Body Language 77 Compassion

May 4, 2020

When a person is expressing compassion, what are the typical body language gestures you are likely to see that go with the emotion?

The most recognizable signs are a pleasant facial expression with perhaps a tinge of concern and slow gracious hand gestures. Let’s pick apart the various signals to clarify what makes them unique to compassion.

The first part of the article will be about recognizing a person who is showing compassion. After that, I will deal with ways we can show compassion to others and some traps to avoid.

Keep in mind that the body language signals of a person showing compassion will be highly influenced by what is causing the person to feel compassionate. If it is responding to another person, or even a family pet, who is hurting, the gestures will be similar to those of empathy. If the person showing compassion is simply listening to another person gripe, the gestures will be more consistent with patience.

The face

The person’s eyes will be soft with no hint of agitation. The eyebrows will be neither raised nor furrowed. They will be in a natural and neutral position. Alternatively, the corrugator muscles may pull the eyebrows in and up, thus giving the appearance of some concern. This configuration can easily be confused as sadness, because sad eyes have the same look.

The mouth may have a slight smile, or at least not a frown. The cheeks will be high, and the entire face will show an expression of a person who is listening. A compassionate person is in a heightened state of awareness and connectivity with the other person. Depending on the circumstances, the lips may be pressed together in sympathy.

Head

The head will either be erect or slightly tilted downward. If the person is in a listening mode, you will probably notice good following skills such as frequent head nodding. You may also witness a slow shaking of the head from side to side as an indication that the person is finding the pain of another hard to comprehend.

Hand gestures

There are many different hand gestures that go along with compassion depending on the situation. The person might put fingers to the mouth in contemplation.

You might see arms extended with both palms facing upward and the fingers slightly curled. This is a signal of openness and caring. You would not see closed fists as a way to express compassion.

Touching rituals

For people who know each other well, there may be a hand placed on the forearm of the other person as an indication of support. Keep in mind that in all circumstances, it is wise to refrain from any physical contact other than shaking hands (and even that is off limits in a pandemic situation) unless you know the other person very well.

You might witness a compassionate person holding both hands of a loved one in front of the sternum.

I recall having a painful bicycle accident as a youth, and my mother rushed to my side and gave me the kind of hug that only a mother can. It was very comforting to know that she felt my pain. I believe that mothers are the most compassionate people in the world, and they have a way of expressing it that is unmistakable.

Relation to trust

It is hard to show true compassion to a person who you do not trust at all. On the flip side, extending trust to another person is a great way to demonstrate compassion and build higher trust with that person for the future. It goes along with what I call the “First Law of Trust,” which is “if you are not satisfied with the level of trust you are receiving from other people, you need to show more trust in them.” Trust is a reciprocal phenomenon.

Recognize that compassion is not something that can be faked. You can extend trust, but you cannot convey compassion unless it is genuine.

When a person is ill

Compassion shows up as a frequent gesture when people visit someone who is in the hospital. In this case, the individual is usually in bed and the person showing compassion will sit in a chair next to the bed to listen and offer comfort.

Nurses and other medical personnel will go about their duties but with a kind and soothing flow that indicates respect and empathy.

Summary

The gestures for showing compassion are significantly influenced by the circumstances going on as well as the relationship between the two people. There are many different expressions that can show compassion and empathy. To obtain an accurate reading of the gestures, look for a cluster of signals that all point in the same direction.

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



Body Language 40 The Double Point

August 10, 2019

You don’t often see a double point in a professional setting, but when you do it can mean many different things.

The usual meaning is that “It must have been someone else; it wasn’t me.”

In the picture, this man has his arms crossed. If both fingers are pointed in the same direction toward a specific person, it is a sign of “The culprit was definitely him (or you).”

Sometimes a person will double point at herself. In that case, the connotation is a person taking responsibility for something that happened.

The message received is that “I have the full resposability for this mess.”

Alternatively, the gesture can be one of wanting the full credit for something good that happened. The accompanying statement might be, “Guess who is responsible for winning the Farnsworth Account.”

When the gesture is directed outwardly, as in the accompanying picture, the double point in normally with the index finger. In the case of identifying one’s self, the pointing can be either with the fingers, or it is commonly seen with the thumbs doing the pointing.

A single pointing gesture in body language normally is seen as a hostile gesture. Body language experts advise to refrain from pointing when addressing an individual.

The reason is that it subtly (or not) puts the other person on the defensive. It is like you are coming at the other person with a weapon.

The preferred hand configuration when wanting to emphasize a point you are making is open palm with the palm facing up. That is a more open and inviting gesture that encourages conversation. It is not considered threatening by most people.

With the double point, what you have is the same connotation as a single point except the gesture is on steroids.

When it is done to indicate something positive, it can be a highly welcome sign. If the situation is negative, you are really putting the other person on notice.

Of course, all of these signals will be tempered by the accompanying facial expression. You could double point at a person while saying something quite negative but have the whole meaning reversed with a facial expression indicating that you are joking.

Regardless of the circumstances, when you use the double point gesture, your intended meaning can be easily misconstrued. If you mean something in jest, but the other person takes it literally, then there is often a trust withdrawal.

Be alert for these dangers and use the double point sparingly and with caution. Always double back in some way to check that the meaning received was the one you intended to send. That verification step is good advice for interpreting all body language gestures.

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.


Body Language 38 Sour Face

July 26, 2019

There is a facial expression that we all know well. I call it the “sourface.” The look comes from a natural reaction to tasting something that is sour, like a lemon, or milk that has gone bad. We pucker up our mouth, wrinkle our nose, and close our eyes to indicate discomfort.

Children use this expression when they put sour candy in their mouth. It is an instinctual expression that comes naturally, and it is generally not culture specific.

Physically, when we have something unpleasant in our mouth, we would like to block the taste as much as possible. Taste is a function of breathing along with a chemical reaction on the taste buds. To block the taste, we instinctively try to stop the ability to breathe by crinkling our nose and closing the back of our nostrils.

The eyes close tightly as well, due to the extreme discomfort of tasting something sour. One might think the eyes would widen due to the surprise, but that is never the case. We pucker up our mouth, nose, and eyes at the same time.

In the professional world, we use a similar expression to indicate extreme displeasure. When someone says or does something that is totally offensive to the point of being intolerable, the same facial expression often can be observed. It is like we are saying “dealing with that offensive remark is nearly as impossible as eating a lemon without wincing.” In this case, the tasteless comment is not literal, but the figurative bodily reaction is the same.

When others make a sour face

If you see the expression used in a professional environment, take note of it. In the eyes of that person, what was just said or done went way beyond being wrong or bad: it went all the way to abhorrent.

Stop the conversation and try to understand why the person had such a strong reaction. It may have been revulsion at a tasteless joke someone just told. It may be because they witnessed someone playing favorites to a painful level. It could be that the person believes a decision will likely have catastrophic negative impacts on the culture.

Usually this expression is not a group activity. You will not see everyone on a team use this expression at the same time. It is a manifestation of rejection by the person most offended. The other people are left to deal with the fallout until things get back to normal.

A person who overuses the sourface expression will have a negative impact on any group. People get fed up with the overt attempt to reject most statements. If there a member of your team who uses the sourface gesture a lot, investigate what is behind it.

This individual may be easily offended or have a specific trust problem with one or more members of the team. Alternatively, he or she may not be in sync with the goals or values of the organization. When you see someone using the sourface, use it as a signal that something needs to be discussed with the individual or the team.

When you make a sour face

If you are a leader, remember that it is easy to put your thumb on the scale of group opinion. The sourface may be just an expression you use to signal your personal disapproval, but you are really trying to sway the opinion of the group. Do not use the expression unless it is your intention to communicate a totally intolerable situation.

The sourface is a helpful tool to highlight tent-pole issues that should be dealt with before further damage is done. Use it sparingly, and note carefully the reactions from your group. Recognize that the expression might have a negative impact on trust because it is the equivalent of cutting someone off in mid-sentence.

Conclusion

The sourface is an extreme gesture of displeasure when used in a business setting either by a leader or by people in the organization. It should be used only when the situation warrants such an overt signal. More subtle and gentle or verbal means of expressing displeasure normally should be used.

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.