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


Body Language 6 Folding Arms

December 15, 2018

Folding arms when listening or speaking is a classic type of body language that has a few different interpretations depending on the circumstances when it is being applied.

For example, if a student is sitting in a boring classroom for a long period and has folded arms, it would be a good idea to check the temperature of the room. The wrapping of arms around the torso helps to conserve heat and having the fingers wedged into the arm pits helps them from feeling cold due to poor circulation.

Folding arms can be somewhat different for women than men due to anatomical differences. Crossed arms gives a feeling of wholeness or snugness to a female that is not usually experienced by men. One can also deduce meaning from how the fingers are displayed. In this image, the fingers are relaxed, and when coupled with a natural smile, it basically looks like just a comfortable pose for the woman. It would likely mean something different if her fingers were clenched onto the arms. In that case, she would appear to be upset.

The classic meaning ascribed to folded arms is that of a person being defensive or closed. If someone is in a discussion in a warm room and when the topic becomes something related to that person’s performance, you can often see the arms being crossed as a symbol of defensiveness. The message received by the other person is that the person is not entirely comfortable with this conversation and wants to be protected from damage. The gesture generally works against trust because information is perceived to be blocked.

Many signals in body language have explanations in anatomy. They are exaggerated contortions that relate to a specific and understandable bodily need at that time. In this instance the person is protecting the solar plexus, the one part of the mammal that is not protected by a skeletal structure, from possible harm. The motion is almost always done unconsciously, but it is a reasonable reaction to being attacked.

Political individuals are not exempt from using crossed arms. The classic arm crosser is Donald Trump. He habitually sits in meetings with arms crossed, and it is usually as show of defiance or power. He normally wears a suit coat, which makes the arm crossing look particularly awkward, but it is a common posture for him. He also normally hides his fingers when crossing his arms which adds to the awkward appearance. Coupled with his habitual facial expression, the message becomes, “I am listening at the moment, and when you are through, I will tell you how it’s going to be.” He also keeps his arms crossed when both listening and talking.

A person who crosses arms and uncrosses them repeatedly within the space of a minute or so is emoting uncertainty or anxiety. The message is that the person is uncomfortable and does not know what to do with his or her arms and hands. If you encounter a person acting in this manner, try to give the individual the opportunity to talk. Switching from an absorbing mode to an advocating mode will often allow the person to calm down and relax a bit.

In summary, crossing arms is a common type of body language that can easily be misunderstood. Most commonly, it is interpreted as a gesture of defensiveness or being closed. As with all body language, you must consider the context in which the gesture is occurring and the details of the gesture itself.

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 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 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 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 onhttps://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