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 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 1 – New Series on Body Language

November 10, 2018

This is the first in a series of articles on the topic of body language. I normally publish my articles on the weekend but may skip a week now and then. I have no way of knowing how many articles will be in this series, but we might guess it will take over 100 weeks to fully explore this rich and vital topic area.

You can benefit from following this series because the ability to accurately interpret body language signals sent by other people (consciously or unconsciously) will give you a significant advantage in every interface. In addition, knowing what signals you are sending with your own body language will sharpen your skill at communicating with others accurately.

I have been studying Body Language for over 40 years, and I am still on a steep learning curve. The topic area is not only endlessly fascinating, it is vital for understanding other people well regardless of your position.

My curiosity for the topic was piqued in 1975 when I read the book “How to Read a Person Like a Book,” by Gerald Nierengberg and Henry Calero. The book gave a philosophy of how to read the thoughts and intentions of other people, even if you do not pay attention to the words.

My own experience amplified how important body language is when I was stationed in Guadalajara, Mexico, for a couple years early in my career. At first, I had no understanding of the language, but I found it possible to follow the discussions and arguments in meetings simply by paying attention to the voice inflections and body language of the participants.

Another source of understanding was a wonderful DVD produced by Bill Acheson from University of Pittsburgh. His humorous style and deep insights based on research about body language had me spellbound throughout his program entitled, “Advanced Body Language.”

I also became familiar with the work of Albert Mehrabian: a psychology professor at UCLA, who reported a series of experiments in the mid 1960s. There is some confusion about the bottom line, but I understand his results showed that only 7% of meaning comes from the words we use. The other 93% come from a combination of the body language and tone of voice. It is important to point out that Mehrabian’s experiments only hold true when we are talking about our feelings or attitudes. This conclusion was amplified well by Creativity Works in a little cartoon called “Busting the Mehrabian Myth.”

More recently I have used the internet where there are countless primers on body language. One example is Psychology Today, which has many tips for understanding body language. There is also an excellent quiz in Greater Good Magazine for how well you can read facial expressions. For additional resources, just type body language into your search engine, and you will find hundreds of other sites to explore.

These resources are just a sampling of the material I have digested on body language over four decades. The topic is truly endless in its interpretations. In this series, I will share observations from my own work colored by what I have found in the external resources. Sometimes I will agree with the experts, and sometimes I will have a caution or even a contrary view.

Every person on the planet can benefit from becoming more aware of the signals being sent by other people. As a professional, you will be more alert and thus more successful as you gain skill in this mode of communications. We all interpret body language all the time, but the more you know the better your interpretations will be.

In each segment, I will link the specific gesture or topic to the concept of building or maintaining trust, since that is my primary area of professional interest. As we understand and practice greater body language control, we become more authentic. This control helps us build higher trust on a daily basis.

There are some precautions, however, when trying to interpret meaning from body language. It is rather easy to get a false signal and experience some confusion. I will be dealing with some of these problems in my article next week in what I call “The Five Cs of Interpreting Body Language.”

For example, one of the Cs is that body language is culture specific. You cannot be sure that the meaning you ascribe to one type of body language in your culture is the same in other cultures. It can get very complex, so you need to be alert for the traps and keep studying.

I hope you will enjoy this series and benefit from it. Please also share any counterpoints you have to the ones I make. Also please share articles that are helpful to you with others so they can benefit from them. I am still learning and want to have the benefit of your views and observations along the way.

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


Successful Supervisor 95 Communicating Effectively With Your Employees

September 29, 2018

A major role for all supervisors is to be a conduit of information for their groups. The task of keeping all workers on the same page during constantly evolving conditions is a daunting task. In this article I will share some tips that should prove helpful to keep communications flowing efficiently.

Beware of relying too much on email

I know many supervisors who believe they have communicated information well to their groups once they have sent out an email. They forget that communication has not happened unless everyone in the group has opened, read, and internalized the message correctly. A complex technically-correct email may be opened by most people, but the meaning may go over their heads as they only have time to scan the message for key points or read only the first sentence.

It is important to have a track record of very brief emails that people will not dread opening. Summarizing key points in bullet form at the end of the note may help. I think another helper is to make the text reader friendly. Try to have the signature block appear at the bottom of the first page, so when workers open the note they can see they are looking at the whole message in one glance.

Use multiple exposures to critical data

The 2011 Edelman Trust barometer noted that for people to believe information about the group, they need to have it communicated to them 3-5 times using different modes of communication. If you have a monthly “Town Hall” meeting, that counts as one form of communication, but you will need to present the same information at least two more times before most people are likely to absorb and remember it.

You may have a bulletin Board where you can put up a poster. You might supplement other forms of communications with a voice mail or email summary of the key points. The idea is to not rely on a single point of communication to be sufficient for important information.

Recognize that some people will hear only what they think you were going to say

I found it fascinating when I would circle back after a public meeting to find out what people heard. A significant percentage heard the opposite of what I said because that was their preconceived notion of what I was going to say.

Take the time to verify what people have internalized

To communicate well, make sure you go through a verification step after a major speech or meeting. If only a small percentage of the information was internalized, then you have not communicated well.

Learn to listen better

I have discussed this aspect of communication before in this series. Learn the technique of “reflective listening” and use it whenever you are approached by a person in a highly emotional state. I use the image of putting on my listening hat in these circumstances to remind me to listen with more intensity.

Use stories to embellish your points

People can relate better to information if it is presented along with analogies, stories, or humorous anecdotes. If you just ramble on with dry content and no spice to break up the ideas, people will tune out and look like they are listening when in reality they are checked out thinking about tonight’s dinner menu.

Don’t hypnotize people with too many PowerPoint Slides

Learn to keep PowerPoint presentations short and interesting. The rule is to have no more than seven short points on a slide and to have a pictorial image that relates to the content on each slide. Each bullet should be 7 words or less. Having too much information and no image on a slide will allow people to check out mentally.

Share the stage

Let other people do part of the speaking by artfully designing your content so you can invite other people to present some of it. Also, make your presentations conversational in nature so people will feel free to inject thoughts of their own. In this way you keep the audience engaged in the conversation.

Watch your body language

Recognize that people are constantly reading meaning by looking at how you hold yourself when communicating. They will pick up (at least subconsciously) any hint of duplicity where your words are indicating one point while your body language is sending a different meaning. Have someone in the room who is an expert on body language and have that person debrief every important presentation so you become more of an expert yourself. Body language is critical in communication, and many professionals do not have enough experience to recognize how they are coming across.

One of the most important communication aids is to create a culture of high trust, so people will not be afraid to share a counterpoint. In a high trust culture, people know it is safe to raise an issue and that they will not be punished for it.

Being a supervisor is an extremely challenging role. It requires a mastery of all communication techniques. Use the above points while communicating with your group, and you will be among the elite leaders.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision 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 500 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


Successful Supervisor 85 Trust and Customer Retention

July 21, 2018

It is not hard to see the relationship between trust and customer retention.

In this article I will explore the topic on a deeper level to reveal the mechanism why trust is so potent at helping to retain customers.

We are all customers

In our daily life we assume the role of customer on a regular basis. You go into restaurants and retail outlets many times a week. How long does it take you to figure out if the crew that is servicing you is a high trust group? If you are like me, it takes only a few seconds for you to assess the prevailing culture in the group that is servicing you.

1. Body Language says it all

If you are in line at a fast food establishment, you will pick up on the non-verbal cues that go back and forth among the staff. If there is high trust and affection, it will be obvious to you even before anyone speaks. If people hate each other, it is even easier to tell, and you will be uncomfortable as you gulp down your meal, anxious to get out of the place.

2. Trust means that things are working as they should

Service is much better at an establishment that has high trust. Workers instinctively back each other up in order to maximize the experience for you; the customer. If something goes wrong, the entire group is all over the problem until it is resolved. If trust is lacking, you are likely to get an excuse like, “Filling the Catsup is not part of my responsibility,” or “I don’t wipe down the tables; Jeffery does that job.”

3. Good customer experiences bring repeat business

You are much more likely to return to an establishment where people have high trust. You get better service quicker, and the whole experience is comfortable. You will be back for more.

It works for any business

I have been using a fast food restaurant as an example thus far, but the logic holds just as well for any establishment where workers impact the customer experience. It is hard to imagine any place of business where workers have no impact on customers, so the ability to maintain and grow trust is good for both the top and bottom line.

1. You cannot fake it

A false smile and insincere “have a nice day” will not cover for bad blood between people working in a business. Customers are far more perceptive than they let on. They can sense a phony show of friendliness, and it can actually feel a bit creepy as they cannot wait to get out of the place.

2. Make respect and trust first on the agenda

If you focus on creating a culture of high trust and low fear, it will pay off huge dividends in all aspects of your operation. It is really what separates highly successful businesses from those who come and go with the changing of the seasons.

If you have managed to cultivate a culture of high trust, you will find that your whole operation is more robust. Things work like they are supposed to, and you will get the attention of higher management because your unit will outperform your peers and you will be able to attract and retain the best people. These benefits will put you in the class of elite leaders.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision 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 500 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


Successful Supervisor 64 – Signs of Impending Conflict

February 10, 2018

I have written extensively on conflict and even produced a 30-video series on the topic entitled “Surviving the Corporate Jungle.” This article focuses on conflict within shop floor teams that supervisors are trying to manage.

A smart supervisor realizes that conflict is generally there to some extent, even though things may look placid on the surface. She is on the lookout for the signs of impending open conflict so she can take corrective actions before serious damage is done.

Heed the Signs of Impending Conflict

By observing the behavior of people constantly, the supervisor can detect when interpersonal stress is starting to boil over. Here are six of the signs:

1. Body Language Indicating People are “Fed Up”

Watch for wild arm movement like putting hands on hips when addressing coworkers. Another telltale sign is crossing of arms when addressing another person. Arms straight down with clenched fists is a sign of extreme agitation. Contrast that body language with a person making a point to another individual with his arms slightly forward and palms up, which is usually a sign of openness.

An extreme position of being fed up is thrusting one’s arms upward and fists clenched. This is an expression that the person is ready to blow up. All of these arm and body gestures will be accompanied by stressed facial expressions.

2. Facial Expressions

There are literally tens of thousands of facial expressions we use to communicate with each other all the time. Some of these are obvious and easy to spot, like clenching of the jaw or a frown. Other expressions are more complex and involve several parts of the face (eyebrows, cheeks, mouth, eyes, etc.) at the same time. If you would like to take a quick quiz of how accurately you read facial expressions, go to this link for a fun test.

3. Cliques Forming

The ideal configuration for a team is where all members share equal access to information and each other. When you see cliques starting to form, it is a sign of impending conflict or even active conflict. Some grouping of people within a team is normal for any group.

People will sit with their friends in the break room; that is normal human behavior, but if a subgroup physically cuts off access to some members, there is a specific reason. Smart supervisors view the ambient group norms for access and pay particular attention to changes in these habitual patterns.

4. Pointing

One tell-tale sign of boiling over interpersonal tension is when people address each other while pointing a finger at the other person, like in the picture for this article. A pointing finger is one of the most hostile gestures in the body language lexicon. The message is “You need to shut up and listen to me.” Teach people to avoid pointing and use softer gestures to gain attention. When you see people pointing, it is time to find out what is going on between them.

5. Talking at the Same Time

Any mother will intervene when two siblings are shouting at each other. The message is always the same; “You cannot possibly hear each other when you are both talking at the same time.” In the work place, you can observe the same kind of childish behavior when anger is pent up. The first instinct in any argument is to block the inflow of information, so it is natural to start shouting over the other person. Smart supervisors intervene immediately when this behavior is happening.

6. People Avoiding Each Other

Another childish practice that you can witness when tensions become extreme is avoidance. It looks like this. People are together in a room when another member of the team walks in. Another member gets up, looks disgusted, and leaves the room without saying anything. Total avoidance is an extreme gesture that is unmistakable. It is important to get to the root cause of the tension when you observe this kind of thing.

These are just six of the signs you can observe within groups of adults who are working together supposedly with a common purpose. Actually, the best way to prevent dysfunctional behavior is to ensure everyone in the group shares a common goal.

Reduce Stress by Building Trust

When there is trust within any group and people truly care about each other, the small interpersonal stress points do not blossom into open warfare. In fostering such a culture, the supervisor plays a dominant role by continuously demonstrating and saying that we are all on the same team and we are pulling in the same direction.

Your Own Behaviors and Body Language Count the Most

People are continuously watching what the supervisor does for clues of what acceptable behavior is in this team. If the supervisor indicates lack of respect for one or more people by rolling her eyes so others see it, then she is sowing the seeds of conflict that will eventually erupt elsewhere. The supervisor’s body language is evident in literally thousands of ways every day, so her true feelings will always be known by people within her team.

The most important advice for any supervisor is to make sure her true feelings and care for the people on her team are deep and genuine. If she does that, then her people will observe congruity between her body language and the words she uses to encourage her group to always act as a high performing team.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision 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 500 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


Successful Supervisor 37 – Mastering Body Language

July 30, 2017

The topic of Body Language has fascinated me for decades. There is no way to cover the topic completely in a short blog article, but I can give some tips that may help supervisors know how to prevent misreading BL and how to control their own so the message they are sending with their body is consistent with their verbal message.

I will also share some resources at the end in case this brief introduction whets the appetite for further study.

Body language points us in the direction of what people are feeling, but it is not an exact science. A person could make a gesture that is a random act or something not indicative of the classical meaning.

For example, if a person touches the side of his nose when giving a response, the experts would say that he is lying or exaggerating. Alternatively, it could simply mean that he had an itchy nose at that moment.

Taking singular pieces of body language and assigning specific meaning can result in some wrong conclusions. So how do we know which things are the real meaning?

In interpreting body language, keep the following five “C’s” in mind, and you will improve your accuracy at reading people.

1. Context

Pay attention to what is going on around the person. Body language is contextual and can vary greatly due to ambient conditions.

Folded arms at a cocktail party might suggest the person is being defensive, but folded arms in a snow storm is more likely to be the result of the person being cold.

2. Congruence

Do the words and body language match? If we are faced with two signals, one from the words that are spoken and another from the body language, then we will likely believe the latter.

For example, if I ask a coworker if he is angry with me and he glares at me with a scowl and clenches his fists while he says “NO!,” I am most likely to believe he is angry with me, even though what he said denied it.

3. Clusters

If we see a single bit of body language, we might suspect that it is an indication of something, but it is hard to tell. However, if I see an individual exhibit several signals of a particular body language cue, then I can be very sure of the conclusion.

For example, if a person is wringing his hands and shuffling his feet while wrinkling his forehead and not maintaining eye contact, I can be pretty sure the person is feeling anxious.

4. Consistency

We all have habitual patterns of body language that we revert to when nothing special is going on. While you are sitting in a classroom or in church, you will habitually cross your legs in a certain way or touch your face in a certain spot.

It is best to not interpret body language that is habitual as some kind of signal, but if the habitual position changes, especially as a result of some comment or other stimulus, then the change in body language is probably a signal.

For example, if a person is listening to me and suddenly starts pulling on his ear lobe as I shift the conversation to the new employee, he is likely showing high interest in what I am saying.

5. Culture

Body language and proximity (which is a part of BL) vary greatly from one region of a country to another and even more so from one country to another.

If I am a USA-based business person and I am doing some work with a person from Saudi Arabia, I may find that he stands a little too close for my comfort level.

Likewise if I meet an Eskimo, I might interpret his head shaking side to side as a “no” response, when he is actually telling me “yes.”

Beyond these five general rules, there are thousands of facial expressions and other cues relative to body language. The more you know these cues the better off you will be at interpreting their meaning accurately.

A few of my favorite resources:

1. A very old book, but still available is “How to Read a Person Like a Book” by Nierenberg.
2. A great online test of your ability to read facial expressions accurately.
3. Online resource Body Language Dictionary
4. A DVD of Bill Acheson; a body language expert from University of Pittsburgh

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision 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 500 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