Body Language 92 Plastic People

September 3, 2020

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.”


Body Language 32 – Using Volume

June 15, 2019

Volume is a type of body language that we often overlook, but it can be really important.

Actually, our natural instincts take us in the wrong direction, so it is important to grasp and internalize this information.

It is human nature that when a person is upset or otherwise agitated, the volume goes up. In the extreme, a person may be literally shouting at another person.

The irony is that if you really want to be heard, it is better to have a very low volume than a blustery overtone.

Professional speakers know that when they have something really important to share, they get maximum attention when they lower rather than raise the volume. Of course, the level of volume needs to be mindful of those who have difficulty hearing.

Speakers who bellow on and on lose the attention of the audience because it seems like every word is critical. I recall one speaker I heard once who put maximum energy into every word or phrase. He was actually a very boring speaker, and I checked out mentally about halfway through his talk.

To be a successful speaker requires compelling content with delivery appropriate to the audience and the ability to shift to meet their needs. Great speakers constantly read the body language of participants in order to determine if they are fully engaged in the content.

The best pattern of volume is to have a variety not only in intensity but in cadence. Slow down your pace, lower the volume and people will pay the most attention. However, be aware that overuse of this technique can be as annoying as just shouting all the time.

These tips for public speaking also work remarkably well when interfacing with an individual. If you and the other person are shouting at each other and talking over the other person’s points, there is actually very little communication going on. It is easy to break the tension and get your points heard by going low and slow.

The same thing happens when parents rant at their children in a loud voice explaining why it is important to not run with scissors. The problem is that the kid is internalizing only what a tyrant the parent is. There is not much teaching going on.

By toning the volume down to a loving and gentle tone, the child will be much more alert to the message and may even follow the rule next time.

You can try this technique in any setting and make much more progress than pushing back against the other person.

The next time a cop pulls you over for speeding, rather than give the officer a piece of your mind about how late you are and how other cars were whizzing by you, try a soft and humble approach. You just might find it’s more effective.

A similar technique worked for me last summer when I was pulled over for doing 46 mph in a 30 mph zone. It was just as I was entering a small town, and the officer was parked just beyond a little rise blocking my view so there was no time to slow down once I saw him.

By engaging the officer in conversation that my destination was a nearby camp that I attended when I was a boy and that I was not familiar with the speed patterns in his town and must have missed the sign, he let me off with a warning.

He might have attended that famous camp as well when he was a boy. By lowering my volume, the officer listened to my request.

It is human nature to raise our voice when we are upset. Since we communicate with people constantly: in a family setting, at work, or even when making a presentation, the success of getting our message across is a function of many factors, including our volume. If we think about the alternative to raising our voice, life can be a lot more pleasant for us and for others around us as well.

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. 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