Way back in the 1960’s there was a rock group led by Frank Zappa called The Mothers of Invention. Their sound was a kind of punk rock that had little structure or melody, but they were popular for a time due to their grotesque appearance and sound.
I recall one song they did called “Plastic People.” The recurring line in the song was “Plastic people. Oh baby now you’re such a drag.”
Probably many readers of this blog were not even alive in the 1960s, so the title has no context for them. With body language, you do sometimes run into plastic people who may choose to not show much emotion through their facial or body configurations.
Also, you may find some people who are expert at putting on an expression that effectively masks their true emotions. I believe that when people try to hide our true feelings, there is a kind of incongruence to their body language that is a tip off that the person is hiding something.
There are numerous physical and psychological conditions that may prevent a person from showing his or her true feelings in body language. It is not the purpose of this article to enumerate all the combinations that can lead to a person show very little emotion.
I do want to share some ideas on how you might attempt to draw out a person, but recognize that in many situations, the best approach is to just leave the person alone. The correct approach will depend on the person and the current situation.
You probably know someone in your circle of friends who is expert at giving almost no body language information about what is going on in his or her brain. It can be very disconcerting. What can you do in a case like that? Start with listening and observing.
You might try a direct approach and say something like, “I am finding it hard to read your feelings at the moment.” That would potentially annoy the other person if he or she is just attempting to be private.
Another approach is to engage the person in some dialog by asking Socratic Questions. You would need to do this carefully in order to avoid talking down to the person or some other form of insulting dialog that might be interpreted as openly prying.
The need to keep one’s emotions private may be for a number of different reasons, but I suspect a common one is insecurity. The person may have opened up in the past only to get hurt rather badly. So, from that point on, this person would guard his or her emotions rather closely and not give out a lot of information.
Short of trying to psychoanalyze the root cause of this situation, you are better off just letting the person be circumspect. Let the other person decide whether or when he or she wants to make a change.
Another thing you could try is to just be kind and gentle with the person.
If you notice that the person is able to be more human around certain people, dig into why that might be. It could be that your approach is too direct or even threatening.
We all have a tendency to warm up to some people more than others. You may remind the person of another individual who has tangled with him or her in the past. If so, that can be a cause of the withdrawal.
When dealing with a person who is consciously trying to be a plastic person, you need to use patience and emotional intelligence. Do not try to fix the situation quickly, but pay attention to any signals given out that may provide some insight.
This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”
The differences between facial expressions indicating shock versus those of surprise or fatigue are small.
In this article I will discuss my take on how you can tell these three emotions apart from the shape of the open mouth, along with other cues that point to a specific emotion.
When a person is experiencing shock, the mouth goes wide open, as in the accompanying picture. The mouth is open and makes the shape of the letter “O.” The eyes are generally wide open to the fullest extent and the eyebrows and forehead are pulled up as much as is humanly possible.
This is the classic look of a person who is in shock. I believe there is a difference between a shocked facial expression and one of a person who is surprised. Often a surprise is something that is happy to the person, so I would look for more of a smile while still having the mouth full open.
The second picture conveys the emotion of surprise better than the first one, at least in my mind. Her mouth is open, but there is definite smile involved.
Notice that the person is showing her teeth whereas the person in shock will tend to not show teeth. Of course, the surprise could be something negative, but that happens in a minority of cases.
With a negative surprise, there would still be an open mouth, but the expression would resemble more of a frown. That is actually pretty rare.
If you look up pictures for the emotion of surprise, you will see that nearly all of them are showing a smile, and the majority of them have hands to the face in some way: often holding a cheek or even both cheeks.
In the case of fatigue, you also see a wide open mouth, but with a yawn the hand is usually attempting to cover the mouth and the eyes are shut tight, whereas with surprise or shock the eyes are fully open.
A yawn can originate in different ways. Often it is a form of mirroring the gestures of others.
I am sure we have all caught ourselves yawning immediately after another person has done the same thing.
Another cause for a yawn is insecurity or doubt. If we are anxious about something, we will tend to yawn a lot more. Notice yourself yawning while sitting in the waiting room at the dentist.
With all three of these gestures, the mouth is wide open, but the ancilliary cues give us enough information to interpret the emotion correctly.
What is of interest here is that you need to assemble various bits of data in real time and put together a mosaic of the cluster of signals to interpret an expression accurately.
Several different emotions involve an open mouth, so you need more data than just that fact to understand what the person is experiencing.
The last statement holds true for all types of body language gestures. The particular one in this article is a case in point how slight differences can mean entirely different things, and you need to be alert to look at the whole picture.
There are two ways you can use this information professionally. First, you can ask the right questions based on an accurate reading of the other person’s emotions.
For example, you might ask, “Why do you find that statement to be shocking?” Alternatively, if you see a smile in connection with a wide open mouth, you might ask “What about what I just said is surprising to you?”
A second way you can use this information is to make note of your own body language in specific circumstances. Are you confusing other people when you yawn as opposed to reacting with surprise?
In other words, keep track of how accurately you convey your true emotions with your gestures.
In every case, you need to use Emotional Intelligence to make an appropriate reflection of how you are interpreting the gestures. Doing that will enhance the trust other people put in you and thereby strengthen your relationships.
This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”
The one thing you really can control in life is your attitude, yet most people view their attitude as the result of external things happening to them rather than a conscious decision they make every minute of every day.
In this article, I will explore some ideas that can help make your choice more intentional. These ideas are not new or unique; they have been expressed by numerous authors or scientists, and yet they are easily forgotten by anyone in the heat of the moment.
When you react to a stimulus, an emotion is created in the limbic system (right side) of your brain. That emotion will translate into a “feeling” about the stimulus immediately.
The reaction is a chemical one that you have no control over at all. Instantly you are caught by the emotion, and this will form into an attitude if you let it.
The skill I am describing here is Emotional Intelligence; a phrase coined by Wayne Payne in his doctoral thesis in 1985 and popularized by Daniel Goleman in the mid-1990s.
Emotional Intelligence is your skill at understanding your emotions and your ability to use that knowledge to obtain more appropriate responses to stimuli. It is also about understanding the emotions of others and your skill at managing situations to obtain the most helpful result for them.
At its core, Emotional Intelligence is the ability to work effectively with people at all levels. It is a critical skill.
The good news is that Emotional Intelligence, while extremely powerful, is relatively easy to master, if you wish. There are numerous books on the topic and dozens of evaluations you can take. One of my favorite books is Emotional Intelligence II by Bradberry and Greaves. The book has theory and exercises that can improve your Emotional Intelligence quickly. A self evaluation is also included in the book.
One word of caution about administering self evaluations of Emotional Intelligence. Daniel Goleman discovered that people with low Emotional Intelligence also have the biggest blind spots. That means they cannot see how they are not able to control their emotions well, so be wary of taking your own opinion of yourself as being totally accurate.
If someone cuts in front of you in heavy traffic, causing you to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident, you instantly have the emotion of fear, realizing this might be the last conscious moment in your life.
You are decidedly unhappy about this. The fear quickly gives way to rage as the stimulus is processed in your limbic system ( the right side of your brain) . That idiot nearly killed you!
It is important to build in some dwell time before you react with a hand gesture or worse. Allow the signal to pass, through the corpus callosum, to the left side of your brain (which controls logic).
Now comes the part where you have a choice. Up to this point, the entire sequence was automatic, and it happened in less than a second. As you decide whether to honk your horn at the other driver, or even tailgate to teach him a lesson, now you are using your rational left brain to translate your current attitude into actions.
The actions can either be good for you, or they could lead to making a bad situation considerably worse. The choice is up to you. How can you grab on to a choice that is in your long term best interest?
The moment of truth is just after you recognize the situation in the conscious side of your brain. Before taking action, if you can program in a little self-talk, that slows the process down enough for you to make a rational decision, you have the opportunity to make a wise choice rather than poor choice.
To do this, you need to suspend judgment about how you will react until there is enough time to think about alternatives and consequences. Even though the temptation is to blast the jerk with a heavy dose of your horn, if in that split second you can suspend the action, it gives you a chance to change your attitude and your actions.
One simple technique is to try to envision the best possible intent on the part of others who provide unhappy stimuli for you. In our example, you might envision that the person who cut you off might really be a victim of something else that happened to him.
Perhaps he spotted a loose tire iron in the road and swerved to prevent hitting it and sending it airborne to crash through your, or someone else’s, windshield. Even though the scenario might seem far-fetched, taking the time to envision the best possible intent does slow down the urge to take action simply based on your rage. It prevents the flash point reaction.
Now you have the opportunity to think through two or three options and focus on the alternatives and potential consequences. It only takes a second or two. You have the opportunity to consciously manage your attitude, and that is truly liberating.
When you train your brain to slow down just long enough to think through some options, it puts you in control of your attitudes rather than the other way around. That analysis can save you from making some serious judgment errors that you will regret later.
Learning to change your attitude is not rocket science. It requires some study and work, but it is easy work, and the benefits are so positive and immediate, the study time is quickly rewarded.
One of the biggest benefits that you will receive is greater trust. When others realize that you respond thoughtfully to different situations without flying off the handle, they will trust you more. In return, they will be less defensive, argumentative, or difficult.
Emotional Intelligence is one of the biggest assets a leader has when building trust.
Those who can manage their attitudes and can interface with their world with Emotional Intelligence can master change rather than having change master them.
1. Emotional Intelligence allows us to build in a safety net for our emotions.
2. Emotional Intelligence is a learned skill. In fact it is one of the easier things to master.
3. You may not be the best judge of your own Emotional Intelligence.
1. Recall the last time you were successful at changing from a negative attitude to a positive one. Remember how good it felt to be in control of your emotions rather than the other way around.
2. Pick up a copy of the book Emotional Intelligence II by Bradberry and Greaves. It is a compact book that can change your whole life.
3. Have a discussion with your mate today, inviting him or her to let you know when you are beating yourself up unnecessarily. Sometimes a reminder from another person is all it takes to shift gears.
Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. 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 www.Leadergrow.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or 585.392.7763