Body Language 49 Babies

October 12, 2019

In previous postings I have dealt with numerous aspects of adult body language, body language in children, and even the body language of animals. It is time to deal with the only remaining category of creatures: babies!

When we think of babies and their limited ability to move, ambulate, articulate, and communicate, it seems like there would be not much to report in terms of body language for babies. The exact opposite is true.

Babies have an amazing ability to let others know what is happening in their brain as well as all other parts of their bodies. This realization underscores that most of body language is instinctive, and we do it unconsciously.

For example, the baby in the above picture is curious about something. We can tell that by the shape of the mouth and the wide-eyed expression with the eyebrows held high.

The baby has no cognition of these signals, and is not doing them intentionally; they are just there.

Here is another typical baby expression that is pretty hard to misinterpret. The baby was not trained to make these expressions. The expressions in the two pictures are both unmistakable, and even though some things are the same, the messages we get are completely different.

Here is an interesting question to ponder. They say that a high percentage of body language is culturally specific. A person living in Eastern Europe will have different body language signals than a person from Canada. Do babies from different cultures have different body language patterns? If so, how did they come by these habits?

A more plausible explanation is that all humans are born with the same set of body language regardless of location and are conditioned as they grow to emulate the patterns of the specific culture in which they live.

The bond between a mother and the baby is particularly strong. The mother will know long before another person if the baby is hungry or wet. She will be able to interpret a runny nose far before things start to get messy. I suspect that the baby has a very good idea of the emotions of the mother without the ability to understand any words.

If the mother is sad or tired, the baby will know about that, at least to some extent.

I have no way to verify that and am reminded of the joke made by Steven Wright. He said that when he is with an infant, he writes down all the noises the baby makes so he can go back years later and ask the child what she meant.

Did you ever watch an infant communicating with a dog or cat? There is so much information being transmitted in both directions it is astounding. As adults, we have learned long ago to just absorb these signals and not think about them consciously. But the signals are still there throughout our lives, and we are constantly interpreting them in our subconscious.

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.


Body Language 46 Clenched Teeth

September 21, 2019

The gesture of clenching teeth is well known and seems very simple. It is a way to show anger or aggression. As with many gestures, the more you think about and study it, the more interesting it becomes.

For sure, the classic meaning of clenched teeth is similar to what a dog does when it growls and shows its teeth. It is a warning sign to back off or risk being hurt.

Let’s look at some alternative meanings and also some of the collateral facial signs that go along with clenching teeth.

Struggle or annoyance

You might observe a man clenching his teeth when he is trying to put up a tent in the rain. Here, there is no other person to whom hostility can be directed, but still there is a struggle.

You might also observe a woman clenching her teeth when she receives the third unwanted robocall this hour interrupting her work each time. In this case, it is a system annoyance that is causing exasperation within the woman. She is not really angry at the specific person on the phone.

Tension, worry, or pain

It is common to see students waiting to take a final exam with clenched teeth. There is no anger involved, but there is real anxiety.

A person waiting in a hospital emergency room for test results to come back might have clenched teeth. I will confess to being an example of that last spring when I had a kidney stone.

Signal to back off

Here the person just wants space or time to sort things out. If he is feeling pressure, he may clench his teeth to signal the other person to back off and give some time.

On the playground, if one child is feeling bullied and wants the other kid to go away, the clenched teeth might signal that. Also, clenched teeth might be used by the bully in an attempt to intimidate the other kids.

Talking through your teeth

When a person is extremely angry, he or she may talk through clenched teeth. This person is trying to signal how upset he or she is at the moment.

Habitual facial posture

Many people grind their teeth while asleep and need to wear protective devices to keep them from wearing down their teeth. The habit is involuntary and is not associated with any particular stimulus.

Collateral facial indications

Often when a person clenches his teeth, his jaw muscle pops out and becomes round and red. I noticed this in a former supervisor of mine. I could always tell when he was clenching his jaw by looking at that muscle.

Flared nostrils along with clenched teeth is a likely sign of anger. Also, the temples often bulge when teeth are clenched.

All of these ideas are pretty well known, but it still remains for you to figure out the specific reason a person is clenching his or her teeth. Try to look for the collateral facial signals to develop a cluster. That verification will greatly enhance the accuracy of your understanding.

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.


Body Language 42 Animals

August 24, 2019

Because we are verbal creatures, it is sometimes hard to remember how much we communicate with each other through body language.

When we observe how well animals communicate with little or no ability to communicate through words and tone of voice, we can be aware of the tremendous advantage we have.

In the attached picture, we see a mature dog and kitty. Often these two species do not get along so amicably, but here we can read in a lot of what is going on by their body language.

The kitty is alert, feels secure, and is generally happy. Somehow the position of the kitty’s ears and paws speak out loudly to me. The animal seems to be saying, “I am here with my buddy Rex, and he is taking care of me. Even though he is ten times larger than me and could actually eat me, I am not afraid.”

Just to amplify the contrast, consider how difficult it would be to convey trust with a being that is ten times your size (think the size of an elephant).

The exception, of course, is babies. They can convey total trust simply because of their dependency. I believe it is that unconditional trust that is the foundation of the love and affection we feel for our children.

The face of the dog is one of pride. I get that mostly from the erect head, the lowered jaw, and the shape of the ears. To me, the eyes show caring and love. He has his little friend and is feeling good about their relationship, at least at the moment of the picture.

If you were to toss a live rat in the picture, things would probably change quickly.

The dog is not telling me those things verbally or even making any noise, but the body language says it for him.

Imagine if we were as expert at making our feelings known as our pets are. Actually I think we are, but most of it is subconscious.

Granted, we do not have the ability to change the shape of our ears, but we do control their color based on our emotions. A highly emotional state will cause the ears to flush for most people.

That is why the study of body language is so fascinating to me. I have been studying the topic for over 40 years, and I am still learning new things every day.

One thing that comes through loud and clear is that all body language is situational. You cannot assume literal meaning from a single data point of body language. You can only start to form a hypothesis.

To improve the accuracy of your reading, it is necessary to verify your suspicions in a number of ways.

First, look for clusters. If several body language signals point to the same feeling, then your accuracy of reading it correctly goes up geometrically.

Second, make sure to factor in cultural differences. Many gestures are culture specific, and the meaning of a signal in one part of the world can be the exact opposite meaning somewhere else on the planet.

Here is an interesting question, We know body language for humans is culturally specific.  Do you think animals have similar tendencies? Would a dog from Mexico have different body language than one from Saudi Arabia? I have no idea.

I am sure that body language is species specific. I believe the body language of a pit bull is likely to not be the same as a poodle.

Third, seek to verify your hypothesis by considering what is going on around the body language you observe.

Fourth, ask open ended questions of the person. If the dialog mirrors the body language signal, you are probably close to the true meaning. If the words and body language are opposed, then further verification is needed.

In the future, notice how much animals are able to convey their emotions, even though they don’t speak much, or in some cases at all. Notice how by changing their expression and other gestures, they can get you to understand how they are feeling. See if you can emulate your pets by showing your emotions in a more conscious manner.

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.


Leaders: Wag More, Bark Less

February 28, 2015

dogI confess, this title was not made up by me. My wife saw a bumper sticker with this sentiment and shared it with me.

I think the basic wisdom in the phrase is great and wish there was a way to get some managers to understand the simple logic here. Why is it that some bosses feel compelled to bark when wagging is a much more expedient way to bring out the best in people?

The barking dog is simply doing its job. The dog only knows that to defend his territory, he needs to sound off at anything that might encroach.

The frequency of barking is an interesting aspect. Why does the dog bark at intervals less than about 10 seconds?

Is it because he has a short memory and can’t remember that he just barked? Is it because the potential invaders of his territory need to be reminded every few seconds that he is still around? Is it because he simply enjoys keeping the neighbors up all night?

Is he showing off his prowess or having some kind of dog-world conversation with the mutt down the street? I think all of these things could be factors in the frequency of barking, but I suspect the primary reason is a show of persistence.

The message we get from the barking dog is “I am here, I am formidable, I am not going anywhere, so keep your distance.”

In the workplace, if a manager sends a signal, “I am here, I am formidable, I am not going anywhere, so keep your distance,” the workforce is going to get the message and comply.

Unfortunately with just compliance, group performance and morale are going to be awful, but the decibel level will at least keep everyone awake.

When a dog wags its tail, that is a genuine sign of happiness and affection. You can observe the rate of wagging and determine the extent of the dog’s glee.

Sometimes the wag is slow, which indicates everything is okay, and life is good. When you come home at night and the dog is all excited to see you, most likely the wag is more of a blur, and it seems to come from way up in the spine area.

The wag indicates, “I love you, I am glad you are here, you are a good person to me, and will you take me for a walk?”

Dogs are incredibly loyal, even beyond human reason. For example, I am reminded of the picture of a Labrador Retriever lying next to the coffin of his master who was killed in Afghanistan. The dog refused to leave the area.

Even when a dog is not treated well, it does not become critical or judgmental. The wag is not withheld because the dog had a bad day. The dog looks for the good and appreciates it. The dog is ever hopeful, ever optimistic, ever grateful. The wag is still there unless the dog is seriously sick. It is amazing.

A manager who wags more and barks less gets more cooperation. Life is better for people working for this manager, and they simply perform better.

Showing appreciation through good reinforcement is the more enlightened way to manage, yet we still see many managers barking as their main communication with people. Look for the good in people, and appreciate it. Try to modify your bark to wag ratio and see if you get better results over time.