Body Language 55 Evasion

November 23, 2019

When we were kids, and our mother asked us if we ate the chocolate chips, we would squirm and look away.

Our mother would say, “Look at me when you answer.” Of course, Mother could tell by the chocolate stains all over our lips that we had done it. We did not want to “get in trouble,” so we tried to evade rather than answer the question with a bold face lie.

Let’s start the discussion with a realization that not all evasive actions are the result of something sinister going on. There are plenty of times when it is improper, illegal, or unkind to answer a question directly.

Being evasive is not always a bad thing. It is highly situational and also highly personal having to do with the trust level between individuals.

For example, the question may come up relative to a rumor of a personal nature that needs to be kept private. It might be the result of a leak about a merger, where a direct answer would result in possible incarceration.

The rest of this article deals with a situation where an individual tries to get out of a tight spot by avoiding a direct answer to a question. Usually this condition is easy to detect, if you know the gestures and are alert to them. We used these moves as children, but in reality, they are practiced all of our lives.

The adult version of evasion goes on daily in organizational life and in many situations regarding public officials. If they are asked a direct question that they do not want to answer, the evasion is completely obvious by looking at their shifty eyes.

A perfect example of this body language was recently provided by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when he was asked on September 22, 2019 on camera by Martha Raddatz about a July 25th phone call between President Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine.

Martha asked the Secretary of State, “What do you know about those conversations?” Pompeo evaded, while lowering his chin, looking down, and shifting his eyes from side to side, “So…you just gave me a report about an I.C., about a Whistle Blower complaint, none of which I have not seen.” He did not reveal during that interview that he was actually on the phone call. That fact came out a couple weeks later.

Secretary Pompeo undoubtedly had a reason for not sharing everything at that particular moment on national TV. The point is that his body language made it obvious to people watching that he was evading or holding back something.

You also can see the evasive look in the eyes of CEOs who do not want to answer an embarrassing complaint brought up by an employee in a Town Hall meeting. You can witness it when a school board president tries to duck a question about some reported missing funds.

It is really a common human reaction when we get caught with our hand in the cookie jar to attempt to deflect attention in the hope that we can avoid having to admit the awful truth. Yet, in being evasive, we clearly lower trust and make it more difficult for people to believe us when we do ‘fess up to something.

In fact, the evasive gesture is so common that many of us just let it slide by and do not recognize we are getting at best a partial truth. You need to be alert to catch it because it goes by so quickly.

Look for this gesture when an individual is asked a direct question and hesitates before answering it. Particularly, watch the eyes to see if they are shifting back and forth or looking sideways. Also, watch the chin to see if it is lowered slightly.

When you see these two gestures along with a long hesitation in answering a direct question, it is likely the person is being evasive. Once you suspect that, you can probe carefully to find out what the person is trying to cover up.

Rather than take an accusatory stance by saying something like, “Okay, what are you trying to hide here?” give the person some leeway, but try to share the rationale and make the probe a positive thing. For example, you might say, “It is vital that we know what was going on with Jake if we are to be successful at helping him, so I would appreciate you being candid about what happened.”

This is a time to use your Emotional Intelligence to manage the specific situation well to obtain a positive outcome. The objective should be to come away from the conversation with an enhanced level of trust between you and the other person.

The specific approach will vary widely based on numerous factors, such as the incoming level of trust between you and the other person, the reason for trying to evade, the number of other people involved and their relationships. It is not the intent of this article to cover every possible scenario and give advice. The idea is to recognize the body language associated with evasion and be alert for it.

If the person does open up with more information, you can then reinforce the behavior with some kind words like, “Thanks for leveling with me on this, Mike. I know it was not easy for you to do it.” If an assurance of confidentiality about this issue in the future is appropriate, then state that as well.

In many cases it is possible to transform an evasive action into a trust-building exchange if you handle it well, depending on the circumstances and the relationship between you and the other person.

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


Body Language 54 Doubt

November 16, 2019

The physical manifestations of doubt are pretty easy to spot. We have a special way of contorting our face and upper torso to convey the message.

This kind of analysis is very much culturally specific, as are many body language gestures. This article is focused on facial and upper torso expressions of doubt in a Western Society.

We need to pay close attention when we see signs of doubt, because it has a direct impact on the trust between people. I will describe some tips to use at the end of this article.

While the facial postures below may be observed in association with various other emotions in some circumstances, these are the ones that are typically involved with an expression of doubt. When you see many of these gestures at the same time in a cluster, it sends a strong message conveying doubt by the person doing them.

Eyebrows

Typically, you will see one eyebrow up and the other normal or slightly down (if the doubt has a tinge of anger associated with it). Sometimes both eyebrows can be raised at the same time. That would normally signal surprise along with doubt.

If both eyebrows are down and furrowed, that indicates anger or frustration with some amount of doubt.

Forehead

The forehead of a person who is experiencing doubt will often be wrinkled, especially if the eyebrows are raised.

Head Tilted

Usually the head will be slightly tilted for a person who is experiencing doubt. The gesture goes along with a pondering stance that suggests analysis on the part of the person with feelings of doubt. You will rarely see a doubtful person with a completely erect head.

Eyes

For a person who is experiencing doubt, the eyes are usually looking to the side, and often upward. The connotation is that the person is trying to reason something but cannot reconcile it in his or her mind. The eyes looking sideways and upward indicate mental activity trying to rationalize what is going on.

Nose

The nose is neutral when a person is in doubt. For example, you will not see a person wrinkle his nose as part of this gesture. If you see that, the other person is likely experiencing some form of disgust along with the doubt.

Mouth

There is a lot going on with the mouth for a person in doubt. Most likely you will see the mouth pulled slightly to one side. The mouth may be open, showing teeth, or completely closed. If the upper lip is curled up, then the doubt is usually accompanied by some disgust or distrust.

The corners of the mouth may be down as a sign of bewilderment or negative feelings about what is going on.

Chin

If the doubt is a part of puzzlement, then the chin is often stroked or grabbed by one hand.

Hands

Sometimes you can see the hands held up with palms up to either side of the body. The connotation there is “what the heck is going on?”

The gestures associated with doubt are numerous and usually easy to decode. Look for a cluster of the ones mentioned above. When you see it in a Western Society, you can be pretty sure the person is having feelings of doubt.

What to do

If you see this cluster of gestures, do not just ignore it. Instead, try to gently understand the genesis of the concern. Ask open-ended questions that will give the other person a safe way to describe what is bothering him or her. Listen carefully to the response, and do not try to correct the person on the spot.

Ponder the input and see if you can create a helpful discussion about what alternative approaches might have led to a different outcome. Thank the person sincerely for sharing some insight about what you did that you might not have known otherwise.

These sincere opportunities for closure can go a long way toward making a large trust deposit with the other person. Congratulations! You took a negative situation and turned it into a trust-building moment between you and the other person.

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


Body Language 24 The Chin

April 20, 2019

Watching how people deal with their jaw and chin can help you understand what they may be thinking. A good example is to watch for clenching of teeth.

When a person clenches his teeth, the muscles on both sides of his face bulge out noticeably. This gesture might be accentuated by the jaw muscles getting red.

In the accompanying picture, the man has clenched teeth and a closed mouth, but the overall meaning is “So what” or “Who cares” because of the palm up arm gesture.

Anger

If the clenched teeth are showing, it is usually a sign of anger or exasperation. It is like the person is biting on an imaginary silver dollar to keep from blurting out how stupid your last remark was.

Sometimes the person clenching his jaw is not even aware he is doing it. I recall one boss I had who used this gesture a lot, and it was always a prime signal to those who were smart to back off.

Surprise

A dropped jaw is usually a sign of surprise. The person is momentarily incapable of grasping the magnitude of the event going on, so he or she opens the mouth wide while usually giving a verbal equivalent to OMG.

The dropped jaw can also be a kind of phony smile where the person is actually showing both his upper and lower teeth at the same time. The gesture is overdone, so it appears insincere.

Direction

Another chin gesture is where a person juts his jaw in the direction he wants to direct you. It may be to advise you to listen to another specific person and keep your own mouth shut. This gesture is often accompanied by a slight upward jaw movement.

Stroking of the chin while listening is a gesture that signals the person is contemplating the input or evaluating which option is more palatable. Men tend to use this gesture a lot, especially if they have facial hair.

Strength

Thrusting of the chin is a form of aggressive behavior. You can see this gesture if you watch a bully in a school yard. You can also see it in a Corporate Board Room. The connotation is “I am stronger than you, so back off.”

General Tone

We often speak of the “angle of the chin” as indicative of a person’s mental state. Chin up is a sign of pride. You might hear “She walked out of his office with her head held high and her chin up.” A slight upward angle of the chin is often seen when a person is emoting trust for another person. The connotation is “I am listening and I believe what you are saying.”

The opposite gesture is when a person has his chin down. This is a sign of feeling weak or dejected. It is usually coupled with a lowering of the entire head and gaze of the eyes. This gesture may also be a sign of shame.

Some people move their mouth from side to side with the lips closed. The best interpretation is that the person is evaluating what is going on. It is neither a positive sign nor a negative one. It is like the person is rolling around options in his or her mouth.

Wake Up

An interesting chin move is where a person will repeatedly slap under the chin with the back of his hand. This gesture is trying to make the person doing it more conscious of what is going on. It is a kind of “wake up” move.

A puckered chin is a sign of being protective. It goes along with a lowering of the entire chin area in order to protect the neck region.

Be alert to these chin movements, because they can tell a lot about the person’s mental state. Like all body language signals, you can be more confident you are interpreting it correctly if you see a cluster of signals.

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