Body Language 81 Search Me

June 29, 2020

There are many gestures that indicate a person doesn’t know. The verbal phrase might be “search me” but the body language gestures are unmistakable.

Arms and hands

The most common gestures involve the arms. As in the attached picture, the woman is holding her arms out with palms up. There are several variations of this gesture but they all involve palms up and the shoulders somewhat raised. It may manifest itself with a shrug.

The hands can be level as in this picture or they may be uneven due to one shoulder being much higher than the other.

Another common gesture with the arms and hands is to have one arm across the stomach causing a kind of shelf on which the opposite elbow is propped with a finger either on the chin, cheek, or even in the mouth with a biting expression.

Facial expression

The usual facial expression to go along with the hand gestures is one of slight confusion. The mouth will be shut or sometimes it will be pulled to one side indicating the person is thinking. The eyes are normally wide open and the eyebrows will be high.

Alternatively, the eyes might be looking to the side as if the person is looking for some clue or playing a kind of guessing game with you.

General posture

In most cases when you see this gesture the person will be standing. It is possible to show it while seated, but it is far less common.

What to do

When you see this expression, you need to take the circumstances into account. If the person was just asked which movie she wanted to see, the connotation would mean that she really does not care. On the other hand, if she was asked about a new technology, it may mean she really does not know.

In either case, the best response is to get the person to talk. The gesture itself is clear, but the resolution needs to come through dialog. Avoid a mirroring gesture when you see these things. Instead, offer specific alternatives to help the person verbalize a preference.


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



Body Language 75 Pride

April 19, 2020

The gestures associated with pride seem simple enough, but you need to be careful because there are other emotions that can have similar features. In this article I will give some tips on how to spot true pride.

Signals that demonstrate pride can also be seen in a person experiencing simple satisfaction. The two emotions are not the same at all, but the body language is similar. Also, hubris can have many of the same characteristics.

Curiously, the gestures for contempt are very close to those of pride, so you need to be a bit careful.

Let’s pick apart the specific gestures and see if we can isolate those that are most associated with pride as opposed to other emotions.

Chin

The most important part of the body associated with pride is the chin. When a person is proud, the angle of the chin will be up. The head is generally slightly backward but vertical from side to side and not tilted at all. If the chin is down, then you may be looking at satisfaction rather than pride.

The mouth

A person experiencing pride will have a slight smile associated with a symmetrical pulling back of both cheeks. If only one cheek is pulled back then the smile is gone, and the gesture is probably that of contempt or distrust as opposed to pride.

This would be like the famous gesture of “unimpressed” that McKayla Maroney made while receiving the Silver Medal in gymnastics in 2012 and later mimicked with President Obama, as in the attached photo.

Eyes and gaze

A person who is proud will have a fixed gaze and make good eye contact with the person he is facing. Someone experiencing hubris may have more shifty eyes indicating lack of confidence. With pride, the eyes will be relaxed and steady, but that can also be said of someone experiencing satisfaction.

Eyebrows

When a person is expressing pride, the eyebrows are relaxed and not furrowed at all. Pride carries a connotation of confidence and sometimes even dominance, so there is no indication of worry or stress in the eyebrows, as would be the case with hubris.

Shoulders

A person demonstrating pride will not be slouched over. His shoulders will be erect and slightly back. The back will be arched. Pride often reflects a kind of military stance that is often seen with service members on the assembly field. Similarly, if a proud person is seated, his back will be straight and his shoulders held high with no sign of a slouch.

Hands and arms

With many emotions, the hands are somehow involved touching various areas of the face or head. Pride rarely calls for interaction between the head and the extremities. It would be unusual to see a person who is feeling pride holding his jaw or putting his finger in front of his mouth.

What to do

When you see a person showing body language signals reflecting pride, the first thing to do is see if you can, if need be, through dialog, uncover the source of the pride. Quite often, when a person is experiencing pride it is pretty obvious why that is the case. You can make an affirming statement or gesture indicating you agree with the person’s right to be proud and endorse that emotion. That gesture of support will tend to enhance the trust between you both.

The only caveat here is that if you support the person’s pride, it needs to be genuine. If you are putting on an act to avoid conflict, then the other person is likely to detect that, and you will do damage to the relationship.

On the other hand, you may feel that pride is not warranted in this situation. That becomes a delicate situation, because there is lack of agreement that the person should be proud.

In our highly polarized society, there can be disconnects between the way two people will view an issue, so it is important that if you detect this is the case to proceed with caution. An open discussion may draw out the true source of pride and whether it is false pride. It could also mean that you did not understand the background well enough so you felt the person didn’t have a right to be proud when he really did. Either clarify the disconnect, or it may be a good strategy to agree to disagree on this particular issue.

Conclusion

Pride is rather easy to spot when you see it, but you need to be careful because several other emotions have some of the same characteristics. Whether it is true pride or something else, an appropriate response is important. This brief article attempted to sort out a few key differences.


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


Body Language 74 Pondering

April 10, 2020

The body language gestures of a person who is pondering are rather easy to spot and there is not much confusion in interpreting this emotion.

Pondering is closely associated with puzzling, and the body language of one versus the other may be difficult to sort out. In reality, the mental activity for puzzling and pondering are virtually the same.

Gaze

A pondering person is usually looking upward. You see a kind of “far away” look in the eyes as the person contemplates something. The person is looking off into space with no particular energy given to focusing visually on anything.

If the person is actually trying to visualize something, then sometimes you can detect a slight squinting of the eyelids along with a lowering of the eyebrows.

Upper nose and eyebrows

There is often a slight wrinkle at the bridge of the nose as the person is contemplating what to make of the situation. The nose itself is not wrinkled but the eyebrows are pulled in slightly causing a vertical wrinkle

Head

The head will be slightly tilted as the person is deep in thought. Also associated with an upward gaze, the person’s head may be tilted backward. We see no indication that the person is getting ready to speak, rather the mind is completely occupied trying to figure out what is happening.

Hands and arms

Often one hand will be in contact with the facial region. Most commonly, as in the attached picture, the one hand is connected to the chin with one bent forefinger and thumb pinching the tip of the chin lightly. When making this gesture, it is common to see the other arm in support of the arm propping the chin.

Sometimes a finger may be extended to cover the mouth region as if to prevent the person from speaking too soon.

Alternatively, the one hand may be holding the head or even scratching the head in puzzlement.

Mouth

The mouth may be in a neutral position as in this picture or it may be pulled slightly to the side. If the issue being contemplated is a serious or dangerous matter, the mouth may be pulled further to the side as a signal of stress.

People who are pondering rarely show their teeth at the same time. The mouth is generally closed, but it is a relaxed closure and not pursed lips or grinding of teeth. If the subject matter has a tinge of danger associated with it, you may see the person bite the side of his lower lip in anxiety as he ponders.

What to do

The advice when you see a person showing signs of this gesture is to leave him alone. Do not interrupt his mental process unless there is a fire in the building. Let him work on the problem until he emerges from his trance with some clarity of thought. If you would interrupt the process, it would likely be highly irritating.

If the person appears to be just day-dreaming or procrastinating from something that he should be doing, then a gentle word to bring him back to reality may be helpful. Just be gentle and kind if you do have to interrupt a person who is pondering.

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



Body Language 73 Coy

March 27, 2020

How can you tell if another person is being coy? In this article I will give some tips to recognize the body language gestures associated with being coy and give some ideas to deal with the situation.

I will start with being coy in a business setting and then cover the same topic from a social point of view. The former usually involves someone being somewhat evasive while being coy in a social setting runs the gamut between deception all the way to overt flirtation.

What is being coy?

The definition of coy is “pretending to be shy or modest.” Another definition from Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary is..”marked by cute coquettish or artful playfulness.” A third perspective of being coy includes a reluctance to make a commitment or give details about something regarded as sensitive.

Eyebrows

When a person is being coy, he will usually have one eyebrow noticeably raised. You do not see both eyebrows raised, because that gesture would normally be associated with the emotion of surprise or even shock.

The clandestine look is what gives the gesture the appearance of some mystery. That can be what creates the playfulness of the gesture. The uncertainty of what he is thinking enhances the effect.

Eyes

A coy person will usually be looking sideways. He does not look up or down, but the eyes are noticeably looking to the side. It is an evasive kind of movement, like he is making an effort to hide something.

He rarely will make direct eye contact when being coy because that would reduce the mystery effect.

Cheeks

When a person is being coy, you usually see only one cheek as he will turn his head and not look at you straight on. He may also have a tilted head to accentuate the expression.

Mouth

There is often a slight pulling back of the one cheek in an effort to make a mysterious smile. Alternatively, the mouth can also form a sober frown, as in the picture.

Chin

Often the chin is lowered a bit as if to hide something. It would be unusual to see a coy person with his head held high. Part of the secret look is to lower the chin.

In a Business Setting

Being coy in a business setting means that there is something a person wants to express but prefers to only hint at until the other person begins to get a message. It can also mean reluctance to give information the other person wants.

The desired outcome is rarely sexual, as in social expressions of being coy. Many of the body language signals will be the same, as is shown in the picture above of a male being coy in a work setting.

Perhaps he knows something, but he does not trust the other person enough to reveal it. Perhaps he is playing some kind of game where he wants to stall for time for some reason. This is not necessarily negative, since a person can have valid reasons for keeping something private.

One approach to break the tension is to ask the person if he is uncomfortable at the moment. If he agrees, then you have the opportunity to make open ended questions in an attempt to find out the root cause of the discomfort.

Being coy is also used in marketing when an organization wants to build anticipation for a new product but is not quite ready for the grand announcement.

The art of being coy is often seen in political situations where a candidate is not ready to announce his or her true intentions. This application often comes across as artful dodging, which tends to lower trust because people recognize they are not getting the full truth.

Being coy in a social setting

The most well-known examples of being coy occur in a social setting, rather than a business or political setting, as in the attached picture.

The gestures are usually intended to be provocative and involve another person. People would not make these movements if they were alone.

The smile may be slightly pulled to the side reminiscent of the Mona Lisa look. The half-smile is an indication of potential pleasure. She may also exhibit pursed lips as if in a mock kissing gesture.

Conclusion

When a person (male or female) is being coy, you have to recognize that there is some kind of agenda going on. Be careful to not misinterpret the coyness as attraction. There could be a number of things going on. The best advice is to remain unsure until you have other indications for why the person is making these gestures.

Look for the opportunity for some dialog. Observe more and try to ask open ended questions for more data. If the person begins to open up, then you can improve the accuracy of your understanding and not make unwarranted assumptions.


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



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