Body Language 99 Overacting

November 6, 2020

Ideally, body language should be a natural form of communication that is mostly unconscious. Some people put too much energy into their body language, and it comes across as insincere and phony.

When you try to impress people with overt gestures, they will often become suspicious, and it lowers trust between yourself and other people. I will describe how overdone body language impacts us in a couple areas, starting with the entertainment world.

Entertainment

Consider the movie, “Dumb and Dumber.” The two principle characters (played by Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels) constantly overdid their gestures and body language to the point where it became laughable. Actually, by the time the movie was half over, I was already tired of the humor.

When you think about it, many comedians make their living out of exaggerating gestures to the point of absurdity. A good example would be Kramer on the Jerry Seinfeld program. The phenomenon is not confined to the entertainment industry, it can occur in our professional and family lives.

Professional and Family

In the real world, overacting will get you into trouble because whenever you are forcing gestures, you are subject to sending mixed signals. Even if you try to have all your body language in the same direction, you run a high risk of confusing people. In doing so, trust is compromised.

You know some people in your professional circles who have broad sweeping gestures trying to make an impact. We also can experience some family members that use exaggerated body movements to punctuate drama. This tendency is also seen in some meeting environments where the stakes are particularly high.

Be your authentic self as much of the time as you can and let your body language flow naturally. Trying to force gestures in order to impress others or create some specific reaction in them, you inevitably sacrifice your own credibility.

How to Improve

One way you can hone your skill at using only natural and free-flowing gestures is to be a conscious observer of other people at all times. Look for signs of inconsistency in body language. As you become more adept at spotting the problem in others, you will naturally tend to do it less in your own case.

Try to catch yourself in the act of putting on a show in order to drive a specific reaction. Then block yourself from making the false signal. If you do it well and prevent yourself from sending mixed signals, then praise yourself for the growth you are experiencing.

Another way to grow in this dimension is to ask someone who is close to you to point out when you are being incongruent. Be sure to reinforce the person for sharing his or her reaction so you encourage more of that kind of candor in the future.

Studying Emotional Intelligence is another way to become more consistent. As we gain more knowledge of our own feelings and emotions, we can begin to see opportunities to modify our appearance to be indicative of how we are really feeling.

Overacting is a common problem in our society at all levels. Work to become more aware of any possible mixed signals you might be sending, and you will enhance the level of trust you experience with others.


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



Body Language 84 Zoom Boom 1 Eye Contact

May 11, 2020

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

Clearly, having the ability to see the faces of individuals, particularly in a group setting, is far superior to having a conference call where people cannot see each other.

However, it is wrong to suggest that the virtual experience is just as good as actually being in the same room as the other people. It is not.

This series of short articles will highlight areas where we need to recognize the limitations, even while we enjoy the benefits of the various platforms for virtual meetings.

The first area is eye contact. The most critical connection between people when interfacing in person is eye contact. When you look at another person’s eyes, you can detect how sincere and authentic the person is.

We read the eyes of other people all the time without even being conscious of the depth of information contained in them. We may have a first meeting with an individual and come away with a cautionary feeling about him by the way he made eye contact.

In “The Gambler,” Kenny Rogers sings, “He said, Son, I’ve made a life out of readn’ people’s faces, knowin’ what the cards were by the way they held their eyes.”

Most people in organizations do not take it to that extreme, but we do take away a huge amount of data by watching other people’s eyes.

In a virtual setting, it is often difficult to even see the other person’s eyes. First of all, if the person is wearing glasses, the glare from the reflection of the screen or ambient light at least partially blocks a clear view of the eyes.

Second, people rarely look directly into the camera when working in a virtual meeting. They are focusing their attention on the pictures of the other people or data displayed on screen. Depending on where the camera is placed, that may cause the person to rarely show his eyes.

Direct eye contact between any two people in a virtual meeting is extremely rare.

Third, when there are many people in the meeting, each image is so small that it is hard to see the expression in the eyes. You can gather some information, but it is not nearly what would be seen if you were meeting in person.

What to do

If the information in the eyes is less than ideal, you need to substitute other factors to understand what is going on with the other person. Tone of voice will let you know if the person is feeling happy, angry, sarcastic, confused, or several other emotions.

In addition, pay attention to what the other person is saying. Is she being negative, grumpy, and hostile, or is she buoyant, happy, and flexible?

Body position can give you a clue to the attitude. Is the person sitting up straight or slouched over holding her head up with the palm of her hand?

Facial expression is another tip off to what is going on with the person. Even though the eye contact may not be ideal, you still have the ability to read what is going on. Look for clues in the configuration of the mouth and the eyebrows.

You can ask open-ended questions that call for the person to reveal how she is feeling at the moment.

I will explore other differences or compromises in future articles.


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