Body Language 19 The Eyes

March 16, 2019

Of all the different types of body language, the eyes win the prize for conveying the most different meanings without speaking. This one aspect of body language alone could fill a whole book; in fact, there are many such books that deal with the language of the eyes only.

For this article, I will share some of the more powerful and well-documented eye gestures along with their meanings and some caveats to avoid misinterpreting eye gestures.

This article will highlight only the aspects of the eye itself and the eyelids (blinking). There are a huge number of additional meanings that we will add next week when we discuss the impact of eyebrows. For now, let’s concentrate on the eye itself and the eyelids.

Eye Contact

The first aspect of body language with the eyes is eye contact. When you lock eyes with another person, it is called eye contact. You are looking directly into the soul of the other person using the eye like a window.

The percentage of time you look directly at the other person determines the rapport you will develop in that conversation. That rapport becomes the basis of growing trust.

According to Bill Acheson of the University of Pittsburgh, “If you have less than 70% eye contact with me, I will not trust you.” On the other hand, staring at another person with nearly 100% eye contact creates a creepy feeling that also destroys trust. You need to break eye contact at least once a minute when talking to another individual, but it is important to keep the gaze to the facial region.

Gazing around the room will send a signal of disinterest, and scanning down the body will label you as a pervert. My own personal rule of thumb is to have between 50-80% eye contact with another individual in conversations that involve only the two of you.

Of course, if there are many people in the conversation, the eye contact for any specific individual will be much lower, as it is important to make eye contact with each person in the group.

There is another aspect with eye contact that can be very distracting if it is allowed to continue. The best way to describe it is with a personal example.

Early in my career, I was anxious to impress managers higher in the organization. I noticed in weekly staff meetings, my manager seemed to be looking at me a lot, even if I was not talking at the time.

Eventually I started to become self-conscious about his aggressive eye contact, so I would look away quickly whenever that manager looked directly at me. I can recall becoming highly uncomfortable when sitting across the table from this manager and ended up sitting on the same side of the table from him to reduce the problem.

Pupil Dilation

Dilation of the pupils is also a major clue to what the other person is thinking. Normal dilation has the pupil (dark spot in the center of the eye) taking up roughly 30% -40% of the diameter of the iris (colored circle).

In this discussion, we need to separate out the impact of light levels and medical conditions on dilation. The iris dilates naturally in low light situations to allow more light to reach the retina, which allows people to see better in the dark.

Likewise, in bright conditions the pupil will reduce in diameter to avoid overloading the retina. In addition to this normal metering of the pupil size due to ambient light, there are other factors that impact the size of the pupil.

One common situation is in response to some types of drugs on the system. The eye doctor puts drops in your eyes to dilate the pupils so that the retina can be observed more easily.

Many of the psychedelic drugs have the same impact on dilation. This condition is medically called mydriasis, and it is why police officers are trained to notice whether a person’s eyes are dilated.

It is also possible that a person can have a disease or other eye condition that results in dilated pupils. When this condition is present, the pupils are generally habitually dilated.

For purposes of interpreting body language through pupil dilation, we are interested in situations where normal dilation is observed, but then there is a noticeable opening of the pupils in response to some stimulus, like a pointed question or a threatening gesture.

Let’s suppose you are in a moderately lighted environment and have had no drugs. What conditions might cause your eyes to become dilated involuntarily? This is where the body language aspect becomes very interesting. A person’s pupils will dilate automatically in response to fear or desire.

The study of pupil size as an indicator of emotion is known as pupillometrics. Eckhard Hess, a University of Chicago biopsychologist, did several experiments in the 1970s to determine cause and effect.

He did extensive measurements of how attitude can be determined by pupil size. “The changes in emotions and mental activity revealed by changes in pupil size are clearly associated with changes in attitude.” In general, Hess measured that positive attitudes led to larger pupil size and negative attributes resulted in smaller pupil size.

Keep in mind that the dilation of your eyes is not possible for you to detect without looking in a mirror, yet it is an obvious signal that you make in the presence of others in response to a stimulus. This is just one of the reasons why it is nearly impossible to hide some feelings from people who understand body language.

Blinking Rate

Another obvious signal that is difficult for the person doing it to detect is blinking rate. Normally, adult humans blink at a rate between 15 to 20 times a minute. There are some situations where a person’s blink rate will be high most of the time. These would include wearing contact lenses and some diseases of the eye. Curiously, babies have a much longer rate and only blink a couple times a minute.

What is of interest in body language is whether there is a marked change in the blinking rate just after some situation or conversation. When a person is under stress, the blinking rate will start to increase without the person being aware of it.

If you observe someone going from a normal 15 per minute rate to 30 to 40 blinks a minute, that person is likely under a great deal of stress, but is often trying to hide that fact.

I learned that lesson years ago when negotiating with a Japanese executive over price for some product. He tried the famous “Silent Treatment” with me in order to get a concession. Since I was aware of his ploy, I just stared back at him and watched his blink rate. I saw it double then double again until he finally caved in. I doubt that he even knew I was reading the stress level that was going on as observed in his blink rate.

Next time you are negotiating for a new car, recognize that the sales person is trained to watch your blink rate. If you are clever, you can reverse the logic and determine when the sales person is feeling the heat. Because you know this trick, you will be less likely to give away your stress level inadvertently.

This article is just the start of our discussion about body language of the eyes. When we couple the above ideas with what the larger facial muscles (cheeks and especially eyebrows) are revealing, the available information in the region of the eyes will become exponentially more complex and interesting.

My article next weekend will dig into these gestures.

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


Body Language 18 Holding Head in Hands

March 9, 2019

One interesting gesture of body language between two people is when a listener holds his or her head up using both hands while at the same time looking directly at the speaker. Earlier in this series we discussed the bored student in class propping his or her head up with one hand, but what does it mean when a person holds up his or her head with both hands? It is possible for the gesture to indicate extreme fatigue, but more often there is additional information that can be gleaned.

This gesture caught me off guard, because it is not that common, and yet it is important to ascertain the meaning when you see it. I have found two other interpretations that both point to some form of admiration going on.

The first one, which I found in a body language book years ago (and cannot recall the specific reference), is that the person making this gesture is expressing admiration for the speaker on the receiving end. I found this explanation to be plausible, because the person is looking intently at the speaker with a pleasant look on her face, as in the accompanying image. The connotation is intense interest and pleasure. Recently I came upon the opposite interpretation.

According to the Karen Lehnardt, The “face platter” gesture where a person rests his or her face on top of the hands is sometimes used in dating. The connotation is that the face is placed as if it were on a platter for the other person to admire. The hands become like a frame for the facial features.

This gesture is not often seen, but when it is, there is a very strong signal being sent that warrants further investigation that includes the facial expression and the vocal context of the conversation. I buy into the notion that it is an expression of admiration, but it is up to you who is admiring whom. In fact, there is no reason why both mechanisms couldn’t be in play at the same time. Make a mental note when you see this gesture, especially if you are on the giving or receiving end, and do some investigating, by observing the full set of facial expressions, to illuminate what is really going on.

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


Body Language 16 Looking Over Glasses

February 23, 2019

Looking over the glasses has an unmistakable negative implication in most situations; however, there is a notable exception that I will describe later.

When a person is wearing full-sized glasses or bifocals, A slight lowering of the head so the person can look at another individual while making a statement is a demeaning gesture. It has the same connotation as a parent talking down to or scolding an impudent child.

The physical gesture is often accompanied by a lowering of the tone of voice. It is a way for the individual to put down the other person or make him or her feel inferior, or at least insecure.

The caveat with this gesture is that some people wear half glasses and tend to look over the tops of the glasses all the time. This can be problematic, because the individual wearing the glasses may be sending signals to others that are not intended.

I know one female CEO who wears half glasses and puts them rather far down her nose. She needs the magnification for reading, but she is farsighted and does not need glasses to view the world beyond the page.

In working with her, I observed that it was difficult to discern when she was being judgmental versus just having a neutral frame of mind. To be on the safe side, I found myself always on my guard when talking with her unless she took off her glasses completely. I basically found it difficult to trust her in some circumstances.

Some politicians have the same problem. I have found it hard to warm up to Chuck Schumer for that reason. If you go on Google Images and look him up, in every picture where he is wearing glasses, you can observe him looking over the top rim at the subject he is addressing.

I think people recognize there is a physiological reason for his habit, but I believe it works against the ability to trust him. Pardon me for not commenting on the level with which we can trust politicians in general regardless of the position of the glasses.

Looking over the classes is a common form of gesture that usually comes across as a negative one. You need to be careful what signals you are sending if you normally wear half glasses. You may be better off having full glass bifocals with the upper half being blank glass. See if you observe people warming up to you easier.

There can also be a different connotation for looking over the glasses. It can also be interpreted as a flirtatious gesture in some circumstances. The implication is that there is some sort of secret connection going on between the person wearing glasses and the other person.

The gesture has a “come hither” meaning that is easy to spot. The psychological implication is that of removing an artificial barrier for direct eye-to-eye contact. The difference between the first meaning and the second one is in the context of the meeting and the other accompanying facial expressions.

Another pet peeve of mine is people who wear their glasses on top of their head. If you don’t need glasses, keep them off your head. Don’t wear them up on top where the listener has to observe a precarious position and wonder if the glasses are going to drop off at any second. It is a distraction that is unnecessary.

I believe when making eye contact with a person who habitually wears his glasses on top of his head, it undermines the bond created by the eye contact. It is an anomaly that would be better served when it is not used.

If you have a habit of looking over your glasses, whether it be the result of wearing half glasses or the more egregious looking down your nose at some people, try to make a change in your pattern. Fortunately, this form of body language is rather easy to change, and you will benefit greatly from doing so.

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


Improving Electronic Communication 1

February 20, 2019

Many of us now view electronic communication (email or texting) casually. We just type information as if we were chatting with someone in the hallway. This is potentially a big mistake.

When we communicate verbally, most information is conveyed through body language and voice inflection; only a small fraction of information is conveyed by the actual words. In electronic communication, all we have are the words as clues to decode information accurately, so the challenge is significant.

Imagine the advantage if we could read “ebody language.” We could understand the intent of notes by interpreting meaning in between the words on the screen. That skill would be important, as the percentage of electronic communications continues to rise. There is ample “body language,” and even voice inflection, available in electronic communications—if we know how to read the signals.

Unfortunately, most people have no training in reading electronic body language. They rely on the written words to impute meaning, which is like trying to paint a full-color picture using only red paint. They can’t blend different colors into subtle shades that reflect the richness of the scene.

Working with just the words means that sometimes people become offended when no offense was intended.

To read between the lines of text online, we have to pay attention to the signals and integrate them into a pattern that yields more information than the words alone. For example, if we know what to look for, the first few words on a message often give vital clues to the tone of the note.

The difference between “Hi Mary,” and “So Mary,” is huge if you are Mary. Keep an eye out for the tone, timing, and tension in your electronic communications.

Tone

Tone builds additional meaning into notes in dozens of ways. Emoticons and acronyms are two well-known methods that should be used sparingly and only in casual communications.

Qualifying conjunctions, such as the word “but,” often convey the opposite meaning from the literal words of a note: “We loved your class, but it is good to have it completed.” The conjunction becomes an “eraser word” because people pay more attention to what comes after the “but.”

Other kinds of expressions might also convey the opposite meaning. For example, “no offense” usually means the writer is expecting you may take offense. Some words or phrases tend to inflame people if not managed carefully. “Let me make it perfectly clear” is a good example.

Much of the tone of a note is contained in pronouns. “You” is the most commonly misused pronoun. “You never let me finish my work” is an example. The reader interprets this as an accusation or lecture and becomes defensive. Whenever starting a sentence with “you,” check to see if it might send a wrong signal.

Overuse of the personal pronouns “I,” “me,” and “my” make the writer sound parochial or egotistical.

Too much emphasis on “we” and “they” will signal a competitive atmosphere where silos inhibit good communication and cooperation.

To maintain credibility, avoid using absolutes. “She has never done anything to help us” is easily proven incorrect.

Try to avoid phrases with double meanings, one of which is sarcastic: “His diatribe at the meeting shows what an emotionally intelligent leader he is.” Sarcasm is often disguised as humor, but it can quickly backfire with uncontrolled distributions.

Never write something in an email that you would not be willing to have anyone read, because literally anyone might receive a copy.

Timing

Timing issues with electronic communication often lead to problems. A major issue is the asynchronous nature of email and often with texting. Since people open notes at different times, one person might respond to a note that has already been superseded, leading to much confusion.

When chatting, your input may be a response to a point made several entries back, which can lead to unintended, often comical, but sometimes embarrassing exchanges.

The antidote is to be alert for misunderstandings based on when people respond to notes. Sometimes notes arrive in the inbox when readers are in an overload situation or otherwise unable to react positively.

The solution to timing issues with electronic communications is to use common sense and try to reach your reader at a time when he or she is most receptive. This advice is more critical when emotions are high.

Tension

Tension and interpersonal conflict often leave a bloody trail in electronic correspondence. Inappropriate outbursts of anger in texts or e-mails usually make both parties look foolish. When individuals escalate conflict in online exchanges, it becomes like a childish food fight.

The way to stop an “electronic grenade” battle is to refrain from taking the bait. Do not respond to the attack in kind. Acknowledge a difference of opinion, but do not escalate the situation. Switching to a different form of communication will help avoid a trail of embarrassing notes.

The three T’s explain some of the mechanics of e-body language, but why should organizations be vitally interested in this subject?

E-xcellence: The Corporate Case

E-xcellence offers a pragmatic and inexpensive approach to resolve some of the most frustrating issues quickly. All organizations face the challenges associated with communicating online efficiently. The solutions may appear elusive. So, by including e-xcellence as part of your vision, you gain a huge competitive advantage.

Your organization has a sustainable competitive advantage if:

• You live and work unhampered by the problems of poor online communication.

• Employees are not consumed by sorting out important information from piles of garbage notes.

• Coworkers are not focused on one-upmanship and internal turf wars.

• Leaders know how to use electronic communications to build trust.

Once you learn the essentials of electronic body language, you will be more adept at decoding incoming messages and better sense how your messages are interpreted by others.

You will understand the secret code written “between the lines” of messages and enhance your online communications in your sphere of influence. Next week I will share some additional principles to keep in mind when communicating electronically.

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


Body Language 12 Pulling on the Ear

January 26, 2019

Pulling on the ear lobe is a gesture that you have seen from time to time, but if you are like me, you may have been unaware that it often has a specific meaning. Actually, there are many different interpretations of this gesture, as I will outline in this article. Be careful to get additional information before trying to ascribe meaning to a person who is pulling on his or her ear lobe when listening to you.

The first interpretation is that when a person is listening to you and is absent-mindedly pulling on his or her ear lobe, it is a signal that the person is interested in what you are saying and that you have the floor. As with most BL gestures, there is some element of physiological basis for the movement.

In this case, the best way to understand the underlying meaning is to exaggerate the gesture to make it more pronounced. If you were talking to me and I cupped my hand up to my ear in order to amplify the intake of sound waves, it would be a more overt form of pulling on the ear lobe. I am interested in hearing every part of what you are trying to convey. I do not want to miss any part of what you are saying.

When you see the gesture of someone pulling on his or her ear, continue to talk and know your input is of high interest.

Another interpretation is almost the exact opposite of the first one. In this case, pulling on the ear lobe is thought to be a way to block the information from coming in. The interpretation is that the person wants to “hear no evil.” The extreme form of this gesture is when children try to cover their ears when they do not want to hear what is being said.

If the interpretation is negative, it could be in reaction to increased stress because the person believes you are exaggerating or lying. The increased stress causes additional blood flow to the ear which may trigger pulling on the ear lobe.

Another interpretation of tugging on the ear lobe is that it could be just a physical itch from eczema behind the ear lobe or some other physical reason, such as a woman with an uncomfortable earring.

The easy way to detect if the gesture is one of interest or covering up a lie is to notice if the ear itself has turned red. A flushed ear or neck is a telltale sign of stress, so check out the source of that stress before trying to interpret the meaning of the gesture. If increased stress is the case, trust is likely being compromised by continuing the conversation.

Be very careful when you are addressing a person and he or she is pulling on his earlobe. It could be a negative sign to interpret as blocking information or a positive sign to interpret as high interest. You need to judge which meaning is likely valid by observing the facial expression and including the context of what is going on when the gesture is made.

For example, if the forehead is wrinkled or the eyebrows furrowed, then you can assume the gesture is a negative one. If the forehead is high and the mouth has a slight smile, you can assume the person is interested in what you are saying. Keep in mind that clusters of body language increase the accuracy of proper interpretation, so look for multiple signs.

Look out for habitual gestures where a person does something all the time. I knew a man who would frequently stick the eraser end of a pencil in his ear and move it around like he was cleaning his ear, except he always did it only to the right ear. There was no particular significance to this habit, it was just sort of a nervous tick he had.

There is another BL gesture that is common, and this one usually signifies high interest on the part of the listener. It is putting something in his or her mouth as you are speaking.

It may be a paper clip, or the back end of a pen, or even the person’s pinkie or thumb. The gesture is a desire for more information and is thought to be the equivalent to saying “feed me.” I want to hear more of what you are saying.

Normally, gestures that include hands to the facial region can have more than one meaning, and it is important to sort out the one indicated by what you are seeing. In most cases hands to the face indicate high interest, but you need to observe closely the concurrent other signals before interpreting these gestures.

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


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


Body Language 2 The 5 C’s of Body Language

November 17, 2018

Interpreting the body language of others or ourselves is an art form. If you can do this well, you have an incredible advantage that can help you make better decisions and take more appropriate actions. In this series I will be covering hundreds of typical signals we give out with our body language.

The entire body of work needs to be tempered with what I call the Five C’s of Body Language. These are cautionary areas where we might unwittingly misinterpret some body language we are seeing. Knowing and taking these concepts into account will improve your accuracy of interpretation regardless of the specific body language you are witnessing.

1. Context

You must consider what is going on around the signal, what happened just before, where the person is located, what else is going on, and all other factors.

For example, if I am talking with you and I scratch my nose, it will usually mean I have an itch on my nose. But, if I am on the witness stand and have not touched my nose for an hour, it is a different context. When the prosecutor asks me about the bloody knife, and my finger goes to the side of my nose as I answer the question, that is a strong indication that I am lying or at least exaggerating.

Here is another example; if I raise my hand and then move so my palm is down while we were sitting in a quiet theater, it would mean “be quiet.” If, however, I made the same gesture while we were racing to get to a hospital after an accident, it would more likely mean “remain calm.”

2. Clusters

Since there are dozens of body language signals going on with each person at any given time, you should not ascribe heavy meaning to any single one. Instead, look for clusters.

If I see 5 indications in your body language that you are experiencing anxiety, the symptoms start to add up.

I can witness you rubbing your palms, rapid blinking, hair on arms standing out, foot movement, heavy swallowing, and shifting of weight. I might also notice more perspiration than normal.

With signals like these, I can be pretty certain you are anxious. Taking any one of those signals as the only indication, my guess that you are anxious is a lot weaker.

3. Congruence

If your words, your tone of voice, and your body language are telling me the same thing, chances are I am getting a true signal. When you are saying one thing, but your body language shows a different pattern, I need to be alert that you may be trying to deceive me in some way. I need to be vigilant and test more for congruence.

If there are several indications of incongruence, I should conclude you are not telling me the full truth.

For example, suppose I have an argument with my supervisor and she stomps off to her office. I wait for an hour then approach her humbly with a question, “Are you still mad at me?” If she wheels around with furrowed brow and crossed arms and says in a stern voice, “NO!” I can be pretty certain that she really meant to say, “YES!”

Congruence in body language has a lot to do with creating higher trust. When your body language is consistent with your verbal cues, you are being more authentic, and this consistency demonstrates you are a trust worthy person.

4. Consistency

Look for patterns in people’s behavior. I might have you as a student in my class and notice you are holding your head up with the palm of your hand. I might conclude you are bored with this lecture, but as I look for consistency I see a pattern.

You have shown other signs of fatigue since you arrived for class this evening. A few questions might confirm that you were up all last night with the baby. It had nothing to do with the quality of my lecture.

5. Culture

People tend to forget that cultural differences in body language are huge. For example, if you are an Eskimo, moving your head up and down means “no,” while shaking your head from side to side means “yes.”

An obvious difference in culture is the issue of proximity. When talking with a person from a Middle Eastern culture, expect the gap between you and the other person to be significantly less than when addressing a person from a western culture.

It is critical to understand the body language patterns in the culture you are currently in, as they may significantly modify the message. A great book to help you sort out these differences, particularly if you travel a lot on business, is Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: How to Do Business in Sixty Countries, by Terri Morrison, Wayne Conway, and George Borden, Ph.D.

Once you become adept at reading body language, you will be more likely to read the intentions and meaning of other people and also improve your own ability to project your intentions accurately. It is one of the best ways to improve your communication skills.

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