Successful Supervisor 87 Trust and the Quality of Your Life

August 4, 2018

While doing research for my third book, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, I studied the personalities of numerous supervisors and other leaders to determine their characteristics. I found an interesting trend that has an important lesson about trust.

The most highly successful supervisors seemed to be having more fun, while the supervisors who were not doing well were really miserable.

I noticed that the top-rated supervisors had created high trust organizations, and they were allowed to be human beings. They could make occasional mistakes and the people who work for them would still respect them.

The supervisors who were doing poorly were bundles of nerves trying to figure out how to be perfect, because there was low trust in their organizations. If they did not spin every statement the right way, people would jump all over them.

These supervisors of low trust groups were staying up all night trying to outsmart the workers, while their effective counterparts were sleeping soundly, knowing the employees were truly on their side.

Supervisors who know how to build high trust consistently enjoy a better life for themselves. That also translates into a more relaxed work environment for everyone, which further enhances the level of trust, and the cycle continues.

These supervisors are allowed the luxury of being fallible human beings because their employees know they are sincere. Even if something occasionally comes out with the wrong slant, the employees will cut these leaders some slack.

In environments of low trust, employees are poised and waiting to pounce on any misstep or misstatement the leader might make.

Exercise for you: If you are a supervisor in an environment of low trust, observe today how stressed you are most of the time.

Notice the amount of energy you have to put into every communication simply because employees are skeptical. Think about what it would look and feel like if the environment could be transformed into one of higher trust.

When a work environment has high trust, it is a better life for everyone. In that culture, the organization will thrive, even if there are some tough challenges.

It is absolutely worth the effort to build a culture of low fear and high trust. Not only will your area shine in comparison to others, but you will be having a great time leading your highly effective group.

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 82 Trust Improves Productivity

July 1, 2018

Every supervisor knows that productivity is a bottom-line measure that is the net result of the entire culture within her operation. Productivity takes everything into account and is a brutally honest reflection of the level of engagement of the workforce.

After studying trust for about 40 years, I believe that the level of trust within a group is an accurate predictor of the engagement of workers in the group and thus their productivity. I believe the average organization manages to extract only about 30% of the inherent productivity that is within the resources that are already onboard.

Even if I am wrong by quite a bit, it is still safe to say that any supervisor would be wise to first think about improving trust before requesting more resources to get the jobs done. In many of the organizations where I have worked, the productivity of the groups can be doubled and still have some headroom left before people are maxed out. That is why culture is often the sleeping giant in most organizations.

Let’s examine why the lack of trust is such a drag on organizational productivity by describing just a few example reasons why the correlation is so high.

Trust increases productivity

The enemy of productivity is waste. Here I am not talking about physical waste, although that is also involved. I mean that when someone is not performing at peak capability, his or her spare capacity is waste to the organization. Here are four ways that trust improves productivity directly.

1. People abusing the rules

It is easy to spot time being wasted when you observe how many workers do not follow the prescribed rules of the organization. If the morning break is set for 15 minutes, you will see workers away from their functions for roughly twice that time or even more.

The same phenomenon occurs with lunch breaks and smoke breaks (if allowed at all).

With a culture of high trust, people follow the rules as cast because they understand why they are important.

2. Poorly trained workers

In many cases the training given to new employees is sketchy and incomplete. If workers do not know how to run the operation as designed, then not only are they going to cause waste, they will be in danger of becoming injured in certain circumstances.

In a culture of high trust, supervisors are fully aware and follow the rules of proper training.

3. Distracting conversations and arguments

It is easy to observe people in production jobs spending a lot of time bickering among themselves. Curiously much of the wasteful banter is about not having adequate resources to do the work. I once knew a worker who would spend at least 70% of his day griping about that there is not enough time to get his work done.

Higher trust means that people get along better and do not get distracted by useless bickering. This is because higher trust is the result of respectful behavior.

4. Poor setups and staging of materials

If the area has not been set up for maximum workflow using “lean” principles and proper supply chain methods, then the workers are subject to be “waiting for work” frequently, which is a pure form of waste.

A culture of high trust is based on running the operation as it was designed to operate without glitches and hassles.

Trust improves morale

Everyone feels better in an environment of high trust. Coming to work is not a burden; in fact, many people truly enjoy the camaraderie at work. Great supervisors are able to achieve a light and buoyant environment.

1. Supervisors have gained the respect of the workers

Workers in a culture of high trust recognize they are there to do a job, but they are happy to do it because of the respect they are shown by supervision. When people are properly led, they almost universally enjoy their work and do it with pride.

2. Workers participate and buy into the vision

Workers understand that their labors are for a reason, and that reason is to make a better future for themselves. They do not feel ignored or beaten; rather, they are enlivened by the challenges that are put before them.

3. Rewards are appreciated

As the workers perform well over time, the management effectively reinforces the good work and that helps perpetuate the excellent productivity.

Take the time to invest in a higher trust culture in your organization. You will see remarkable improvements in productivity as a result.

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 56 – Reducing Turnover

December 9, 2017

In any organization, voluntary turnover is a kind of waste that needs to be held to an absolute minimum. This is true for all levels in an organization and can be particularly important for supervisors.

Reducing employee turnover is not rocket science; however, many companies struggle with very high turnover year after year.

The common denominator of high turnover in organizations comes back to leadership issues. The old saying that “People do not leave organizations, they leave their supervisor” is generally accurate.

If you study the best companies to work for worldwide, you will discover they have a much lower turnover rate than the average numbers.

I believe having the kind of culture where employees are locked in with no desire to leave for any reason is a sustainable competitive advantage. It is easy to achieve if you follow the 10 rules listed below.

10 Low Cost Ways a Supervisor Can Drastically Reduce Turnover

1. Develop People – Organizations that focus on employee development enjoy higher employee satisfaction, which leads to lower turnover.

If each employee has a concrete development plan that is reviewed at least annually and contains a variety of growth opportunities, the employee will have little reason to look for greener pastures elsewhere.

2. Recognize Good Performance – Reinforcing people for doing good work lets them know they are appreciated. Tangible and intangible rewards are a great way to show appreciation for workers who excel.

This improves morale if done well. However, understand that reinforcement can be a minefield if it is not handled properly. Make sure employees receive sincere appreciation by supervision on a continuing basis.

3. Build Trust – By extending trust to employees, supervisors demonstrate their willingness to support them. This pays off in terms of higher trust on the part of employees toward the organization.

There is a whole science on how to build trust. By creating a safe environment, more trust in an organization will lead to lower turnover.

4. Reduce Boredom – Employees who are underutilized, tend to get bored and restless. If there is a vacuum of activity, people often get into mischief.

It is important for supervisors to craft job duties and responsibilities such that people are actively engaged in the work every day.

5. Communicate More – In nearly every survey on employee satisfaction, the issue of communication surfaces as either the number one or number two complaint.

Communication needs to be ubiquitous and consistent. It is not enough to have a monthly shift news letter or an occasional town hall meeting.

Communication needs to take many different forms and be a constant priority for the supervisor.

6. Cross Train – Employees, who have been trained on several different jobs recognize they are of higher value to the organization and tend to be less inclined to leave.

Along with the pleasure of having more variety of work, employees appreciate the ability to take on additional skills. Having good bench strength allows the organization to function well, even during times of high vacation or illness.

7. Don’t Overtax – During lean economic times, companies have a need to stretch resources as much as possible. Many organizations exceed the elastic limit of what employees can be expected to maintain long term. This leads to burnout and people leaving for health reasons or just plain quitting in disgust over the abuse.

It is important for supervisors to assess carefully how far resources can be stretched, because going beyond the elastic limit guarantees a high level of employee turnover.

I believe this rule is habitually violated in many organizations, and they pay for it big time. Stretching people too far is a false economy.

8. Keep It Light – When managers apply constant pressure to squeeze out the last drop of productivity, they often go over the line, and it becomes counter productive.

If leaders grind people down to a stump with constant pressure for perfection and ever higher productivity, the quality of work life suffers. Employees can tolerate a certain amount of this for some time, but eventually they will break down.

It is smart to set aggressive goals, but very important to have employees believe the stretch goals are attainable.

One good way to provide this assurance is to have the employees themselves participate in setting the goals.

The best companies find ways to work in a little fun somewhere, even (and especially) in high pressure situations.

9. Feedback Performance – there needs to be a constant flow of information on how all employees are doing in each area. People who are kept in the dark about their performance become disillusioned and cranky.

The simple kindness of letting people know how they are doing on a daily or weekly basis pays off in terms of lower turnover.

10. Train Group Leaders – All levels of supervision need to be highly proficient at creating an environment where the culture is upbeat, positive, and has high trust. This does not happen by accident, or simply by desire. It takes work and lots of emphasis by the supervisor.

These are 10 ways in which supervisors can lower the level of turnover in their organization. The magic here is not any new discovery; but the consistent application of these principles will make a huge difference in any organization.

The good news is that the items mentioned above are not very expensive. They are all common sense. Too bad they are often not common practice.

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 51 – Employee Value Proposition

November 4, 2017

There is a relatively new term being batted around in HR circles. The term is “Employee Value Proposition.” I want to discuss the concept here and suggest that some of the ideas would be helpful to any supervisor.

I understand that supervisors need to adhere to policies and procedures set from a higher level, but the extent that you can lobby for more rules consistent with maximizing EVP, the better your organization will run.

The concept of Employee Value Proposition is very simple. It is the appeal employees feel for working in your organization. The concept takes in all of the policies and procedures that impact personnel at all levels.

If your HR policies are such that employees are thrilled to be working in your organization, then you are in good shape. If the rules make some people wish they were elsewhere, then there is work to be done.

The value proposition is more than rules, however. How employees are treated by all levels of supervision and all other employees is a large part of EVP. A high EVP is a reflection of a great culture where employees not only value the rules but appreciate how they feel about the work.

The vision is to be so appealing to employees that your organization becomes like a magnet for the very best resources. It is easy to recruit the best people and also to retain them with significantly less turnover. The objective is to have people become convinced that they would be fools to ever think of leaving. They know that there is no grass greener than where they are right now.

Few organizations are able to achieve that level of appeal, but I know of several groups that are close to it, and they have several hundred people apply for any posted job. Their turnover is a tiny fraction of the average turnover in our region and those few people who leave do so because of a spouse leaving the area or some other mechanical force that literally pries them away from the organization.

Attracting the best employees gives an immediate benefit because we all know that hiring a dud of an employee is like an albatross on the entire operation. Having low turnover gives numerous financial benefits that really add up. The cost of recruiting and training go way down for organizations with high EVP. The savings go directly to the bottom line.

Talentsmoothie.com suggests two main reasons for a low Employee Value Proposition. They are as follows:

1. Not differentiating your own organization from the competition. If several groups have the same conditions for employees, then there is no sustainable competitive advantage, but it is not enough to be better than the other groups.

You need to make the difference obvious to current and prospective employees. It is vital to have a solid list of the reasons why your organization is a better place to work than the similar type of organization down the street.

To do this well, you need to not only know your policies and climate well, you also need to know what other competing companies are doing. This means doing a lot of solid research and then documenting your advantages.

2. The second factor that is all too common is that the branding is appealing, but it does not fully reflect daily practices throughout the organization.

The hypocrisy of saying one thing but doing something different will destroy EVP in a heartbeat. It is vital that all supervisors and managers know what is being advertized and are actually doing that on a daily basis.

Pay attention to the Employee Value Proposition for your organization and for your area within it. The benefits of maintaining a high EVP are huge, but they must be earned and be real to provide the advantages.

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 50 – Moving Toward a Teal Environment

October 28, 2017

In 2015, my dear friend and fellow author, Bob Vanourek introduced me to a book entitled “Reinventing Organizations,” by Frederick LaLoux.

It was a great read, and since that time I have brought some of the thinking process into my own consulting work, since it is entirely compatible with my views on enlightened leadership.

I wanted to introduce the concepts in this series for supervisors because moving in the direction of what Frederick called a “Teal Organization” is a thinking process that can take one very far down the road toward a more fully engaged workforce.

Defining a Teal Environment

When Frederick described the characteristics of organizations, he outlined a sort of progression where organizations can move from being hierarchical and rigid to being much more self directed and fluid.

He gave several typical organizations names of colors so they would be more memorable. Here are some of the colors in his progression.

1. Red Organizations

Red organizations are like power structures where the group with the most authority lords over all of the other groups. They are characterized by fear and submission.

The leader is all powerful and runs the organization with a firm hand. The model is one of impulse. It is a game of survival of the fittest, and many organizations today are run on a red model.

2. Amber Organizations

These groups are strong and very hierarchical. For example, a military organization might take on the characteristics of an amber organization. It is the traditional organizational pyramid that is so familiar.

The idea is to have stable, well controlled processes that are replicable and predictable. There are many rituals that must be adhered to, and individualism is discouraged. To thrive in an amber organization, you need to stay in your box and do your job as prescribed.

3. Orange Organizations

Here we see a wider view of what must be done, and processes are well defined. Innovation is encouraged. Advancement is based on merit and tenacity.

The key element to describe an orange culture is achievement. This type of organization fueled the industrial revolution and the explosive growth after World War II.

4. Green Organizations

As we progress toward more teamwork and a family feeling toward work, we see some signs of empowerment showing up. The world of the green organization is more pluralistic.

Here people are encouraged to think for themselves as long as they stay consistent with the organization’s values. The focus of green organizations is on maximizing shareholder value.

4. Teal Organizations

LaLoux goes on to envision a type of organization where the focus has shifted to where the ego elements are less pronounced and people become free to do what they believe is right.

The focus is on a kind of wholeness that takes a broader view of why the organization exists in the first place. The emphasis shifts from pleasing shareholders (owners) to serving all stakeholders, including the environment and society.

Individuals engage in the work because they truly believe in the cause, not to just earn a paycheck.

Moving in the direction of Teal

I recently did some training work for an organization that is on the path toward a Teal Culture. My observation is that you never completely arrive at the perfect system, you are always seeking to grow and morph into a better paradigm.

The road is not without hazards and twists and turns to navigate, but having a vision of a more thoughtful approach to doing work and having all people actively involved in the journey is a pleasant way to get things done.

My observation is that people are much more satisfied when working in this environment. It is not a picnic for everyone, however. Some people would rather be told what to do and even how to do it.

To manage a Teal environment means giving up the rigid authority of the Amber or Orange style of management in favor of a more engaging culture where a broader slice of the population participates in the decisions and hence has a larger stake in the success of the organization.

This higher level of ownership means greater productivity and satisfaction in the end.

If this idea sounds intriguing, you might want to pick up a copy of “Reinventing Organizations” by Frederick LaLoux. You will find it entertaining, and it will probably have you thinking of moving to a more Teal-like culture for your place of work.

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 44 – Managing Change for Results

September 17, 2017

John F. Kennedy once said,

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

In any organization, change is a given, so every supervisor has a choice: she can either choose to endure the changes or she can learn to manage the changes in order to thrive.

This article is about the tools needed to manage change in a proactive and pragmatic way.

For the supervisor the challenge is to not only learn to manage change in her own mind but also teach the people who report to her how to deal with change.

Simply stated, there is no option to avoid change, but there are effective ways to deal with it. The following tips are things that I find helpful when teaching leaders to manage change.

1. Help people understand the need for change

The best way to describe this tip is the old “boiled frog” analogy. If you place a frog into boiling water, it will feel the heat immediately and jump out. But, if you put a frog into a pan of cool water and slowly heat it up, the frog will sit there and boil to death.

It becomes used to the heat and cannot feel the danger until it’s too late. Good supervisors make sure that people feel the “heat” early enough.

2. Communicate a compelling vision of the future

It is incumbent on the supervisor to not only let people know they will be better off once they reach the vision but that it is worth the effort to get there.

In other words, if the supervisor extols the benefits of the view that awaits from the top of Mount Everest, but fails to generate enough enthusiasm to make the arduous climb worth it, the vision is worthless.

I wrote in one of my books that

“Leaders are the artists who paint the vision of the future on the canvass of today’s paradigm.”

This means that not only must the image itself be compelling but the supervisor must paint a pathway to the future to make it real.

3. Build an environment of TRUST

Supervisors interact with many people and build trust-based relationships with each of them. Trust between people can be compared to a bank account, where actions consistent with shared values represent deposits and inconsistent actions represent withdrawals.

Every action, word, or decision between individuals either adds to or detracts from the balance. It is a very sensitive system that can be affected even by subconscious thoughts or small gestures.

Making small or medium deposits is easy, but large deposits are rare. I advocate a four-step plan to build trust with people that I call “reinforcing candor.”

a. Start by laying a firm foundation with your team. Identify the values of your group along with a clear vision, behavior expectations and strategic plan.

b. Encourage people to tell you any time they believe your actions are not congruent with your foundation.

c. Reinforce them every time they do it, no matter how challenging that is. Make them glad they told you about it.

d. Take appropriate corrective action or help people think through the apparent paradox.

4. Value diverse opinions

People closest to the work generally have the best solutions. Supervisors need to tap into the creative ideas of everyone in the organization to allow successful change initiatives.

This also allows people to “own” the change process rather than perceive it as a management “trick” to get more work for less money.

5. Ability to accept risk

No progress is made without some kind of risk. As a supervisor, you need to empower people so they feel free to try and not get squashed if they fail.

Tolerate setbacks along the road to success and don’t lose faith in the eventual outcome.

Try to manage the risk so the consequences are minor, if failure occurs. For example, have a back up plan in place for changes that involve risk.

6. Build a reinforcing culture

Many groups struggle in a kind of hell where people hate and try to undermine one another at every turn. They snipe at each other and “blow people in,” just to see them suffer or to get even for some perceived sin done to them. What an awful environment to live and work in, yet it is far too common.

Contrast this with a group that builds each other up and delights in each other’s successes. These groups have much more fun. They enjoy interfacing with their comrades at work. They are also about twice as productive!

You see them together outside work for social events and there are close family-type relationships in evidence. Hugging is spontaneous.

Let your reinforcement be joyous and spontaneous. Let people help you make it special. Reinforcement is the most powerful elixir available to a supervisor.

Don’t shy away from it because it’s difficult or you’ve made mistakes in the past; embrace it.

7. Integrate new methods into the culture

Document new procedures in a user friendly way; avoid long complex manuals that nobody has the time to read. Have a check list for new employees and make sure they understand the culture. Reinforce consistent behaviors.

8. Foster constancy of purpose

Effective change programs require constancy of purpose. Avoid the “flavor of the month.” Expect setbacks as part of the process and don’t jump ship to a new program when things get rough. Don’t call it a “program”. Instead refer to it as our culture.

9. Understand the psychology of change

If you think of change as a system, you can help people through the process more quickly. Recognize there will be times of confusion or anger, and use the energy to propel the process forward rather than slow it down.
I favor using the Kűbler-Ross Model of the five stages of grief to help teams move through the phases of dealing with change. The stages are:

1) Denial,

2) Anger,

3) Bargaining,

4) Depression, and

5) Acceptance.

I have found that using this model to explain why people are struggling at times with a change helps them move toward acceptance much faster.

Being a supervisor carries a mandate that you help manage the change process so improvements can be made without having the people become dysfunctional in the process.

It is your responsibility to accomplish change on a frequent basis. Using the nine tips above will make it possible for you to excel at this critical leadership skill.

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