Body Language 58 Embarrassment

December 14, 2019

We have all experienced embarrassment at some point in our lives. It is part of the human condition, and it cannot be avoided.

There are an infinite number of reasons for being embarrassed. I will describe some typical categories of embarrassment, and reveal some typical body language signals that often accompany it.

If you are the embarrassed person, then recognize you are probably making these gestures without even being aware of them. If you are conscious of your own body language, you may be able to be less obvious about your embarrassment.

If you are witnessing a friend who is embarrassed, then recognize the symptom from these gestures and see if you can help the other person feel less shame.

Exactly how you go about that depends on the relationship you have with the other person and your own Emotional Intelligence to do or say things that are helpful. That approach will build more trust with the other person.

You did something unwise

This is the garden variety of embarrassment. It occurs when someone points out that you just did something stupid, or when you just realize it yourself. The body language signals include blushing, lowering the chin, sometimes a shiver, slight raising of the shoulders, mouth expression pulled back on both sides. The sum of body language expressions is to make yourself look as small as possible.

The other response is to cover the mouth and eyes with your hands, as in the picture. It is like you are trying to disappear from sight.

You are late

When you arrive at a meeting that has already started or you are otherwise late for an event, you likely experience some form of embarrassment. In most cases you will attempt to sneak in and sit down with as little fanfare as possible. Sometimes you are forced to make a public apology and try to explain your tardiness with some feeble excuse. It is best to just admit your mistake and try very hard to not make a habit of it.

If you are habitually late for commitments, it will lower the trust that other people have in you. In extreme cases people may start referring to you as, “The late George Peters” behind your back. That’s not a good thing.

You are caught taking the last cookie

Food, and consuming too much of it, are often the cause of some embarrassment. You go ahead and eat the cookie, but you really don’t enjoy it very much. You are trying hard to make the evidence disappear as soon as you can.

Realize that people are generally observing the actions of others, and trying to sneak some extra good stuff will lower their trust in you.

You forget someone’s name

This is a common cause for embarrassment that all of us experience from time to time. The level of embarrassment is significantly higher if you know the other person well and just forget the name for a moment. Normally, at a time like this you will make leading gestures for the other person to talk so the tension can be broken. As the other person talks, you often will remember the name and say it at the earliest possible moment.

Don’t get hung up if you occasionally do this; just recognize it happens to all people. Others will cut you some slack unless you keep doing the same thing.

Personally, I find some names trip me up more than others, When I find a person whose name I tend to forget, I try to create an analogy or connection that leads me to the name. For example, I once knew a person named Jack, and I often would struggle when reaching for his name. I started picturing him having a flat tire and needing a car jack to fix it.

You did something that you immediately know is wrong

In these situations, it is common to bang your forehead with the palm of one hand. The connotation is that you are trying to knock some sense into your brain while you ask yourself, “how could I be so stupid?”

You trip or walk in a funny way

Here the problem is one of balance. You are trying to act distinguished and composed, but you just nearly fell flat on your face because you tripped over your own feet. In these cases, it is normal to make a kind of shrug motion and put on a silly face, like a clown. The connotation is “What additional clumsy motions can I find to entertain you?”

The same body language occurs when you make a clumsy move while dancing or making a grand entrance down a spiral staircase. You may try to act like a buffoon to get out of the embarrassment.

Your fly is down

Clothing malfunctions provide endless opportunities for you to be embarrassed. You make the correction but try to do it with as little fanfare as possible. Then you quickly change the subject.

When you notice a clothing issue with another person, it is often best to just ignore it unless you know the person very well. Use the golden rule when deciding whether or not to suggest a correction. Ask yourself if the situation were reversed, would you want the other person to tell you that your shoe is untied?

You spilled the gravy

Often embarrassment can occur at the dining table as you are trying to act refined but the soup dribbles down your chin onto the tablecloth. The general reaction to this is to distract people from focusing on you. You try to deflect attention in a different direction while you clean yourself up and move a dish to cover the spot on the tablecloth.

I was once at a formal luncheon, and someone asked me to pass the salad dressing. As I picked up the dressing, I was paying more attention to the conversation and did not recognize that the dressing was in a gravy boat that was on a tray. The vessel was top heavy with the dressing, and the whole thing tipped over, splashing the dressing all over the table, and several of the people sitting near me. Now that is embarrassing!

There are hundreds of examples in life where we have to deal with embarrassment. The best advice is to recognize that everyone else in the room has experienced these problems at some point. Just get through the awkward moment and do not dwell on the mistake. Unless you habitually do clumsy things, most people will cut you some slack.

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


Successful Supervisor 33 Passive Aggressive

July 2, 2017

I have mentioned all kinds of difficult employees in this series, but as yet I have not mentioned the “Passive Aggressive.”

On Wikipedia, the malady is described as “the indirect expression of hostility, such as through procrastination, stubbornness, sullen behavior, or deliberate or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible.”

For a supervisor, dealing with a passive aggressive is particularly challenging because this individual will eventually do the work requested, but the supervisor has to deal with a lot of pushback and rotten attitudes on a continual basis.

This employee has a kind of disease that is like a cancer that will spread if left unchecked.

If the passive aggressive employee was operating in a vacuum, the supervisor might be able to endure the strain, but the impact this type of employee has on the whole team becomes a huge impediment to the culture of the organization, and thus he or she must be dealt with effectively.

To give you a sense of what a passive aggressive employee might sound like, consider a situation where the supervisor is trying to create some energy to tackle a particularly challenging task for her team.

The passive aggressive might listen with a bored look on his face and then utter one of his favorite expressions: “Whatever…”

Let’s look at some tips for dealing with a passive aggressive (PA) personality.

Tips for Supervisors

Call them on it

The PA employee appears to be uncooperative as a way of gaining attention. His ultimate goal is often to skate the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior with great care to remain employed but still make life miserable for his supervisor.

If she would simply indicate that his pushback has become an unacceptable level, then the PA employee is likely to change behavior, at least temporarily.

Once a change in attitude is obvious, the supervisor can give gentle but not effusive praise. In some cases, this shift in feedback is enough to make a more lasting shift.

If the employee falls back into a pattern of PA behavior, the supervisor can say something like, “Oh, you were doing so well with a more positive attitude; let’s not slip backward at this point.”

Take a direct approach

With some people, a direct approach of a heart to heart discussion with the employee will work. Simply point out your observations and let the employee know you are not going to tolerate his antics. In some situations that will be enough to bring the employee around.

You can ask the employee for help because of the negative effect his passive aggressive behavior is having on the operation.

In taking this approach, refrain from threatening the employee with an “or else” statement; simply put the request out there and appeal to his nobler side.

Work on Accountability

I have written extensively on Accountability earlier in this series, so I will not repeat the ideas here, but in the accountability discussions, the supervisor can gain some leverage with a passive aggressive.

Stress that it isn’t enough to be accountable for the work getting done. Each person needs to realize that he or she has an impact on other people as well.

The PA employee can reduce the effectiveness of any group by lowering the morale of everyone. That action will lower productivity and cause missed commitments.

A process of peer pressure that sends a signal of unwillingness of the group to let the PA employee hamper the success of the group can be very helpful.

Don’t Accept Excuses

Part of the way a PA employee gets to slack off without repercussions is to make lame excuses for not doing what was expected. The supervisor can thwart this kind of behavior by simply refusing to accept excuses for poor or late work.

Just be alert to the words being used by the employee and when the word “because” comes up, make a statement that you are not going to tolerate it.
Simply blow by the excuse as if it was not even stated, and get back to the requirements.

Soon, the PA employee will realize that the ploy does not work with you and stop trying to use it. Be vigilant, because he will continue to test you periodically to see if he can wear you down. The message needs to be that missed deadlines are not erased by cooking up some reason why the problem was not the employee’s fault.

Focus on reality

The PA employee lives in a kind of fantasy world of his own making. You can bring the conversation back to reality by simply restating the requirements. If the employee is resistant to this approach simply state “The situation is XYZ and you need to do ABC now.” You can also spell out the consequences of not complying with duties.

Hide Your Goat

Often the passive aggressive employee is just trying to push your buttons to see how far he can go before you get rattled. Basically, he is trying to “get your goat” to see what you will do about it.

Steve Gilliland, an acquaintance from the National Speaker’s Association, suggests that you can simply hide your goat.

You need to refuse to get upset and just turn the negative energy back at the employee with a comment like, “I know what you are doing, and it is not going to have any impact except to make you look immature in the eyes of your friends.” Now you are using a form of peer pressure to bring the employee back into line.

Confirm Established Goals

The PA employee is compromising the ability of the group to accomplish its goals. Point out that there is no relief from the pressures on the organization, and that the entire team is responsible for meeting the goals. Point out the employee’s contribution to the common goal and relate the situation to a sports analogy where the entire team needs to perform well for the mission to be accomplished.

Working with an employee who uses passive aggressive tendencies can be exasperating, but you ultimately can control the behavior and shape it to be acceptable. Use the tips in this article to help you win the battle and remain in control.

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