Body Language 67 Afraid

February 14, 2020

A person who is experiencing fear may show it in several different ways with his or her body language.

In this article I will highlight the most common ways people express fear without speaking. First, we need to understand that there are an infinite number of different sources and magnitudes of fear.

You might be afraid that the rumor you heard about a layoff this month could be true. Depending on your seniority and several other factors, you could be afraid of losing your job.

On the other extreme, I may be convinced there is a thief with a gun in my apartment about to enter the room where I am trying to sleep.

The type and intensity of the body language signals will depend not only on the reason I am afraid but also my current ability to tolerate uncertainty and not show it. This spectrum of signals makes the interpretation of one’s body language signals a chancy endeavor.

As with all body language, when trying to interpret what you see, you need to take into account several factors:

1. Is there a cluster of signals that all point in the same direction? If so, that will greatly enhance a correct diagnosis

2. Is this person from a culture different from the one I am most familiar with? Although fear is a primal feeling, how it is expressed in body language can be unique to a specific culture. The likelihood of misinterpretation goes up dramatically if you are observing a person from a different culture than your own.

3. Is the observed body language as a result of a specific stimulus or is it a habitual pattern for this person?

4. If there is a specific stimulus, is the reaction immediately following the stimulus, or is there a delayed reaction?

5. Is the person picking up and mimicking another person who is making an overt signal of fear? If so, the gesture may not be genuine; it could be an imitation.

6. Is the person making an attempt to hide the emotion, or is the reaction obvious to everyone?

7. Is the person consciously attempting to look a certain way or is the reaction an unconscious and authentic gesture, at least at first?

These are the main factors that will influence the specific gesture in reaction to fear. Here are some of the common facial and body reactions to fear that we have all seen at some point.

Contorted Facial Muscles

The narrowing of the eyebrows and wrinkling of the forehead is a pretty good give away that the person is experiencing fear. You need to be careful though, because the same facial contortions are common with anger. Look for more corroborating signals.

Hands to the mouth

Usually both hands will go to the mouth when a person is experiencing high fear. It may take the form of symbolically biting the nails, or it may be to actually cover the mouth and eyes. The person is trying to disappear from sight.

Arms outstretched

Another gesture of fear is a kind of blocking motion made by outstretching the arms in front of the person with palms facing the thing being blocked. Here, the idea is to put up a figurative wall between yourself and the offending person, animal, or thing. In this gesture, the head may be lowered and shoulders raised as we cower in fear. The posture is to make yourself a smaller target.

Behind an object or blanket

Children will often express fear by hiding behind something, like a couch cushion or a blanket, then the gesture is to peek out ever-so-slightly from behind the safety of the screen. Adults often hide behind other items or excuses. If one is afraid of the outcome of an effort, the fear may be manifest in procrastination.

Open mouth

The mouth is usually open when a person is experiencing high fear. The idea is to give a symbolic primal scream, even if the sound is inaudible. People in fear do not look tight lipped, instead they normally will be showing their teeth.

In a business environment, be alert to less obvious, but symbolically equivalent signs of fear in a person. Reach out to determine the nature of the fear and attempt to engage the person in some dialog about it.

The verbalization of fear and the brainstorming of ways to mitigate the angst are both ways to calm the person down. Helping another person who is in mild fear regain his equilibrium is an excellent way to build rapport and trust.

Adults develop patterns to help them deal with fear in ways that may not show in overt body language. They use compensating actions, and if you can recognize these signs, you can address the underlying cause to help the person, even though no specific physical signals are evident.

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


Body Language 64 Hand Slap

January 24, 2020

The hand slap is a gesture that is normally exchanged between friends. It often takes place in two parts, especially if both parties are standing.

First the individuals slap their hands together at shoulder height or above (this is known as a “high five”), then one individual puts the same hand at waist level palm up and the other person slaps it with his palm down.

For this gesture to work as intended, it is imperative that both people have the palm of one hand engaged in the exchange. If a person slaps another person anywhere on the body without palm-to-palm contact, it is almost universally interpreted as a put down: like “a slap in the face.”

It is also possible to have both hands involved in the gesture. Some people prefer that method but the meaning is the same regardless of whether it is one or both hands.

There are numerous examples of when a hand slap might be the appropriate gesture to use. Let’s examine several situations and discuss how the slap works as a congratulatory gesture.

Cheering on a runner

Imagine your spouse is a runner in a marathon. You are standing on the sidelines, and there is so much cheering, your mate would never pick out your voice. But as she passes by you, she gives you a hand slap gesture as a thank you for your support.

An example in the work setting would be a worker completing a difficult assignment ahead of the due date. The manager might give this person a welcoming high five.

After a supervisor makes a great welcoming speech

Suppose a supervisor has just given an amazing onboarding talk to a group of 15 new hires. It is well known that getting new employees off to an excellent start emotionally does wonders for their successful incorporation into the organization. The manager, who was watching the training gives the supervisor a high five as he walks to the back of the room.

A speaker comes off stage

The person waiting in the wings gives the hand slap gesture as a way to indicate the speaker nailed the presentation. No words need be said for the meaning to come through loud and clear.

Manufacturing team does a product change in record time

Suppose a group of employees on a packaging line has taken on the challenge to make product changes more efficient. They try several new ideas and come up with a way to get the job done in half the time it normally takes. The supervisor does a high five with all of the team members as a way to congratulate them.

Slapping yourself

If a person slaps himself, it is normally a gesture of frustration rather than congratulations. Most often a person will slap herself on the forehead with the palm of her hand to indicate that she just made a bone-head move.

The only frustrating part of the hand slap gesture is if one person wants to do the two part variety but the other person only participates in the first half of the gesture. The cure for that kind of awkward situation is to take your cue from the other person. If you see no sign of the second half at waist high, then don’t offer it.

On flip side, if the other person sticks out her hand waist high with palm up, it is an indication that she wants to do the full double hand slap. You need to be alert to pick up the desire of the other person in real time.

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


Body Language 54 Doubt

November 16, 2019

The physical manifestations of doubt are pretty easy to spot. We have a special way of contorting our face and upper torso to convey the message.

This kind of analysis is very much culturally specific, as are many body language gestures. This article is focused on facial and upper torso expressions of doubt in a Western Society.

We need to pay close attention when we see signs of doubt, because it has a direct impact on the trust between people. I will describe some tips to use at the end of this article.

While the facial postures below may be observed in association with various other emotions in some circumstances, these are the ones that are typically involved with an expression of doubt. When you see many of these gestures at the same time in a cluster, it sends a strong message conveying doubt by the person doing them.

Eyebrows

Typically, you will see one eyebrow up and the other normal or slightly down (if the doubt has a tinge of anger associated with it). Sometimes both eyebrows can be raised at the same time. That would normally signal surprise along with doubt.

If both eyebrows are down and furrowed, that indicates anger or frustration with some amount of doubt.

Forehead

The forehead of a person who is experiencing doubt will often be wrinkled, especially if the eyebrows are raised.

Head Tilted

Usually the head will be slightly tilted for a person who is experiencing doubt. The gesture goes along with a pondering stance that suggests analysis on the part of the person with feelings of doubt. You will rarely see a doubtful person with a completely erect head.

Eyes

For a person who is experiencing doubt, the eyes are usually looking to the side, and often upward. The connotation is that the person is trying to reason something but cannot reconcile it in his or her mind. The eyes looking sideways and upward indicate mental activity trying to rationalize what is going on.

Nose

The nose is neutral when a person is in doubt. For example, you will not see a person wrinkle his nose as part of this gesture. If you see that, the other person is likely experiencing some form of disgust along with the doubt.

Mouth

There is a lot going on with the mouth for a person in doubt. Most likely you will see the mouth pulled slightly to one side. The mouth may be open, showing teeth, or completely closed. If the upper lip is curled up, then the doubt is usually accompanied by some disgust or distrust.

The corners of the mouth may be down as a sign of bewilderment or negative feelings about what is going on.

Chin

If the doubt is a part of puzzlement, then the chin is often stroked or grabbed by one hand.

Hands

Sometimes you can see the hands held up with palms up to either side of the body. The connotation there is “what the heck is going on?”

The gestures associated with doubt are numerous and usually easy to decode. Look for a cluster of the ones mentioned above. When you see it in a Western Society, you can be pretty sure the person is having feelings of doubt.

What to do

If you see this cluster of gestures, do not just ignore it. Instead, try to gently understand the genesis of the concern. Ask open-ended questions that will give the other person a safe way to describe what is bothering him or her. Listen carefully to the response, and do not try to correct the person on the spot.

Ponder the input and see if you can create a helpful discussion about what alternative approaches might have led to a different outcome. Thank the person sincerely for sharing some insight about what you did that you might not have known otherwise.

These sincere opportunities for closure can go a long way toward making a large trust deposit with the other person. Congratulations! You took a negative situation and turned it into a trust-building moment between you and the other person.

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


Body Language 22 The Forehead

April 6, 2019

The forehead is an interesting area of body language. This area of the body is not as expressive as the eyes or mouth, and yet knowing how to interpret certain signals can be very helpful when you are trying to piece together a cluster of gestures into a strong signal.

A wrinkled forehead is always seen in conjunction with raised eyebrows. If you try to wrinkle your forehead without raising your eyebrows, you will see it is difficult or impossible to do. The normal interpretation of wrinkled forehead is surprise or skepticism. It is physically possible to wrinkle only one side of the forehead, but it takes so much effort that you rarely see that gesture. However, just as it is possible to lift one eyebrow more than the other, so too is it possible to have more wrinkles on one side of the face.

To catch the proper interpretation of a raised forehead, look at the mouth. If the mouth is wide open in the shape of an “O” then you can be sure the forehead is signaling surprise. If the lips are pursed or clenched, then the forehead is projecting skepticism or anger.

Hitting the forehead with open palm usually is a sign of exasperation, normally with one’s self. The gesture means “how stupid of me,” or “how could I have missed that before?” This gesture is the subtle form of banging your head against the wall to knock some sense into it.

The forehead is often the first visible area of the body that sweats when a person is overwrought, worried, or otherwise overheated. In negotiations, I used to watch my opponent for tiny beads of sweat on the forehead. It was one indication the other party was under stress and ready to make a concession.

Some hair styles for both women and men obscure the forehead from view. If a person’s bangs hang down to the tops of the eyebrows, you are not going to read forehead signals. You can infer a raised forehead when the bottom of the bangs is lowered into the region of the pupils.

Touching the forehead with the tips of the fingers can have two different meanings depending on the position of the hand. If the hand is straight and the index finger touches the forehead, it is a greeting sign, like a salute. If the first three fingers touch the forehead at the same time, It means the person is in deep thought. This gesture is often accompanied by closed eyes in an attempt to shut out distracting sights.

Rubbing of the forehead or temples is a sign of a person in deep thought. Generally the person’s thumb will be planted on one side of the forehead and the other fingers will slide back and forth in a linear or circular pattern. This person wants to be left alone to work on his or her problem.

The forehead is but one of the countless signals in body language. The important skill is to be able to piece together a mosaic of the many different parts of the face and body to come up with an accurate way to figure out the true meaning. The more you can practice this skill the more adept you will be at being able to read others accurately.

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.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 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. 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