Body Language 39 Rolling Eyes

August 3, 2019

The body language gesture of rolling the eyes is very well known. It normally means a kind of exasperation with what has been said or done.

There are several subtle shades of the gesture that are worth noting.

Another word for rolling eyes is “shrugging” the eyes. It is a common form of disapproval or sarcasm.

Inside Joke

When done between coworkers at a meeting, it is usually a kind of inside joke where one person is silently mocking a third party to a friend. The idea here is “Can you believe this idiot?”

The key point here is that the gesture is not intended to be seen by the object of the comment. It is between the two other people.

The secretive nature of the gesture can have a negative effect on the culture of the group. It is similar to talking behind another person’s back.

Children rolling eyes

Children and youth often use the gesture to indicate how clueless they believe their parents are. If you want to have some fun, try rolling your eyes back at a child who uses this gesture.

Of course, you risk escalating the matter, but at least for a moment the kid may not know how to respond. It is like you are mocking the kid for mocking you. The kid is saying “clueless parent” and you respond with “clueless child.”

There is a very slight version of this body language signal that can mean the person is having a hard time understanding a point. This gesture can often take the form of a sideways glance rather that the classic upward look.

Actors and comedians

Two comedians who used eye rolling effectively were Rodney Dangerfield and Foster Brooks. With Dangerfield, it was often associated with the “no respect” line. Brooks used the gesture as something like incredulous. I recall one roast where Foster was honoring Dean Martin, and he said, “Dean’s dream was to be a great singer.” Then he rolled his eyes, “Like that was ever going to happen.”

How to stop someone from eye rolling

One effective way to eliminate eye rolling in a professional setting is to call people on it when you catch them. Suppose someone is fond of rolling her eyes in your staff meetings as she sits across the table from a cynical coworker.

Simply stop the conversation and address the person rolling her eyes and say, “Are you mocking me?” That puts the person on the spot and will often halt the practice.

Use in negotiations

Eye rolling is often used during negotiations to indicate that the offer just put on the table has no credibility. A good negotiator will pick just the right moment to use the gesture for maximum impact.

Eye rolling can be fleeting and more like a micro-expression, but the impact can be just as great. As long as the other person sees the gesture, the message has been received.

Impatience

Eye rolling is often used to express impatience. You might see the gesture in a long line waiting to buy tickets to a show. At one point one person will turn to his partner and roll his eyes to indicate frustrations with the slow movement of the line.

Try to avoid using the eye roll yourself, especially in a professional setting. It often has a negative connotation and sometimes works to reduce trust within a group. However, the gesture is not always negative.The exact meaning is situational and can be perfectly fine when used between friends as a humorous way to make a point.

Caveat

When eye rolling is used with sarcasm, it often reduces trust. Mocking other people in public normally creates a negative backlash because it is almost always intended as a put down. If something seems a little over the top, find a verbal way to express your frustration rather than rolling your eyes.

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.TheTrust 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.


Why Some Bully Managers Last

July 5, 2014

aggressive businessman bullying colleaguesA student in one of my graduate leadership classes posed an interesting question. If bully managers cause so much grief, why are so many of them allowed to remain in power?

The question got me thinking of the many reasons bully managers, even the extreme ones, seem to hang onto their positions. Here are some of the reasons.

1. Weak Leadership Above – If a bully manager is allowed to remain in place, it means the leaders above him or her are not doing a good job. If those in charge look the other way while a manager is abusing people, then they are the real culprits.

It is rather easy to spot a bully manager when doing a 360 degree review process, so once one is identified, if the person is allowed to stay in a management position year after year, I blame the top leadership.

Also, weak leadership might look the other way because the bully has powerful allies. Bully bosses intimidate people at their own level and higher in the organization. They know the buttons to push or people to pressure in order to get their own way. If a weak leader is afraid of the bully, that can be a reason this person is allowed to continue.

If the bully is the top dog and not beholden to anyone, there is no force from above to curtail the negative behaviors. In this case, barring some kind of epiphany, the bully will keep on with the same conduct until he or she leaves.

Attempts from below to enlighten this person will usually be fruitless; they may even exacerbate the problem.

2. Sufficing –

A bully manager does elicit compliance because people are fearful. The unit reporting to this manager will perform at a credible level, even though people are unhappy and underutilized.

The crime is that the unit could be so much better, and the lives of the workers could be richer if the manager was replaced by someone with higher Emotional Intelligence.

Many units get by sufficing on a culture of compliance and avoidance and do not even realize the huge potential they are missing.

3. Being Clueless –

I have written on this before. The idea is that most bullies simply do not see themselves accurately. They would view themselves as being tough or having high standards of conduct.

My observation is that most bully managers are genuinely proud of their prowess at getting people to behave. They have no impetus to change, because their twisted logic reinforces the behaviors that elicit compliance.

They often view themselves as smarter than the people working for them and bark out orders because they sincerely believe they know best.

Another clueless possibility is that the entire corporate culture is stuck in this Ebenezer Scrooge mentality.

Hard as it is to fathom, there are still old style companies where management likes to terrorize. The same holds for family businesses where one generation intimidates the next.

4. Lack of trust –

A bully manager trashes trust on a daily basis without realizing it. When trust is low, all other functions in the organization operate like a car would run on watered-down gasoline.

The irony is that when the bully manager sees things sputtering and not working well, the logical reaction is to jump in with combat boots on to “fix” the problems.

That bullying behavior perpetuates the problem in a vicious cycle of cause and effect. If there is no external force to break the cycle, it will just continue.

5. Short term focus –

Most bully managers have a fixation on short term actions and do not see the long term damage being done to the culture. They would describe “culture” as some squishy concept that is for softies.

If you propose ideas to improve the culture to a bully manager, he or she will start talking about performance and accountability. Holding people accountable is a very popular phrase in management these days.

Imagine a world where there was less need to talk about holding people accountable because the culture they worked in was one that automatically extracted their maximum discretionary effort.

If the vast majority of workers in a unit habitually performed at the very peak of their potential because they wanted to, then accountability would take care of itself.

6. Lack of skills –

Bully managers often have not had good leadership capabilities built in through training and mentoring. You cannot blame a tyrant if he or she has never been shown a better way to lead.

Bully managers are often accused of having a “my way or the highway” attitude toward people, but I would contend that many of these misguided individuals simply feel “my way is the only way I know how to get things done.”

For these leaders, some intensive reprogramming can be an effective antidote only if they come to the table eager to learn new ways.

7. Fear means people will not challenge –

Most workers are not going to be willing to challenge a bully boss. The fear of getting their heads chopped off for leveling with the boss makes the prospect of telling the truth feel like knowingly walking into a lion’s den.

Every once in a while there is a person so foolish or confident that he will just walk into the lion’s den because there is little to lose. This person can help provide shock therapy for bully leaders by providing data on how the behaviors are actually blocking the very things the leader wants to accomplish.

These people might be called “whistle blowers” because they provide an errant manager, or the leadership above, with knowledge of what is actually happening.

Occasionally, a bully manager is so extreme that he or she must be removed and replaced by a more people-oriented manager. Unfortunately, it is also true that many bully bosses have the ability to remain in place for long stretches.

This adhesion to power is extremely costly to the organization in terms of current and future performance along with a prime cause of high turnover. If you have a bully manager reporting to you, get him or her some help through training.

If that does not work, move the bully out of a leadership role and put in someone with high Emotional Intelligence.


7 Reasons Bully Managers Last

May 29, 2011

A student in one of my graduate leadership classes posed an interesting question. If bully managers cause so much grief, why are so many of them allowed to remain in power? The question got me thinking of the many reasons bully managers, even the extreme ones, seem to hang onto their positions. Here are some of the reasons.

Weak Leadership Above – If a bully manager is allowed to remain in place, it means the leaders above him or her are not doing a good job. If those in charge look the other way while a manager is abusing people, then they are the real culprits. It is rather easy to spot a bully manager when doing a 360 degree review process, so once one is identified, if the person is allowed to stay in a management position year after year, I blame the top leadership.

Also, weak leadership might look the other way because the bully has powerful allies. Bully bosses intimidate people at their own level and higher in the organization. They know the buttons to push or people to pressure in order to get their own way. If a weak leader is afraid of the bully, that can be a reason this person is allowed to continue.

If the bully is the top dog and not beholden to anyone, there is no force from above to curtail the negative behaviors.  In this case, barring some kind of epiphany, the bully will keep on with the same conduct until he or she leaves. Attempts from below to enlighten this person will usually be fruitless; they may even exacerbate the problem.

Sufficing – A bully manager does elicit compliance because people are fearful. The unit reporting to this manager will perform at a credible level, even though people are unhappy and underutilized. The crime is that the unit could be so much better, and the lives of the workers could be richer if the manager was replaced by someone with higher Emotional Intelligence. Many units get by sufficing on a culture of compliance and avoidance and do not even realize the huge potential they are missing.

Being Clueless – I have written on this before. The idea is that most bullies simply do not see themselves accurately. They would view themselves as being tough or having high standards of conduct. My observation is that most bully managers are genuinely proud of their prowess at getting people to behave. They have no impetus to change, because their twisted logic reinforces the behaviors that elicit compliance. They often view themselves as smarter than the people working for them and bark out orders because they sincerely believe they know best.
Another clueless possibility is that the entire corporate culture is stuck in this Ebenezer Scrooge mentality. Hard as it is to fathom, there are still old style companies where management likes to terrorize. The same holds for family businesses where one generation intimidates the next.

Lack of trust – A bully manager trashes trust on a daily basis without realizing it. When trust is low, all other functions in the organization operate like a car would run on watered-down gasoline. The irony is that when the bully manager sees things sputtering and not working well, the logical reaction is to jump in with combat boots on to “fix” the problems. That bullying behavior perpetuates the problem in a vicious cycle of cause and effect. If there is no external force to break the cycle, it will just continue.

Short term focus – Most bully managers have a fixation on short term actions and do not see the long term damage being done to the culture. They would describe “culture” as some squishy concept that is for softies. If you propose ideas to improve the culture to a bully manager, he or she will start talking about performance and accountability. Holding people accountable is a very popular phrase in management these days. Imagine a world where there was less need to talk about holding people accountable because the culture they worked in was one that automatically extracted their maximum discretionary effort. If the vast majority of workers in a unit habitually performed at the very peak of their potential because they wanted to, then accountability would take care of itself.

Lack of skills – Bully managers often have not had good leadership capabilities built in through training and mentoring. You cannot blame a tyrant if he or she has never been shown a better way to lead. Bully managers are often accused of having a “my way or the highway” attitude toward people, but I would contend that many of these misguided individuals simply feel “my way is the only way I know how to get things done.” For these leaders, some intensive reprogramming can be an effective antidote only if they come to the table eager to learn new ways.

Fear means people will not challenge – Most workers are not going to be willing to challenge a bully boss. The fear of getting their heads chopped off for leveling with the boss makes the prospect of telling the truth feel like knowingly walking into a lion’s den. Every once in a while there is a person so foolish or confident that he will just walk into the lion’s den because there is little to lose. This person can help provide shock therapy for bully leaders by providing data on how the behaviors are actually blocking the very things the leader wants to accomplish. These people might be called “whistle blowers” because they provide an errant manager, or the leadership above, with knowledge of what is actually happening.

Occasionally, a bully manager is so extreme that he or she must be removed and replaced by a more people-oriented manager. Unfortunately, it is also true that many bully bosses have the ability to remain in place for long stretches. This adhesion to power is extremely costly to the organization in terms of current and future performance along with a prime cause of high turnover. If you have a bully manager reporting to you, get him or her some help through training. If that does not work, move the bully out of a leadership role and put in someone with high Emotional Intelligence.


Building Trust When Your Boss Sucks At It

October 11, 2010

In my work with leaders who are trying to build higher trust within their organizations, the most persistent complaint I run into is a mid level manager who says, “Your material is excellent. I know this can make a huge difference in our organization, but my boss seems intent on doing things that destroy trust almost daily. How can I be more effective at building trust in my arena when the environment we are in is habitually trashed from above?” This is an interesting conundrum, and yet it is not a hopeless situation. Here are six tips that can help.

First, recognize you are not alone. Nearly every company today is under extreme pressure, and restructuring or other unpopular actions are common. There are ways to build and maintain trust, even in draconian times, but the leaders need to be highly skilled and transparent. Unfortunately, most leaders shoot themselves in the foot when trying to manage in difficult times. They do lasting damage rather than build trust during the struggle.

Second, realize that usually you cannot control what goes on at levels above you. My favorite quote on this is “Never wrestle a pig. You get all muddy and the pig loves it.” The best you can do is point out that approaches do exist that can produce a better result. Suggesting your leader get some outside help and learn how to manage the most difficult situations in ways that do not destroy trust will likely backfire. Most managers with low emotional intelligence have a huge blind spot where they simply do not see that they have a problem.

One suggestion is to request that you and some of your peers go to, or bring in, a leadership trust seminar and request the boss come along as a kind of “coach” for the group. Another idea is to start a book review lunch club where your peers and the boss can meet once a week to discuss favorite leadership books. It helps if the boss gets to nominate the first couple books for review. The idea is to get the clueless boss to engage in dialog on topics of leadership and trust as a participant of a group learning process. If the boss is especially narcissistic, it is helpful to have an outside facilitator help with the interaction. The key flavor here is to not target the boss as the person who needs to be “fixed,” rather view the process as growth for everyone. It will promote dialog and better understanding within the team.

Third, avoid whining about the unfair world above you, because that does not help the people below you feel better (it really just reduces your own credibility), and it annoys your superiors as well. When you make a mistake, admit it and make corrections the best you can.

Fourth, operate a high trust operation in the environment that you influence. That means being as transparent as possible and reinforcing people when they bring up frustrations or apparent inconsistencies. This can be tricky because the lack of transparency often takes the form of a gag rule from on high. You may not be able to control transparency as much as you would like. One idea is to respectfully challenge a gag rule by playing out the scenario with alternate outcomes. The discussion might sound like this, “I understand the need for secrecy here due to the potential risks, but is it really better to keep mum now and have to finesse the situation in two weeks, or would we be better served being open now even though the news is difficult to hear. My observation is that most people respond to difficult news with maturity if they are given information and treated like adults.”

If your desire to be more transparent is overruled by the boss, you might ask him or her to tell you the words to use down the line when people ask why they were kept in the dark. Another tactic is to ask how the boss intends to address the inevitable rumors that will spring up if there is a gag rule.
Keep in mind there are three questions every employee asks of others before trusting them: 1) Are you competent?, 2) Do you have integrity?, and 3) Do you care about me?

Fifth, lead by example. Even though you are operating in an environment that is not ideal, you can still do a good job of building trust. It may be tricky, but it can be done. You will be demonstrating that it can be accomplished, which is an effective means to have upper management see and appreciate the benefits of high trust. Tell the boss how you are handling the situation because that is being transparent with the boss.

Sixth, be patient and keep smiling; a positive attitude is infectious. Many cultures these days are basically down and morose. Groups that enjoy high trust are usually upbeat and positive. That is a much better environment to gain the motivation of everyone in your group.


Leading Up by Example

May 9, 2010

My business is helping to grow leaders with a focus on building higher trust within their organizations. When I work with leaders at every layer except the highest level, they typically get very excited at the potential of working on trust within their area. After some education on the impacts of trust in numerous dimensions occurring simultaneously, they salivate over the improvement opportunities that are ripe for the picking. As we discuss the behavioral changes needed for leaders to foster rather than destroy trust I can see light bulbs going on in their heads.

Then, I often see a kind of sick look come across their faces as reality sets in. After a while some brave soul will offer, “This is great stuff, Bob, but the boss does not believe in this kind of “soft skills” training. He thinks it is a waste of time and money. So we are going nowhere with trust in our organization until we can get a new CEO.” This is wrong thinking because trust can be improved at any level of an organization. Sure, it is infinitely better if the example is set from the top, but if that does not happen, we do not have to wait until a retirement, replacement, death, or murder to start building a culture of trust.

The trick is to start a cell of excellence at your own level and work downward. Nearly all leaders can improve the level of trust in their sphere of influence by changing their behaviors. After a while (and it does not take very long) the improvement in performance will shine like a beacon from a lighthouse.

As the productivity and enthusiasm shout out from your corner of the organization, eventually even the most encrusted manager above you will start asking what the heck is going on in your playpen. Then, you have earned the right to explain that your investment to get some education on building trust for you and the managers working for you has changed the whole paradigm.

The higher in space you look, the more brilliant your shining star will appear to upper management, especially if there are some black holes between you and the top layers.
They will be grateful for the bottom line improvement and maybe even willing to endorse that an improved culture really does have the highest ROI of any potential project.

The impact of trust on organizations is a well documented fact. Stephen M.R. Covey states in his book The Speed of Trust that trust is not some squishy, soft variable but a hard-edged measure that has direct and profound impact on organizational performance. In the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer, Richard Edelman noted a direct correlation between US trust in business and the S&P 500 Index: “Trust, absolutely, is now a product for companies to pursue and pursue avidly. Why? Because it enables company performance and stock price to prosper. We see an interlinking of share price and trust.”
In my own books, I give several examples of the causal relationship between trust and productivity.

No executive would disagree that trust within an organization is an important component that enables excellence. It is unbelievable that so few top executives actively seek out specific training for themselves and other senior leaders on how to build and maintain trust. It is like they have it all figured out already. But if they know how to act in ways that truly build trust, why is the level of trust within the majority of corporations typically below the 50% level? Either top leadership does not truly acknowledge the relationship or they are blind to the countless trust-busting things they do daily. Were it not for these behaviors, Scott Adams wouldn’t have invented the Dilbert series and might be a plumber today.

The good news is that you can and should create a cell of excellence in building trust at your own level regardless of the attitudes of those above you. Jim Collins, author of Built to Last, Good to Great, and How the Mighty Have Fallen offers a ten point list of things every leader should do to reach his or her full potential. Number one on his list is “Build a Pocket of Excellence.” It means that you have more power than you think you have, and it is a simple matter of leading the boss from below. Rather than trying to convince the boss to spend money on training for improved trust, just show the incredible result, and then admit that you forgot to ask permission to train your managers in the first place. The boss will forgive you and might even be more willing to consider some training at the upper levels.

Another way to think about it was offered by the retired head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Tony Dungy. His advice is to “Focus on what you can control and do not dwell on what you cannot change.” That advice applies to leading from below as well. If the boss is not convinced of the payoff of improving the culture through training, go ahead and do it anyway in the area you manage. Don’t try to reeducate or convince the boss. Remember the old adage, “Never wrestle a pig, you get all muddy and the pig loves it!” If the boss forbids any such nonsense as culture training, find a clandestine way to accomplish it. Buy some books or DVDs and have managers in your area experience them and get together once a week for a lunch discussion.

There are countless ways you can change the culture in your organization by making small investments of time, and at low cost. If your boss has a negative attitude on investing in people skills for managers, you are not dead in the water. Take the initiative to get involved with someone who can help you on the journey, and you will see amazing benefits in not only performance but in knowing that you are helping everyone in your organization lead a better life.