Body Language 84 Zoom Boom 1 Eye Contact

May 11, 2020

This is the first of four short articles highlighting the differences from in-person body language and body language when using a virtual platform.

Clearly, having the ability to see the faces of individuals, particularly in a group setting, is far superior to having a conference call where people cannot see each other.

However, it is wrong to suggest that the virtual experience is just as good as actually being in the same room as the other people. It is not.

This series of short articles will highlight areas where we need to recognize the limitations, even while we enjoy the benefits of the various platforms for virtual meetings.

The first area is eye contact. The most critical connection between people when interfacing in person is eye contact. When you look at another person’s eyes, you can detect how sincere and authentic the person is.

We read the eyes of other people all the time without even being conscious of the depth of information contained in them. We may have a first meeting with an individual and come away with a cautionary feeling about him by the way he made eye contact.

In “The Gambler,” Kenny Rogers sings, “He said, Son, I’ve made a life out of readn’ people’s faces, knowin’ what the cards were by the way they held their eyes.”

Most people in organizations do not take it to that extreme, but we do take away a huge amount of data by watching other people’s eyes.

In a virtual setting, it is often difficult to even see the other person’s eyes. First of all, if the person is wearing glasses, the glare from the reflection of the screen or ambient light at least partially blocks a clear view of the eyes.

Second, people rarely look directly into the camera when working in a virtual meeting. They are focusing their attention on the pictures of the other people or data displayed on screen. Depending on where the camera is placed, that may cause the person to rarely show his eyes.

Direct eye contact between any two people in a virtual meeting is extremely rare.

Third, when there are many people in the meeting, each image is so small that it is hard to see the expression in the eyes. You can gather some information, but it is not nearly what would be seen if you were meeting in person.

What to do

If the information in the eyes is less than ideal, you need to substitute other factors to understand what is going on with the other person. Tone of voice will let you know if the person is feeling happy, angry, sarcastic, confused, or several other emotions.

In addition, pay attention to what the other person is saying. Is she being negative, grumpy, and hostile, or is she buoyant, happy, and flexible?

Body position can give you a clue to the attitude. Is the person sitting up straight or slouched over holding her head up with the palm of her hand?

Facial expression is another tip off to what is going on with the person. Even though the eye contact may not be ideal, you still have the ability to read what is going on. Look for clues in the configuration of the mouth and the eyebrows.

You can ask open-ended questions that call for the person to reveal how she is feeling at the moment.

I will explore other differences or compromises in future articles.


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


Body Language 16 Looking Over Glasses

February 23, 2019

Looking over the glasses has an unmistakable negative implication in most situations; however, there is a notable exception that I will describe later.

When a person is wearing full-sized glasses or bifocals, A slight lowering of the head so the person can look at another individual while making a statement is a demeaning gesture. It has the same connotation as a parent talking down to or scolding an impudent child.

The physical gesture is often accompanied by a lowering of the tone of voice. It is a way for the individual to put down the other person or make him or her feel inferior, or at least insecure.

The caveat with this gesture is that some people wear half glasses and tend to look over the tops of the glasses all the time. This can be problematic, because the individual wearing the glasses may be sending signals to others that are not intended.

I know one female CEO who wears half glasses and puts them rather far down her nose. She needs the magnification for reading, but she is farsighted and does not need glasses to view the world beyond the page.

In working with her, I observed that it was difficult to discern when she was being judgmental versus just having a neutral frame of mind. To be on the safe side, I found myself always on my guard when talking with her unless she took off her glasses completely. I basically found it difficult to trust her in some circumstances.

Some politicians have the same problem. I have found it hard to warm up to Chuck Schumer for that reason. If you go on Google Images and look him up, in every picture where he is wearing glasses, you can observe him looking over the top rim at the subject he is addressing.

I think people recognize there is a physiological reason for his habit, but I believe it works against the ability to trust him. Pardon me for not commenting on the level with which we can trust politicians in general regardless of the position of the glasses.

Looking over the classes is a common form of gesture that usually comes across as a negative one. You need to be careful what signals you are sending if you normally wear half glasses. You may be better off having full glass bifocals with the upper half being blank glass. See if you observe people warming up to you easier.

There can also be a different connotation for looking over the glasses. It can also be interpreted as a flirtatious gesture in some circumstances. The implication is that there is some sort of secret connection going on between the person wearing glasses and the other person.

The gesture has a “come hither” meaning that is easy to spot. The psychological implication is that of removing an artificial barrier for direct eye-to-eye contact. The difference between the first meaning and the second one is in the context of the meeting and the other accompanying facial expressions.

Another pet peeve of mine is people who wear their glasses on top of their head. If you don’t need glasses, keep them off your head. Don’t wear them up on top where the listener has to observe a precarious position and wonder if the glasses are going to drop off at any second. It is a distraction that is unnecessary.

I believe when making eye contact with a person who habitually wears his glasses on top of his head, it undermines the bond created by the eye contact. It is an anomaly that would be better served when it is not used.

If you have a habit of looking over your glasses, whether it be the result of wearing half glasses or the more egregious looking down your nose at some people, try to make a change in your pattern. Fortunately, this form of body language is rather easy to change, and you will benefit greatly from doing so.

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