Body Language 12 Pulling on the Ear

January 26, 2019

Pulling on the ear lobe is a gesture that you have seen from time to time, but if you are like me, you may have been unaware that it often has a specific meaning. Actually, there are many different interpretations of this gesture, as I will outline in this article. Be careful to get additional information before trying to ascribe meaning to a person who is pulling on his or her ear lobe when listening to you.

The first interpretation is that when a person is listening to you and is absent-mindedly pulling on his or her ear lobe, it is a signal that the person is interested in what you are saying and that you have the floor. As with most BL gestures, there is some element of physiological basis for the movement.

In this case, the best way to understand the underlying meaning is to exaggerate the gesture to make it more pronounced. If you were talking to me and I cupped my hand up to my ear in order to amplify the intake of sound waves, it would be a more overt form of pulling on the ear lobe. I am interested in hearing every part of what you are trying to convey. I do not want to miss any part of what you are saying.

When you see the gesture of someone pulling on his or her ear, continue to talk and know your input is of high interest.

Another interpretation is almost the exact opposite of the first one. In this case, pulling on the ear lobe is thought to be a way to block the information from coming in. The interpretation is that the person wants to “hear no evil.” The extreme form of this gesture is when children try to cover their ears when they do not want to hear what is being said.

If the interpretation is negative, it could be in reaction to increased stress because the person believes you are exaggerating or lying. The increased stress causes additional blood flow to the ear which may trigger pulling on the ear lobe.

Another interpretation of tugging on the ear lobe is that it could be just a physical itch from eczema behind the ear lobe or some other physical reason, such as a woman with an uncomfortable earring.

The easy way to detect if the gesture is one of interest or covering up a lie is to notice if the ear itself has turned red. A flushed ear or neck is a telltale sign of stress, so check out the source of that stress before trying to interpret the meaning of the gesture. If increased stress is the case, trust is likely being compromised by continuing the conversation.

Be very careful when you are addressing a person and he or she is pulling on his earlobe. It could be a negative sign to interpret as blocking information or a positive sign to interpret as high interest. You need to judge which meaning is likely valid by observing the facial expression and including the context of what is going on when the gesture is made.

For example, if the forehead is wrinkled or the eyebrows furrowed, then you can assume the gesture is a negative one. If the forehead is high and the mouth has a slight smile, you can assume the person is interested in what you are saying. Keep in mind that clusters of body language increase the accuracy of proper interpretation, so look for multiple signs.

Look out for habitual gestures where a person does something all the time. I knew a man who would frequently stick the eraser end of a pencil in his ear and move it around like he was cleaning his ear, except he always did it only to the right ear. There was no particular significance to this habit, it was just sort of a nervous tick he had.

There is another BL gesture that is common, and this one usually signifies high interest on the part of the listener. It is putting something in his or her mouth as you are speaking.

It may be a paper clip, or the back end of a pen, or even the person’s pinkie or thumb. The gesture is a desire for more information and is thought to be the equivalent to saying “feed me.” I want to hear more of what you are saying.

Normally, gestures that include hands to the facial region can have more than one meaning, and it is important to sort out the one indicated by what you are seeing. In most cases hands to the face indicate high interest, but you need to observe closely the concurrent other signals before interpreting these 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.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 11 Finger or Foot Tapping

January 19, 2019

Finger or foot tapping is another very well-known form of body language. The implication is almost always impatience.

You might expect to see this gesture while at the counter in the airport waiting for the person behind the counter to finish fiddling with her computer and answer your question directly.

You also can see finger tapping a lot in the classroom when teachers keep going over the same point in order to drum it into the brains of the slowest members of the class. Other members of the class will be tapping their fingers down on the table as an indication to “get on with it already!”

When a person ignores the person doing the finger tapping, it is a sign that the talker has low sensitivity. If this goes on for more than a few seconds, then trust between the people will begin to diminish.

It is best to be alert for this obvious signal of impatience and at least acknowledge you have received the message through your own body language or modified cadence.

The same signal may be sent by tapping the foot, although there are a number of foot moves that make this area a bit more complicated to decode.

If you are standing or sitting with your feet flat on the floor, then tapping your toes would have the same connotation as tapping your fingers, except that the gesture may be partially or totally hidden. Other foot movements may have different meanings.

For example, women habitually sit with legs crossed in what is known as the aristocratic leg cross. This is where one knee is placed directly over the second knee.

Miss. Manners teaches that it is more professional to cross the legs at the ankles for modesty purposes, but the majority of female professionals I have observed actually cross their legs at the knees.

This is a comfortable position with females for two reasons. Women do not have external organs between their legs, so there is no specific pressure on these organs, as would be the case for a man. Second, when a woman is wearing a skirt, crossing her legs in this manner makes it less likely that other people will be seeing too much of her underwear.

When women sit with legs crossed in this manner, they will sometimes bounce the upper foot (the one that is not currently on the floor). They will also often dangle their shoe as they bounce the foot. This gesture can indicate a number of different things, so it is wise to exhibit care with interpreting what you see.

It may be that the woman is exhibiting impatience, as with finger tapping. It may also indicate the woman is wanting to share some information, like telling a story, or visiting, or something else. She may also be bouncing as an indication of stress. In addition, letting the shoe dangle is thought to be an indication of flirting. You will need to look for more clues to get an accurate read.

Another interesting phenomenon with women’s feet while sitting with legs crossed is pointed out by Bill Acheson in “Advanced Body Language.” She may be happily sitting and bouncing her upper foot, and then, as a result of something said to her, point her toe upward for just a moment. The woman is having a negative reaction to what was just said. It can be a form of rejection. Sometimes the foot can speak as loudly as the mouth.

Because of anatomical differences, men usually sit with legs crossed in a stance that resembles the number four. Depending on age and culture, men will put their upper ankle to either the inside or outside of the lower knee. In some cultures, men will more often sit with the aristocratic leg cross. For example, this posture is more common in Europe.

Acheson believes that how a man crosses his legs is one indication of status in terms of wealth and power. Men of higher status will tend to sit using the aristocratic leg cross as opposed to the figure four leg cross. Also, men of higher power tend to lean back in a chair more decidedly than men of lesser wealth and power.

These gestures and body configurations are important to notice. It is also necessary to separate out habitual behavior from that triggered by a specific situation. If a person has a habit of sitting a certain way, then the signal is less apparent from a situation where the BL is triggered by a specific stimulus or statement.

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


Body Language 10R Scratching of the Head

January 12, 2019

Sorry – I had to reissue this article with a different picture to translate well in the LinkedIn environment.

This type of body language is very well known, and the meaning is hard to miss. Perhaps it is a bit more conscious than other BL gestures because we actually refer to it in daily conversation.

We might say something like, “His actions yesterday really left me scratching my head.” The translation is one of confusion or not knowing how to interpret something.

The vision I have with this body language is stuck in my mind. I once saw a man who was driving a little black sports car. I came up upon him when his car was broken down by the side of the road. He had gotten out of the car and just raised the hood as I was going by.

Out from the engine compartment steam was billowing out toward the man’s face. He stood there with his hand near the back of his head and fingers reaching down to scratch his head. It did not take a rocket scientist to derive the meaning of his gesture. It means, “What the heck is going on?”

Often there is a physiological explanation for a specific type of body language, such as the need for more oxygen leading to loosening of the collar. The link for scratching the head might originate in the inability of the brain to comprehend exactly what is happening at the moment.

We may scratch our heads as a way to see more clearly the issue, much the same as when we rake leaves we can see the grass better.

In addition to confusion, this form of body language may signify doubt or uncertainty. In some circumstances, it may be an indication of lying. If someone starts to scratch his head while you are talking to him, check to see if the indication is that the person does not believe what you are saying. You would usually see another facial indication of doubt along with the head scratching.

For example, if the person furrows his brow while scratching his head, it may be a signal that you are damaging the trust this person had built up for you.

Whatever the source of the emotion, the person making the gesture is usually not aware he is doing it, unless someone points it out. We see the behavior in others very quickly, but we are normally not conscious of when we do it ourselves.

The scratching head gesture may have a logical physical explanation such as eczema or severe dandruff. As with all body language, you need to consider the person’s habitual movements. If this person routinely scratches his head with no apparent stimulus, it is likely the problem is a physical itch rather than puzzlement.

The best way to grow in your interpretation of this type of body language is to catch yourself in the act and bring it to your conscious mind. You will be using your Reticular Activation System (RAS) to become more alert to the signals you send out.

The best way to describe RAS is with an example. You are driving down the highway, and you do not notice any specific pattern to the different makes and models of the cars and trucks. Your mind is focused on other things. Then you turn into a Ford dealership and look at a specific red Ford truck that you fancy. You have a negotiation with the dealer and get enough information to make a decision in the next couple days. As you drive back home, you will see every red Ford truck on the highway. You will be amazed at the number that are flowing by when you did not notice them at all on your way to the dealer. Your RAS will have been activated.

Use your RAS to sensitize yourself to the various body language signals you send and you will gain greater control of how you project your emotions to 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 10 Scratching the Head

January 12, 2019

This type of body language is very well known, and the meaning is hard to miss. Perhaps it is a bit more conscious than other BL gestures because we actually refer to it in daily conversation.

We might say something like, “His actions yesterday really left me scratching my head.” The translation is one of confusion or not knowing how to interpret something.

The vision I have with this body language is stuck in my mind. I once saw a man who was driving a little black sports car. I came up upon him when his car was broken down by the side of the road. He had gotten out of the car and just raised the hood as I was going by.

From the engine compartment, steam was billowing out toward the man’s face. He stood there with his hand near the back of his head and fingers reaching down to scratch his head. It did not take a rocket scientist to derive the meaning of his gesture. It means, “What the heck is going on?”

Often there is a physiological explanation for a specific type of body language, such as the need for more oxygen leading to loosening of the collar. The link for scratching the head might originate in the inability of the brain to comprehend exactly what is happening at the moment. We may scratch our heads as a way to see more clearly the issue, much the same as we rake leaves so we can see the grass better.

In addition to confusion, this form of body language may signify doubt or uncertainty. In some circumstances, it may be an indication of lying. If someone starts to scratch his head while you are talking to him, check to see if the indication is that the person does not believe what you are saying. You would usually see another facial indication of doubt along with the head scratching.

For example, if the person furrows his brow while scratching his head, it may be a signal that you are damaging the trust this person had built up for you. Whatever the source of the emotion, the person making the gesture is usually not aware he is doing it, unless someone points it out. We see the behavior in others very quickly, but we are normally not conscious of when we do it ourselves.

The scratching head gesture may have a logical physical explanation such as eczema or severe dandruff. As with all body language, you need to consider the person’s habitual movements. If this person routinely scratches his head with no apparent stimulus, it is likely the problem is a physical itch rather than puzzlement.

The best way to grow in your interpretation of this type of body language is to catch yourself in the act and bring it to your conscious mind. You will be using your Reticular Activation System (RAS) to become more alert to the signals you send out.

The best way to describe RAS is with an example. You are driving down the highway, and you do not notice any specific pattern to the different makes and models of the cars and trucks. Your mind is focused on other things. Then you turn into a Ford dealership and look at a specific red Ford truck that you fancy. You have a negotiation with the dealer and get enough information to make a decision in the next couple days. As you drive back home, you will see every red Ford truck on the highway. You will be amazed at the number that are flowing by when you did not notice them at all on your way to the dealer. Your RAS will have been activated.

Use your RAS to sensitize yourself to the various body language signals you send and you will gain greater control of how you project your emotions to 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 9 Fingers in the Collar

January 5, 2019

Putting one’s finger between the neck and collar is a common gesture that is rather easy to interpret. The gesture is much more common with males than females for a few reasons I will discuss later.

The most frequent interpretation is anxiety due to some factor, such as guilt. A famous example is that of Lance Armstrong after it was revealed that he was lying about his doping. (There is a famous photo of this, but I do not have the rights to copy it, You can go to Google Images and look it up under Lance Armstrong doping).

The collar metaphor actually has a physiological basis, as is the case with many body language gestures. The overriding feeling is one of anxiety.

The connotation is that the person needs to loosen his collar to get more air. You can see witnesses on the stand in a heated trial frequently trying to open their collars to get in more oxygen. When you see an individual putting a finger in his collar, look for other corresponding signs of anxiety, like shifting weight, wringing hands, a blank stare, or looking down.

Women use this gesture less often because they less frequently wear a tight collar with a tie. They also often have jewelry which might get tangled up if the gesture was tried. Interestingly, most women have a different type of experience when trying to demonstrate guilt through body language than men do.

According to Bill Acheson in his wonderful DVD “Advanced Body Language,” guilt is the one emotion accurately conveyed by men that is not modeled nearly as well by women. The reason, he explains, is that for men, guilt is a two-part emotion.

“There are things these guys have done that they thought was funny as Hell ‘til they got found out.” For women, guilt is usually an inside job. They do it to themselves. Bill sarcastically jokes that “it turns out that women are so busy creating it that they are not getting the practice time [showing it through a facial expression].”

There are several other reasons, besides guilt, that can cause men to pull at their collar. There is sometimes a kind of strangulation panic that sets in when some men wear a shirt and tie that are too tight. I am always much more comfortable with an open collar and no tie.

It takes a very formal event for me to grudgingly button the top button on a shirt and put on a tie. I typically feel uncomfortable all evening and cannot wait to get rid of the tie after the event. If the event has inherent stress, like a funeral or an important presentation, I suspect you would find me with my finger in my collar at some point.

Another reason to use the gesture is when the person is getting upset, which we call “getting hot under the collar.” Watch for a reddening of the face and puffy cheeks or bulging neck when the person is getting angry. Sometimes it looks like the person is trying to let out steam when using this gesture as a way to communicate rage.

Be alert for the gesture of loosening the collar, and you will begin to pick up more information than you have in the past when observing other people. Specifically, look to see if there are other signs of anxiety or anger that go along with the gesture. Also, try to be more aware of when you are using this gesture to communicate your own emotions.

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


Body Language 8 Chin Gestures

December 29, 2018

When people touch their chin, it can mean a number of different things depending on gender and exactly how the chin is touched.

Teachers frequently see this body language in the classroom. When I see several students holding their heads up, I know it is time to break things up with a physical activity or an actual break to use the facilities.

When just one person is assuming the position, the signal is much weaker. Perhaps this student stayed up all night last night to finish her paper and is simply tired.

Chin touching for a male may also signal boredom or the exact opposite. When a male holds his chin between the bent forefinger and thumb, it usually means the man is listening intently. Chin propping is thought to be good listening behavior for a male, according to Bill Acheson of the University of Pittsburgh. Men also are usually listening when they are stroking their facial hair slowly.

Females will also stroke their chin, but not nearly as often as men, and they more likely have an open hand rather than a closed one.

Another aspect of touching the chin is that doing so blocks an attack to the throat from the front. It may be an unconscious protective gesture in some circumstances when a person is feeling vulnerable. The protection is largely symbolic, but that happens frequently in body language, and it is important to consider the symbolism that may be in play. The need for this protection may spring from a perceived lack of trust between you and the other person.

Holding the chin also keeps the head from moving. Suppose you are negotiating with a car salesman and are listening intently. You want to hear all the points being made, but you do not want to indicate agreement by head nodding until you have all the information. Holding the chin would make it less likely for you to give out premature information on your state of mind. It adds a subconscious layer of security when you may be feeling vulnerable.

When someone of either gender reverses the hand and puts the chin in the palm of the hand, holding up the head as in the attached picture, it is a sign of fatigue or boredom. The implication is that the person needs to hold his or her head up or it will fall onto the table.

Jutting the chin in a specific direction is a kind of pointing motion that directs other people where you want them to look. It is a way to acknowledge a transfer of attention. The chin is raised in a quick jerking motion. This is less obvious than pointing with a finger, and it is less susceptible to being interpreted as a hostile gesture.

The angle of the chin can be important as well. Generally, when the chin is raised, it is a positive sign. It is often a gesture indicating pride or alertness. Conversely when a person has his chin down, it will indicate a negative mindset. The person may be sad or depressed when the chin angle is downward.

Pay more attention to the signals you see relative the chin. As you study body language, there are many important but fleeting gestures with the chin that contain information about the mental state of another person. It is just one small part of an amazing language that we all use but rarely talk about consciously. The more adept you are at decoding the language the more astute you will become at interpersonal relations.

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


Body Language 7 Finger to the Side of the Nose

December 22, 2018

Sometimes people will touch themselves in the facial area, and depending on the context leading to a gesture, where on the face the person touches can be instructive in decoding the meaning.

Just like with all body language, we need to consider possible other logical explanations before ascribing specific meaning to a single gesture.

Touching the side of the nose is a telltail form of body language that is nearly always done unconsciously. If I touch the side of my nose when talking to you, it may just mean that I have an itchy nose at the moment. You need to consider that as one possible reason.

But, if I am a witness on the stand in a court room and the opposing lawyer asks me to confirm or deny I ever saw the bloody knife, if my finger goes to my nose as I deny ever seeing the knife, it is a good indication that I am lying, or at least exaggerating.

In this picture we see a combination of things that modify the meaning. We see a playful expression with wide eyes and high eyebrows. Her head is slightly tilted indicating this may be a joke. She also has a broad smile showing off her dimples. In this case, touching the nose would indicate she is probably spinning a tall tale that may be for purposes of humor, or it may be an indication of an inside joke between you and her.

It is dangerous to ascribe meaning too quickly when observing this type of body language. The best thing to do is look for other signals to corroborate the meaning. For sure, something is going on when a person who does not have an itchy nose (such as you would see if she was scratching it repeatedly) touches his or her nose. Dig in and figure out the meaning from multiple angles.

It is also important to consider how well you already know and trust this person. If there is already high trust between you and the other person, the gesture may be a kind of caution flag that at this moment the other person is stretching a point. If there is low trust to begin with, the gesture would provide additional reason to question the sincerity of the person.

It is very difficult to catch yourself making this gesture. It is almost always done involuntarily. I do a lot of public speaking, and often video tape my work to uncover improvements. Sometimes I will see myself touching my nose when I was totally unaware of it during the program. When I go back and look, it is normally a point in the program where my confidence in what I am saying is not as high as other points.

Even Bill Acheson, the expert on body language, tends to touch his nose in presentations and probably only finds about it when he reviews his programs.

The thing to remember is that body language rarely lies. You can try to fool people with fake body language, but what you send out is inconsistent signals that give away your discomfort. In general people are able to decode your true meaning even when you try to put on a show that is not what you are really feeling.

To maintain maximum credibility, do not try to game your body language. You will gain more respect by being genuine at all times.

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