Body Language 68 Shock

February 21, 2020

The differences between facial expressions indicating shock versus those of surprise or fatigue are small.

In this article I will discuss my take on how you can tell these three emotions apart from the shape of the open mouth, along with other cues that point to a specific emotion.

When a person is experiencing shock, the mouth goes wide open, as in the accompanying picture. The mouth is open and makes the shape of the letter “O.” The eyes are generally wide open to the fullest extent and the eyebrows and forehead are pulled up as much as is humanly possible.

This is the classic look of a person who is in shock. I believe there is a difference between a shocked facial expression and one of a person who is surprised. Often a surprise is something that is happy to the person, so I would look for more of a smile while still having the mouth full open.

The second picture conveys the emotion of surprise better than the first one, at least in my mind. Her mouth is open, but there is definite smile involved.

Notice that the person is showing her teeth whereas the person in shock will tend to not show teeth. Of course, the surprise could be something negative, but that happens in a minority of cases.

With a negative surprise, there would still be an open mouth, but the expression would resemble more of a frown. That is actually pretty rare.

If you look up pictures for the emotion of surprise, you will see that nearly all of them are showing a smile, and the majority of them have hands to the face in some way: often holding a cheek or even both cheeks.

In the case of fatigue, you also see a wide open mouth, but with a yawn the hand is usually attempting to cover the mouth and the eyes are shut tight, whereas with surprise or shock the eyes are fully open.

A yawn can originate in different ways.  Often it is a form of mirroring the gestures of others.

I am sure we have all caught ourselves yawning immediately after another person has done the same thing.

Another cause for a yawn is insecurity or doubt.  If we are anxious about something, we will tend to yawn a lot more. Notice yourself yawning while sitting in the waiting room at the dentist.

With all three of these gestures, the mouth is wide open, but the ancilliary cues give us enough information to interpret the emotion correctly.

What is of interest here is that you need to assemble various bits of data in real time and put together a mosaic of the cluster of signals to interpret an expression accurately.

Several different emotions involve an open mouth, so you need more data than just that fact to understand what the person is experiencing.

The last statement holds true for all types of body language gestures. The particular one in this article is a case in point how slight differences can mean entirely different things, and you need to be alert to look at the whole picture.

There are two ways you can use this information professionally. First, you can ask the right questions based on an accurate reading of the other person’s emotions.

For example, you might ask, “Why do you find that statement to be shocking?” Alternatively, if you see a smile in connection with a wide open mouth, you might ask “What about what I just said is surprising to you?”

A second way you can use this information is to make note of your own body language in specific circumstances. Are you confusing other people when you yawn as opposed to reacting with surprise?

In other words, keep track of how accurately you convey your true emotions with your gestures.

In every case, you need to use Emotional Intelligence to make an appropriate reflection of how you are interpreting the gestures. Doing that will enhance the trust other people put in you and thereby strengthen your relationships.

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


Body Language 65 Fist Bump

January 31, 2020

Did you ever go to shake the hand of another person and get a gesture back that the other person would rather do a “fist bump”?

I am doing a lot of that this week, because I have a bad cold and don’t want to spread more germs than I have to.

According to Wikipedia, the “fist bump” or “pound” can be traced to boxers instructed to touch gloves at the start of a contest. The modern gesture may have arisen spontaneously on city basketball courts and was popularized by basketball player Fred Carter in the 1970s.

Barack Obama

Back in the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama launched a media storm when he nonchalantly fist bumped his wife Michelle. “Obama’s Fist-bump Rocks The Nation!:” The Huffington Post exclaimed. “Is the fist bump the new high-five?” NPR’s Laura Silverman asked.

The fist bump gesture is useful in many circumstances not related to the health of one or both of the people who are meeting. It is intended to be a friendly greeting or celebration move. Let’s take a look at the rules of engagement and some precautions for fist bumping.

Relative power

One reason the fist bump is a helpful gesture is that when done correctly there is equal participation and transfer of power between the two people. A hand shake is subject to all kinds of subtle interpretations based on which person has the hand on top, how much pressure is used, how long the hand shake lasts, and a few other considerations. I have written about handshake protocol in another article titled Strange Handshake.

The fist bump is quick, equal, and not easy to manipulate. It is intended to be a tap for both people rather than a major forward thrust.

Position

The fist bump is almost always done with the knuckles on top and the fingers curled under below the palm. Both parties make the same movement at the same time. A sideways fist bump, with the thumb on top, while sometimes seen, might easily be interpreted as a hostile gesture, so avoid doing that move.

Having the knuckles on the bottom and the curled fingers on top would look much more like a gut punch, so that should be avoided if you are interested in conveying the usual meaning of a fist bump, which is “you and I are buddies.”

Transfer of bacteria

According to one study, the fist bump transfers only about 10% of the amount of bacteria as an average handshake. The reason is that far less surface area of each person comes in contact when doing a fist bump. The fist bump is also much faster in terms of contact time than a handshake. So from a standpoint of better hygiene, the fist bump is significantly better than a handshake.

Awkward moment

The awkward moment with a fist bump is when one person extends his or her hand to shake hands and the mirror image is not an extended hand but a fist. In this case, it is wise to join the fist bump gesture rather than hold out for a full handshake. The person extending the fist has a specific reason for doing that, and you need to honor that reason, whatever it is.

The fist bump will likely never completely replace the handshake, but it is gaining in popularity each year. It is best to get used to the gesture and roll with it rather than fight the trend.

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


Leadership Barometer 62 Victory

January 11, 2020

The common “Victory” gesture is well known to us all. Habitually, we interpret the signal as one of strength and impending or realized victory.

There have been times in history where the victory sign, made by showing the first and second fingers in the shape of the letter “V,” had a different meaning. It is important to know when you are dealing with the common gesture versus some more esoteric flavor.

For example, the familiar usage to indicate victory is normally made with the palm of the person making the gesture facing toward the viewer. When the palm is facing toward the person making the gesture, it can have a completely different meaning. When coupled by an upward jerking motion of the forearm, it means “up yours.”

In Sports

We see the Victory sign made by athletes in every facet of the sports world. It is normally directed at someone out of earshot, and it simply means “we won.” It can also be shown before the contest, and in that case it means “we are going to win.”

In Politics

People running for office will often flash the victory sign in rallies as a show of confidence that they are going to win the race. You often see the gesture used in Congress when one side of the aisle is intent on prevailing over those nasty people on the other side.

Who can forget how Nixon frequently used the Double V with both arms outstretched. He even used it as he was boarding his helicopter immediately after he resigned from the presidency.

In War

The victory sign has historically been used when one side has won a battle. Who can forget the US soldiers riding through Europe flashing the victory sign at the end of WWII. Similarly, we recall Winston Churchill showing the victory sign as a way to instill confidence within the people of England that they would ultimately prevail. His famous admonition given at the time was “Never, never, never, quit.”

In Klingon

Of course, there have been variations on the victory sign, like the one on Star Trek when Mr. Spock would show the “Vulcan Salute” with four fingers split two on each side of the letter “V.”

The meaning of that gesture was very different from the single victory sign. It meant “Live Long and Prosper.” One interesting thing about that gesture is that it can be hard for some people to make it. I believe that is why Sheldon Cooper on “The Big Bang Theory” was so prone to use the gesture. It made him feel superior, because not everyone could do it. Can you?

In School

School children, and even adults often will use the victory gesture to signal another person across the room that they just aced a test.

Upside Down V

This gesture is not used a lot, but when you see it, the normal connotation is that our team was successful at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. There is no pride in this gesture at all.

It also has the negative connotation, because you have to make the gesture with your palm facing yourself. It is very uncomfortable to make the upside down “V” sign with your palm facing away from you. If you doubt that, try it now yourself.

The simple hand gesture of forming a letter “V” with two fingers is one of the most common forms of body language. Curiously, this gesture, unlike many others, is not highly susceptible to misinterpretation when going form one culture to another. You can use the signal often and anywhere, and rarely will you be misunderstood. In some parts of the world, the gesture is used a lot more than others.

For example, in Japan the gesture is used by young people who are being photographed. The gesture even has a name in Japanese: they call it “pisu sain.”

Go ahead and use this gesture freely, but just make sure your palm is toward the observer rather than toward yourself.

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


Body Language 61 Air Kissing

January 3, 2020

A very common gesture when people greet each other is a kind of mock kiss called “air kissing.” The movement occurs more in social than in business settings, although in some cultures the gesture is used in business settings routinely.

Air kissing should not be confused with “blowing a kiss,” which always starts with kissing one’s hand then blowing the kiss to the other person.

With air kissing, there is always some form of loose embrace going on. The two people move their faces to the right of the other person’s face as they move toward each other to embrace.

It appears as if they were going to actually kiss the cheek of the other person. The gesture can be awkward, and with the heightened attention to sexual harassment, it is best to refrain from using an air kiss unless it is initiated by the other person. This is particularly important in a business setting.

The air kiss is often associated with movie stars, rock stars, or other celebrities. In entertainment settings, the air kiss is depicted as a way to demonstrate super-star power when greeting someone.

Rather than actually contact the cheek with the lips, a kissing motion is made with the mouth while the two cheeks are touching. It is a way to show affection without spreading a lot of germs, so it has become quite popular. The French phrase for air kissing is les bises. Sometimes the air kiss is accompanied by a verbal sound imitating a kiss, e.g. “Mwah.”

The only confusing part of the air kiss is a kind of awkward situation where as the two parties come together, one person assumes this is a situation for an actual kiss on the cheek or even the lips while the other person wants to perform the air kiss move. Sometimes that movement can result in kissing an unintended area of the face.

Kissing is a common gesture that is highly culture specific. You need to use care to understand the culture of the other person to do the right thing. Here are a few examples of how the gesture differs in specific cultures. This information, plus a lot more detail, is available as a reference in a book titled “Kiss. Bow, or Shake Hands” by Morrison, and Conaway.

Saudi Arabia

A traditional Saudi greeting consists of shaking the right hand while placing the left hand on the right shoulder of the other person and exchanging kisses on each cheek of the other person. In this culture they use an actual kiss rather than an air kiss.

India

The correct greeting gestures in India vary greatly as there are several subcultures involved between the different religious sects: Hindu, Muslim, Sikhs, Christian as well as several others. Indians of all ethnic groups disapprove of public affection between people of the opposite sex. Do not touch (except in handshaking), hug, or kiss in any form when greeting someone of the opposite sex.

Egypt

Men may kiss men and women kiss women as a greeting in Egypt, but avoid the gesture with a person of the opposite sex. It is not uncommon for a businessman to kiss another businessman who he knows well on the lips in Egypt.

Indonesia and Malaysia

In Indonesia, and Malaysia, it is common to air-kiss an elder’s hand as a traditional form of respectful greeting. Instead of pursing one’s lips, the younger person exhaling through his nose softly on the hand before drawing the hand to the younger person’s forehead.

Inuit Nose rubbing

The kunik or so-called “Eskimo Kiss” consists of rubbing both noses together as a sign of affection, usually practiced by family members or loved ones. It is a non-erotic but intimate greeting used by people who, when they meet outside, often have little except their nose and eyes exposed.

Around the world, you will see the practice of air kissing or some other variant as described here. The precaution is to use this gesture sparingly, especially if you are not among good friends or family. It works better in a social setting than in a business application, although you will find it used in both in several cultures.

As with all body language gestures, if you are unsure of the suitability of the action with a particular person or in a specific situation, it is best to refrain from initiating it.

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


Body Language 60 Behind Your Back

December 27, 2019

When you have your hands behind your back, it can be interpreted in several different ways. It often is interpreted as apprehension or frustration. Some people link the gesture with anger. You really need to look for additional signals to interpret this gesture.

When shaking hands

Normally we shake hands by extending the right hand forward to meet the other person. There are special circumstances, like a surgery, that force a different approach, but the usual configuration is with the right hand forward. What we do with the left hand is optional and may provide some insight.

According to body language expert Bill Acheson, what you want to see is the non shaking hand moving forward and slightly upward as the other person approaches. That shows a positive desire to meet you, according to Bill. He describes and demonstrates the movement in the referenced video.

What you do not want to see is the other person hiding his left hand by putting it behind his back or in his pocket. That shows a negative feeling toward you.

When you are hiding a secret

When you hold one or both of your hands behind your back, it is often interpreted as having something you are trying to hide. Generally the gesture is figurative, but it could actually be literal, as in when a man hides flowers behind his back as he rings the doorbell of his girlfriend.

A gesture of openness with the hands is with the hand extended slightly forward with palms up. Keeping the hands out of sight begs the question, “what is he hiding from me.”

At ease

In the military world, when soldiers are asked to assume the “at ease” position, it means to put both hands behind their back and stand with feet apart in a comfortable stance. The connotation for some people of putting their hands behind their back is an indication of standing in a relaxed position.

Don’t know what to do with my hands

For some people, the hands behind their back is simply that they are feeling awkward at the moment and do not know what to do with their hands. You can see this movement often with shy children when they are put in the spotlight.

Defenseless and Vulnerable

Hands behind the back leaves the solar plexus, the one part of the body that is not protected by a skeletal structure,open and vulnerable. It can, therefore, be a signal of submission.

The gesture of putting hands behind one’s back can have so many different meanings that, like most body language signals, you need to consider the circumstance or look for other corroborating gestures before trying to assign a specific meaning to the gesture. Also, just as with nearly all body language, the meaning can be specific to a particular culture.

For example, when you are meeting a businessman in the Netherlands, you should avoid standing with your hands in your pocket and never leave your left hand in your pocket while shaking hands with your right (1).

Once you start looking for it, you will see examples of the hands behind back gesture in many social and business settings. Just remember that you cannot assume a precise meaning to this posture without further information. For sure something is going on, but you will need to explore a bit to determine exactly what it is.

(1) Kiss Bow or Shake Hands by Morrison, Conaway, and Borden 1994

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 39 Rolling Eyes

August 3, 2019

The body language gesture of rolling the eyes is very well known. It normally means a kind of exasperation with what has been said or done.

There are several subtle shades of the gesture that are worth noting.

Another word for rolling eyes is “shrugging” the eyes. It is a common form of disapproval or sarcasm.

Inside Joke

When done between coworkers at a meeting, it is usually a kind of inside joke where one person is silently mocking a third party to a friend. The idea here is “Can you believe this idiot?”

The key point here is that the gesture is not intended to be seen by the object of the comment. It is between the two other people.

The secretive nature of the gesture can have a negative effect on the culture of the group. It is similar to talking behind another person’s back.

Children rolling eyes

Children and youth often use the gesture to indicate how clueless they believe their parents are. If you want to have some fun, try rolling your eyes back at a child who uses this gesture.

Of course, you risk escalating the matter, but at least for a moment the kid may not know how to respond. It is like you are mocking the kid for mocking you. The kid is saying “clueless parent” and you respond with “clueless child.”

There is a very slight version of this body language signal that can mean the person is having a hard time understanding a point. This gesture can often take the form of a sideways glance rather that the classic upward look.

Actors and comedians

Two comedians who used eye rolling effectively were Rodney Dangerfield and Foster Brooks. With Dangerfield, it was often associated with the “no respect” line. Brooks used the gesture as something like incredulous. I recall one roast where Foster was honoring Dean Martin, and he said, “Dean’s dream was to be a great singer.” Then he rolled his eyes, “Like that was ever going to happen.”

How to stop someone from eye rolling

One effective way to eliminate eye rolling in a professional setting is to call people on it when you catch them. Suppose someone is fond of rolling her eyes in your staff meetings as she sits across the table from a cynical coworker.

Simply stop the conversation and address the person rolling her eyes and say, “Are you mocking me?” That puts the person on the spot and will often halt the practice.

Use in negotiations

Eye rolling is often used during negotiations to indicate that the offer just put on the table has no credibility. A good negotiator will pick just the right moment to use the gesture for maximum impact.

Eye rolling can be fleeting and more like a micro-expression, but the impact can be just as great. As long as the other person sees the gesture, the message has been received.

Impatience

Eye rolling is often used to express impatience. You might see the gesture in a long line waiting to buy tickets to a show. At one point one person will turn to his partner and roll his eyes to indicate frustrations with the slow movement of the line.

Try to avoid using the eye roll yourself, especially in a professional setting. It often has a negative connotation and sometimes works to reduce trust within a group. However, the gesture is not always negative.The exact meaning is situational and can be perfectly fine when used between friends as a humorous way to make a point.

Caveat

When eye rolling is used with sarcasm, it often reduces trust. Mocking other people in public normally creates a negative backlash because it is almost always intended as a put down. If something seems a little over the top, find a verbal way to express your frustration rather than rolling your eyes.

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.