facial expression seems to be at odds with the overall message. For example, if the general impression is a pleasant expression but the eyebrows are furrowed, then you would be less likely to trust your instincts about the person’s true emotion.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/Bodylanguage 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