Successful Supervisor Part 10 – Body Language

January 21, 2017

I have been fascinated with body language for several decades. I have studied it for countless hours and believe I have only scratched the surface of this complex area of communication.

We all are skilled at reading the body language of others. Another person does not need to talk to let us know she is upset, happy, tired, fearful, confused, and hundreds of other descriptors.

While we are all good at reading signals from other people, few of us have a really good working knowledge of some of the more subtle forms of body language.

This article shines a light on how supervisors who are skilled at reading the body language of others and controlling their own have a huge advantage in the workplace.

Decades ago, the behavioral scientist Albert Mehrabian did a series of experiments at UCLA. He tried to measure what percent of meaning comes from the words we use when we talk face to face with another individual about our feelings or emotions.

His famous experiments revealed that only about 7% of the meaning comes from the words we use. 38% of meaning comes from our tone of voice, and a whopping 55% of meaning comes from our body language.

The sad thing is that you rarely see a course in school, even graduate school, that deals with how to interpret body language. The topic is covered on some titillating websites that try to help people interpret the signals of possible mates in bars or other such entertaining information.

You rarely see the topic taught as a serious study for leaders. I find that strange and always include a heavy dose of body language awareness in my work with leaders at all levels.

The first thing to recognize is that the amount of body language that is available for interpretation is immense. Most people take in only a few percentage points of what they might if they were properly educated and paying attention.

The reason is that, for most people, the received body language is taken in subconsciously. Likewise, we are normally unaware of the majority of body language we are sending.

Facial expressions are the most intentional aspect of body language, and even there we send a lot more signals than we realize. If we could make it more intentional both on the giving and receiving end, we could improve communication between people an enormous amount with little extra effort.

If you study the Quality of Work Life Studies that are done in corporations, you can see that almost universally what employees feed back to managers is that the number one or number two deficiency in the company is COMMUNICATION.

Yet with all that obvious input, you rarely see leadership classes that specialize in body language or listening skills, which are two rich sources of communication improvement. It is really astounding.

For any supervisor, becoming more skilled at these elements of leadership is the fastest way to improve her performance. Unfortunately for me, these skills are not easily covered adequately in a blog article. I did one video on body language that highlighted how important it is when first meeting people. I call it “Planting the Seeds of Trust in the First 10 Seconds.”

I think for supervisors, the most important part of body language is to ensure the signals she is sending are consistent with her desires. I have no idea how she would do that if she has no education on the topic.

There are many good books on the subject, and of course I have a full program that I do with leaders in my consulting work.

There is lots of information online. One good test to see how well you interpret facial expressions is located at the site of the Greater Good. There is another good site on Business Balls that gives a lot of helpful information. I also happen to like a DVD Produced by Bill Acheson, a body language expert from University of Pittsburg. The title is Advanced Body Language.

One thing to be aware of is that body language is different for different cultures. You need to learn how people from the culture you are supervising send out signals.

You must not assume their signals are the same as yours. Be alert to misunderstandings due to this aspect and get some education. For example, if you are an American and you are supervising several people in a call center who are from the Far East, you need to take a lot more care to understand their points.

Probably the most significant help I can be in this brief article is to suggest the supervisor simply pay a lot more attention to the body language she is seeing with her people.

Learn to interpret signals more consciously and also pay attention to how you are communicating with people via body language. There is no substitute for specific knowledge, but awareness is always available and will help.

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


Measuring Morale

April 13, 2013

scaleCan you measure morale accurately by simply walking into a room and observing people? I think you can. In my courses, I often ask participants to tell me the best way to measure morale. Most of them come up with the idea of an employee survey or some other form of lagging indicator, like turnover rate. While both of these techniques are useful, I think there is a far faster and more accurate way to measure the morale of people in an organization, and you can do it while there is still time to take corrective actions. All you have to do is observe the individuals, and they will give ample clues as to their morale.

Here are seven ways to measure morale by watching and listening to what people do:

1. Posture

If people are standing with one hip raised, that is a sign of a poor attitude. It is a hostile gesture where the individual has a chip on his shoulder and he is daring you to knock it off. If people are sitting in a slouched-over configuration, that may be simple fatigue or it may be they feel beaten down and fearful when managers are around. If you walk into a room and people are sitting around a table leaning back with their arms folded, you can immediately sense these folks are dug in, grumpy, and not happy. The most sensitive areas for posture are in the shoulders and the position of the spine. I once walked into a restaurant to meet up with a colleague for a chat. She was sitting in a booth with her back to me and did not see me approach. All I could see of her was the back of her head and the upper 6 inches of her shoulders. I accurately determined before seeing her face or hearing her voice that she was in crisis mode due to a family tragedy.

2. Gestures

When people are together, watch the gestures. If they are doing a lot of finger pointing as they speak, there is a hostile environment. If their hands are most often open with palms up, that means they are open to ideas and suggestions. Watch to see if the gestures remain the same as managers come in the room. For example, if people are having an animated conversation about some outside event but clam up both verbally and with gesturing when the manager walks in, it is a sign of either fear or apathy. Certainly hostile or vulgar gestures are obvious indications of poor morale. The best display of good attitudes is if the gesturing remains the same when a manager approaches. People are comfortable and not threatened by this leader.

3. Facial Expression

There are thousands of facial expressions that have meaning, and many of these are specific to the culture in which they are used. The eyes and mouth hold the most information about attitude. For example, when a manager is giving information, if people roll their eyes, the meaning is that they believe the manager is basically clueless and is wasting their time. If they are tight lipped, it is normally a sign of fear and low trust. The most positive expression for morale is a slight smile with bright open eyes and highly arched eyebrows. This expression indicates interest and openness.

4. Tone of voice

When people speak, their tone will give away how engaged they are in the conversation at hand. Apathy is easy to spot with a kind of roll-off of words in a low pitch that says “I don’t care.” If the voice is stressed and shrill, that usually connotes fear of some type. Anger is easy to detect as the voice becomes choppy and the pitch and volume go up dramatically. The sneer also can be detected as people take on a mocking tone when they mimic other people. Medium voice modulation with good diction usually means good engagement and attention.

5. Jokes

When people make jokes at the expense of the other people, it is often thought of as just kidding around. The fact is, there is always some kind of truth underlying every dig. So if people are mocking a manager for always showing up late to the meeting, it may cause a chuckle, but it actually reveals that people believe the manager has no real respect for them. Some groups are world class at making jokes at the expense of team members. I maintain this is a sign of poor rapport that will show up as lack of good teamwork. This poor behavior can be easily stopped by just coming up with a rule that we will no longer make jokes at the expense of others.

At one company where I was teaching, the rule about not making jokes at the expense of others was the third behavioral rule on their list (I always have groups create such a list). It was easy to extinguish the bad habit because we just allowed people to hold up three fingers whenever anybody violated the rule. The poor behavior, that had been going on for decades in that organization, was fully extinguished in less than one hour.

6. Word choice

When people are honestly engaged in positive conversation and are making constructive observations or ideas, it shows high morale. If they undermine the ideas of others or management, it shows a lack of respect that has its roots in low morale. If the leader asks for a volunteer and you can hear a pin drop, that is a different reaction than if three hands go up immediately. People with high morale spontaneously volunteer to help out the organization. They respect their leader and truly want him or her to succeed because they know if the leader is successful then good things will happen for them.

7. Reinforcement

In a culture of high morale, people have a tendency to praise each other and seek ways to help out other people. When morale is low, everybody is in it for themselves and will discredit the ideas or desires of other people to preserve their own status. Leaders who know how to build a culture where individuals spontaneously praise each other for good deeds can foster higher morale by that emphasis alone.

These are just seven ways you can identify the morale of a group simply by observing what people are doing and saying. You can go to the trouble of a time consuming and suspect survey, but you do not need to in order to measure morale. Measuring turnover or absenteeism will be an accurate long term reflection of morale, but by the time you get that data, the damage is already done. You have often lost the best people. By observing people every day and making small corrective actions along the way, you can prevent low morale and build an environment of higher trust. In that kind of culture, productivity will go up dramatically.