Body Language 5 Steepling

December 8, 2018

Starting this week, I will be describing several body gestures or positions to indicate the classical meaning for each one and also some caveats on how they might be misinterpreted.

The source of this information is numerous body language sites online plus a wonderful DVD on “Advanced Body Language” by Bill Acheson from the University of Pittsburgh. Here is a link to the video in case you might want to purchase it.

Also, some of the information was derived from numerous books, such as the famous “How to Read a Person Like a Book” by Gerard Nierenberg.

The first gesture is called “steepling.” This is a form of demonstrating power when two people are in conversation. The classic gesture is fingers together and palms apart. Usually the person with the higher power is the one doing the steepling, and the higher the power the higher on the body the steepling will be.

A typical example of when you might encounter steepling is when you are asking a superior for a favor. Suppose I am your manager, and you want to ask me for some extra vacation time because you have used up all your time and need an extra day. You come into my office and sit across the desk from me. I lean back and listen to you without saying anything but assuming a pose similar to this picture.

This body language indicates that I am listening politely, but I am not likely to grant your wish. If you see this kind of gesture, it means that the person demonstrating power over you, so it would be a good idea to back off and try a different approach at another time.

When standing, the higher the steeple, the greater the power differential. Also, women in positions of power will sometimes do a reverse steeple with fingers together and palms apart but the fingers are pointing downward.

If you are talking with a person of higher power and he or she starts to steeple, try asking a question that requires a verbal answer. That may break the steeple as the individual would be talking through his or her hands.

There is also a bouncing steeple motion where the fingers are separated and then brought back together. That would usually indicate impatience on the part of the listener, so if you see this, immediately give the other person the floor.

You may have noticed that Donald Trump is often seen using the steepling technique as well as the bouncing steeple to indicate impatience. His gestures are very marked. For example, Donald often sits with his arms crossed. It looks uncomfortable when wearing a suit, but it is how he habitually demonstrates his power. I will discuss arm crossing in a future article.

Some people use the steepling gesture a lot and others rarely use it. When you see it being done, it provides clues into what the other person is thinking. Steepling is rarely seen from a person in a lower status when talking with a superior. If you see this, some form of a coup is likely being attempted. Test to see what may be happening.

Excessive use of steepling will lower the trust between people because it represents a kind of power play. Try to use this gesture sparingly in your relations with others.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/Bodylanguage 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


Body Language 3 – Body Position Tells a Lot

November 25, 2018

Interpreting body language is an extremely complex science, as we will see in this series. However, we can pick up huge clues as to what is going on simply by observing the position of one’s body in space. Later in the series we will add details of facial expression and gestures, but this article focuses on grasping the big picture first.

We take in a lot of information simply by observing how the person is sitting or standing. For example, I was once meeting a good friend for lunch. We knew each other very well and were meeting to catch up on what was happening for each of us. I entered the restaurant and saw my colleague sitting in a booth with her back to me. She did not see me come in. As I made my way to the table, I said to myself, “Oh dear, Jane is having a crisis.” I could only see the back of her head and the angle of her shoulders, but I accurately observed a woman who was deep into a personal crisis in her life.

The trick here was knowing her habitual posture of sitting tall with head held high. When I observed her bent-over shoulders and bowed head, I figured either she way praying or feeling a great weight. Since it would be not like her to pray in public, it was easy to deduce she was in crisis.

Here is another example: I was once approaching a young man whom I had not met yet. I immediately observed that he: 1) took care of himself physically, 2) was an educated, polite, and articulate person, 3) knew how to dress properly for the occasion, and most importantly 4) was anxious to meet me. All of these traits were easy to spot, even before I observed his facial expression or we had shaken hands or spoken any words. All these clues were evident by the way he was walking and carrying himself.

Let’s imagine a female, but blank out her facial expression for an experiment. She is standing at a slight angle to you, but mostly directly facing you. Her hands are on her hips. Her head is erect and her shoulders are slightly to the rear. Her legs are straight and rigid. If that image of a woman does not cause you to cower a bit, whether you are male or female, you are not paying attention. We do not need the detail in her fingers or facial expression to accurately deduce that she is upset, and since she is facing you, it is pretty obvious you had better do some serious groveling.

Just for fun, let’s do another example. We see a picture of a man who is sitting in a straight chair with one hand on the arm of the chair and the other one extended with palm up. The man’s legs are crossed at the ankle in a relaxed position but his back and head are straight upright. We cannot see anything else, but could quickly deduce a few things about this scene.

It is implied that there is a second person here because of the man’s outreached hand. He is making a point to the other person, and, since his palm is up, he is advocating something (if he was pointing or had clenched fist we would deduce something different). There is an implied table or desk between the two people due to the way his legs are crossed. Since he is advocating something and is sitting erect, it is easy to guess that this is not a casual conversation about the weather or something trivial. This is an important conversation for the man. It could be a performance appraisal or a job interview. Notice how much meaning is implied from just a few nebulous clues and no detail.

In the real world, we have the general shape of a person to get us pointed in the right direction, then we add the more specific clues of facial expression or gestures to fill in the picture and increase our accuracy of decoding the scene.

Exercise for you today

Notice today how much information you can gather about a person’s mental state even before you take into account the more precise clues of facial expression and gestures. Also notice how something seems off kilter when you observe a person and the body position is incongruent with the facial expression.

Notice also how much more likely you are to trust your initial reaction to a person if his or her body language is easy to interpret and not ambiguous. We sense these things instinctively and at a subconscious level before we are even aware of them consciously.

Congruence in body language is a huge element, because we verify accuracy by the clusters of body language. For example, if the woman I approached in the restaurant at the start of this article had on a broad smile when I got close enough to see her face, I would immediately assume she was trying to deceive me. The smile would not appear to be genuine. In that case, I would need to dig and test in a number of ways before ascribing any specific emotion.

Try to become a master of taking in both the big picture and the minute details of body language, and you will grow in your ability to decode information correctly.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/Bodylanguage 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