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


Successful Supervisor Part 10 – Body Language

January 21, 2017

I have been fascinated with body language for several decades. I have studied it for countless hours and believe I have only scratched the surface of this complex area of communication.

We all are skilled at reading the body language of others. Another person does not need to talk to let us know she is upset, happy, tired, fearful, confused, and hundreds of other descriptors.

While we are all good at reading signals from other people, few of us have a really good working knowledge of some of the more subtle forms of body language.

This article shines a light on how supervisors who are skilled at reading the body language of others and controlling their own have a huge advantage in the workplace.

Decades ago, the behavioral scientist Albert Mehrabian did a series of experiments at UCLA. He tried to measure what percent of meaning comes from the words we use when we talk face to face with another individual about our feelings or emotions.

His famous experiments revealed that only about 7% of the meaning comes from the words we use. 38% of meaning comes from our tone of voice, and a whopping 55% of meaning comes from our body language.

The sad thing is that you rarely see a course in school, even graduate school, that deals with how to interpret body language. The topic is covered on some titillating websites that try to help people interpret the signals of possible mates in bars or other such entertaining information.

You rarely see the topic taught as a serious study for leaders. I find that strange and always include a heavy dose of body language awareness in my work with leaders at all levels.

The first thing to recognize is that the amount of body language that is available for interpretation is immense. Most people take in only a few percentage points of what they might if they were properly educated and paying attention.

The reason is that, for most people, the received body language is taken in subconsciously. Likewise, we are normally unaware of the majority of body language we are sending.

Facial expressions are the most intentional aspect of body language, and even there we send a lot more signals than we realize. If we could make it more intentional both on the giving and receiving end, we could improve communication between people an enormous amount with little extra effort.

If you study the Quality of Work Life Studies that are done in corporations, you can see that almost universally what employees feed back to managers is that the number one or number two deficiency in the company is COMMUNICATION.

Yet with all that obvious input, you rarely see leadership classes that specialize in body language or listening skills, which are two rich sources of communication improvement. It is really astounding.

For any supervisor, becoming more skilled at these elements of leadership is the fastest way to improve her performance. Unfortunately for me, these skills are not easily covered adequately in a blog article. I did one video on body language that highlighted how important it is when first meeting people. I call it “Planting the Seeds of Trust in the First 10 Seconds.”

I think for supervisors, the most important part of body language is to ensure the signals she is sending are consistent with her desires. I have no idea how she would do that if she has no education on the topic.

There are many good books on the subject, and of course I have a full program that I do with leaders in my consulting work.

There is lots of information online. One good test to see how well you interpret facial expressions is located at the site of the Greater Good. There is another good site on Business Balls that gives a lot of helpful information. I also happen to like a DVD Produced by Bill Acheson, a body language expert from University of Pittsburg. The title is Advanced Body Language.

One thing to be aware of is that body language is different for different cultures. You need to learn how people from the culture you are supervising send out signals.

You must not assume their signals are the same as yours. Be alert to misunderstandings due to this aspect and get some education. For example, if you are an American and you are supervising several people in a call center who are from the Far East, you need to take a lot more care to understand their points.

Probably the most significant help I can be in this brief article is to suggest the supervisor simply pay a lot more attention to the body language she is seeing with her people.

Learn to interpret signals more consciously and also pay attention to how you are communicating with people via body language. There is no substitute for specific knowledge, but awareness is always available and will help.

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


Planting a Seed of Trust in the First 10 Seconds

July 6, 2015

Investment concept, close up of female hand holding stack of golLast summer I attended a “Speed Networking” event at my local Chamber of Commerce. It was one of those affairs where you meet a series of new people but only get to talk with each one for three minutes.

I met over 20 people that morning and paid attention to how well they did at making a first impression of being trustworthy. Most people did OK, but there was one young man who I thought totally blew everyone else away with his ability to connect with me instantly.

By his body language, he was able to convey that he was totally interested in meeting me in a way the others were unable to do. It was like the way a puppy can look at you and compel you to take him home.

At the moment we met, this young man let me know I was the most important person in the world to him at that time.

Before we even shook hands he had me convinced that he was special. When we did shake hands instead of saying how nice it was to meet him, I said

“Congratulations! You are going to be a very wealthy man.”

He had an amazing gift of connecting and planting a seed of trust in just a few seconds.

In his book, “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell described how human beings have an amazing ability to size each other up in a heartbeat. Malcolm called the phenomenon “thin slices,” for the ability to gather huge amounts of data about another person in a second.

He suggested we make a first impression in about three seconds. I say we can stretch it out all the way to 10 seconds, but the exact duration isn’t important.

The point is that we can form a relationship that can point toward trust with another person in a remarkably short time.

Anyone can learn how to plant a seed of trust when first meeting people, and it will result in their relationship progressing at 10 times the rate that it otherwise would.

Exercise for you: Today, as you meet new people, pay attention to their body language. For example, eye contact is extremely important, even before the handshake.

Make sure you show them how important they are and how anxious you are to meet them.

Your posture is also important to send the message of a sincere individual. A slight head tilt is often a good sign because it can indicate a desire to listen carefully. Good posture also shows respect for the other individual.

The magic is in the body language and what is going on in your subconscious mind. What you are thinking comes through automatically on the inaudible channel. Last summer I made a brief (10 minute) video about the techniques for Trust Across America: Trust Around the World.

You can plant seeds of trust with people very quickly once you learn to project the right attitude. Trust comes from the heart, and people often have the ability to read what is going on in your mind.

I believe the first 10 seconds when meeting someone new can be golden opportunity if handled well.

This concept can have a huge impact on your success in life because your relationships will progress much faster toward mature trusting relationships.

 

The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to http://www.avanoo.com/first3/517


Your Body Language Gives Away Intent

May 23, 2015

Business handshakeBrandon was a 22 year old I happened to meet at a Speed Networking event at my local Chamber of Commerce. His ability to connect with me instantly was impressive.

Without saying a word, and even before we shook hands, he let me know that he was truly anxious to meet me. It was so powerful that when we did shake hands a second or two later, rather than say “It’s nice to meet you,” I said, “Congratulations, you are going to be a very wealthy man.”

The gift that young man had was an amazing control of the body language he exhibited when we first met. He made great eye contact and showed by his facial expression that he truly wanted to get to know me. It was the kind of expression you see on the face of that one puppy in the pen at the pet shop that just captures your heart instantly.

Our body language gives away what is going on in the back of our mind. It is extremely difficult to hide our pattern of thoughts. It just comes out of every part of our body naturally.

I have been studying body language for about 40 years, and there is still a lot to learn. The topic is extremely engaging and insightful. The language we use to communicate with others using facial and body expression is far more complex and intricate than any verbal language is.

We know many of the signals intuitively, but we also miss many important signals that are there but hidden to us.

This article is not intended to be an exhaustive treatise on the complexities of body language. Rather it is to recognize the amazing power of being able to read signals and a warning not to rely on body language signals too much.

The truth is that understanding body language correctly requires more than just knowing the particular body positions and their meaning. You can never be certain if a particular kind of body language is a true signal, just a random event, or a misleading gesture.

The way to increase the odds of interpreting body language correctly is to study what the different signals mean, then apply the following areas to your interpretation. The five C’s will help you interpret body language correctly.

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, etc. For example, if I am talking with you and I scratch my nose, it probably means 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.

2. Clusters

Since there are many 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 patterns or clusters.

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 a cluster of signals like these, I can be certain you are experiencing anxiety.

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, it could signal that you are not telling me the full truth.

4. Consistency

Look for patterns in people’s behavior. If a student in one of my classes habitually likes to sit with her arms folded because that is a comfortable position for her, then that is a baseline. I should not think it is a signal when she folds her arms.

For another person who rarely folds his arms, if I notice he does so immediately after making a statement about his boss, I might suspect he is being defensive and look for other signals to corroborate the suspicion.

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.

Correct interpretation of body language needs to factor in these five areas. Taking these things into account allows us to be more accurate when we read meaning to body language.

Become a student of body language yourself. You will find it is a vital skill, and the more you develop it the more you will improve both your ability to understand the intentions of others but also send more consistent signals yourself.