Earlier in this series, I discussed blinking rate briefly in an article about the eyes. In this article I will go into a more thorough analysis of the topic and share some helpful theories.
The first observation is that it is much easier to observe the blinking rate of another person than to monitor your own. Since the rate of blinking offers clues to what is going on with a person, the person doing the observing is usually at an advantage.
This difference in consciousness of blinking rate, can and often does, provide the astute observer significant insights that become important in many ways. Let’s take a look (no pun intended).
Normally, relaxed adult humans blink at a rate between 15 to 20 times a minute. There are some situations where a person’s habitual blink rate will be different from the standard rate. These would include wearing contact lenses, allergies, some foreign particle in the eye, and diseases such as schizophrenia (faster blink rate) or Parkinson’s disease (slower blink rate).
Curiously, babies have a much longer rate and only blink a couple times a minute. An article by Bahar Gholipoar in Lifescience suggests that the longer blink rate correlates with a less developed dopamine system in infants. Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters that allows brain cells to communicate.
The most significant factor for blink rate in adults who are not suffering from a disease is the amount of mental tension they are feeling at the moment.
What is of interest in body language is whether there is a marked change in the blinking rate just after some situation or conversation. When a person is under stress, the blinking rate will start to increase without the person being aware of it.
If you observe someone going from a normal 15 per minute rate to 30 to 40 blinks a minute, that person is likely under a great deal of stress, but is often trying to hide that fact.
I learned that lesson years ago in a business negotiation with a vendor over price for some product. He tried the famous “Silent Treatment” with me in order to get a concession.
Since I was aware of his ploy, I just stared back at him and watched his blink rate. I saw it double then double again as his forehead began to perspire. I just watched and waited until he finally caved in.
I doubt that he even knew I was reading the stress level that was going on as observed in his blink rate, and I didn’t let him know I was doing it. If you would share that another person’s blinking rate just shot up, it would likely annoy the other person. Observe, but be discrete.
Next time you are negotiating for a new car, recognize that the sales person is trained to watch your blink rate. If you are clever, you can reverse the logic and determine when the sales person is feeling the heat. Because you know this trick, you will be less likely to give away your own stress level inadvertently.
Recognize that you are rarely aware of your own blink rate unless you are fully concentrating on it, yet the number of blinks is visible for any observer who has been trained to look for this variable.
This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”
I have made an observation after listening to people vent about problem individuals at work or at home.
It seems most people have a rather long list of things that other individuals must do to improve but a rather short list of things they need to change in their own behavior.
It is human nature to excuse or rationalize one’s own shortcomings while focusing on the obvious improvement needs of others. Since nearly everyone practices this little deception, the world must be rife with almost perfect people who wish the other people around them would shape up.
Hmmm – something is wrong with this picture? Here are a dozen tips that can change the pattern for you. Print them out and post them at work. Feel free to add more concepts of your own, and let me know what you add.
1. Reverse the Roles
The other day a student was venting about a particular individual who was a major challenge at work. The student described in gory detail several behavioral things the other person constantly did that drove him up the wall.
I asked him to write an analysis about himself from the perspective of that other person. In other words, what would the other person tell me about him if he had the chance.
That brought the student up short, and he admitted it would be a rather humbling exercise to do.
2. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
It is a well known fact that most married couples fight over the little things that become habitual annoyances on a daily basis. The position of the toilet seat is a great example. How come I can never get my wife to leave the toilet seat up?
It is not the 401K account that most couples argue about daily, it is who gets the remote control, or why the toothpaste tube is always topless. So, if we can just remember that the small stuff is really just that, then maybe we can relax a bit.
3. Live and let Live
If a cubicle mate hums when she is happy, it is no reason to have a coronary over it. This is her outlet and way to be cheerful.
Even though it curdles your skin when it goes on and on, why burst her balloon by pointing out her “problem”? If it is an unconscious habit, she will never be able to control it anyway.
Simply buy a pair of noise canceling head phones and play the kind of music you like. Let a happy person be happy or a miserable person be miserable. Focus your energy on creating your own sphere of cheerfulness rather than trying to change the rest of the world.
4. Punch Out Early, Don’t Punch Out the Person
Find some way to get away from the petty squabbles before they bring you to the snapping point. If you cannot actually leave without penalty, it does not stop you from mentally checking out. Just go for a little vacation in your mind.
Imagine smelling the giant pines if you love to hike. Feel the frost on your cheeks if you like to ski. Taste the chocolate chip cookie if you like to eat, or how about a relaxing hot tub while sitting at your desk?
Imagining happier places has kept many POWs alive for years; the same technique can keep you sane until 5 o’clock.
5. Share a treat
Just because someone drives you nuts by clipping his nails in the morning is no reason to hate him all day long. Find some symbolic olive branch and waive it around. Go get two chocolate bars and give him one.
Bring him in a bag of his favorite flavor of coffee. By extending kindness, we get kindness in return. Usually people know what they do drives us crazy.
If we change our body language rather than keep festering about “their problem” and learn to accentuate the positive, then the other person will likely respond in kind.
6. Extend Trust
The reciprocal nature of trust implies that you can improve another person’s trust in you by extending more trust to him or her.
When we build up a higher account balance of trust, the petty issues seem to melt away because we are focused on what is good about the other person rather than idiosyncrasies that drive us bonkers.
The best way to increase trust is to reinforce people who are candid with us about our own shortcomings. That takes emotional intelligence to do, but it works wonders at improving relationships.
7. Don’t Complain About Others Behind their Back
Speak well of other people as much as possible. The old adage “if you cannot say something nice about someone don’t say anything” is really good advice.
When we gripe about others when they are not present, a little of the venom always leaks out to the other person, either directly or indirectly. Never make a joke about another person at his or her expense.
A wise old pastor taught me that rule 40 years ago, and it is a great rule. If a person is doing something that really bothers you, simply tell him or her in as kind a way as possible why you find the action irritating.
8. Stop Acting Like Children
The lengths people go to in order to strike back at others for annoying them often takes on the air of a food fight in grade school.
Escalating e-mail notes is a great example of this phenomenon. I call them e-grenade battles. It is easy to avoid these squabbles if we simply do not take the bait.
When you find yourself going back and forth with another person more than three times, it is time to change the mode of communication. Pick up the phone or walk down the hall for a chat.
9. Care About the Other Person
If we really do care enough to not get bent out of shape over little things, then we can tolerate inconveniences a lot better. What we get back from others is really a reflection of the vibes we put out ourselves.
If we are feeling prickly and negative reactions from others, we need to check our attitude toward them. While it is convenient to blame them, often we are at least a partial cause of the negativity: they are simply a mirror.
10. Picture the other person as the most important person in your life
If all else fails, try to remember that life is short and to expend energy bickering and griping about others really wastes your most precious resource – your time.
How much better it is to go through life laughing and loving than griping and hating. We do have a choice when it comes to the attitude we show other people. Make sure your choice enriches others as well as yourself.
11. Have your own personal development plan
Start out each day with a few minutes of meditation on how you want to present yourself better to your co-workers. Have a list of areas you are trying to improve on.
This healthy mindset crowds out some of the rotten attitudes that can lead you to undermine the actions of others all day. Create a list of your personal improvement areas, and work on them daily.
12. Follow the Golden Rule
Finally, the famous Golden Rule is the most positive way to prevent petty issues from becoming relationship destroyers.
By simply taking the time to figure out how you would like to be treated if the roles were reversed, you will usually make the right choice for building and preserving great relationships.
Following these 12 tips will create a happier you and will mean that your interpersonal relationships will be much stronger in the future.
The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.
Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.
The title of this article came from a student in one of my online classes on Team Dynamics. He got the phrase from an “extraordinary” Chief Master Sergeant named Jim, currently serving at the Pentagon. I really love the phrase because it is so simple, yet so profound.
We are all familiar with some of the problems that occur when working in teams. In this article, I want to focus on the impact that can be made by a single person who is a misfit in the group and slows down all team progress.
I need to be careful to describe the phenomenon correctly. Normally, I am an advocate of having diversity of opinion and styles within a team. Reason: respectful differences in outlook or opinion are healthy because they usually lead to more creative and robust solutions.
If you have a team of clones who all think alike on most issues, you have a mono-culture that may seem to work well, but it will probably lead to myopic solutions. In general, having “different” people on a team is a good thing.
Unfortunately, we have all had the experience of being on a team where one individual simply stops forward progress on a regular basis. The root cause may be a personality deficiency or some kind of chemistry problem between members.
The person may become moody or bellicose and derail group processes at every opportunity. In rare cases there is an intent to stop the efforts of a team, sort of like a sport.
I am not writing about a person on the team who fills a Devil’s advocate role from time to time in order to prevent the group from slipping into a dangerous group think. Nor am I referring to the person with a concern or observation who voices it in a polite way.
The person I am describing is one who habitually takes a contrarian view and refuses to accept the fact that he or she is derailing conversation rather than fostering a balanced discussion.
I advocate that any team should have a written and agreed-upon set of expected behaviors. These statements indicate our agreement on how we will treat each other along with specific consequences for members who do not comply.
If peer pressure and body language fail to convince the person to stop the disruptive behavior, then it is time for the person’s manager to do some private coaching. Sometimes that can make at least a temporary improvement
However, some individuals just cannot or will not change. Stronger measures are required. The solution is rather obvious. The person needs to find some other way to get entertainment, and should be excused from the team.
This surgery is really “addition by subtraction.” Reason: once the problem person is removed, the entire team will breathe a sigh of relief, because now decisions and progress can occur more easily.
I recall removing a disruptive member of a team years ago. Grateful team members came to me with tears of gratitude in their eyes saying, “Oh thank you! Removing Frank from the team took some courage, but we are so grateful to have the ability to navigate without him. Life will be so much better for all of us because of your action.”
Removing a problem person from a team is often a painful process. Egos can get bruised or there may be an ugly scene. My advice is to take the action, but only after you have exhausted all remedial efforts.
Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations
Slouching is the opposite of sitting or standing erect. It is most often seen as a sign of tiredness or apathy, but there are many other things that can cause a person to slouch.
Be alert for other possible signals before assigning a meaning to a slouch.
Physically, there are a number of different types of slouches. When sitting, the slouch usually occurs when a person puts most of the weight on the lower spine rather than the buttocks. It comes across as half sitting and half lying down.
The slouch can also occur when sitting by leaning forward and holding the arms out to the side. A depressed person will sometimes assume this position.
When standing, the telltale sign of a slouch is forward-drooping shoulders rather than having the shoulders held high and pulled slightly backward. The slouching position forces the arms to dangle precariously from the shoulders in front of the body rather than at the sides.
This position is usually accompanied by sticking out the belly and pulling in the buttocks. The spine takes on a more pronounced curvature a little like the letter “S.”
There are several different meanings of a slouch, regardless of how it is done physically. Let’s take a closer look at conditions that typically cause people to slouch.
This gesture is a signal that the other person is so tired that he or she can hardly stay awake. The person is saying, “I just need to get some rest.”
Alternatively, the slouch can signal a negative reaction to another person or thing that is going on. The person is signaling that he or she just does not care. The slouch signals lack of alertness or interest.
A slouch can be caused by grief or extreme sorrow. If a person is in a personal crisis, you may see the slouch gesture as an indication of needing some help.
Slouching can also be a signal of boredom. Most people tend to slouch a bit when watching TV. It is a way to relax the body and just take things in without having to respond in any way.
Students will frequently slouch as a way to signal the teacher that they are bored with the topic and wish they could be doing something else.
You can frequently observe people slouching in the pews during a church service. In some churches the exact opposite is true; people are hopping up and down to upbeat music or sitting erect and fully engaged in the service with their hands in the air.
Some people have physical issues that cause them to slouch much of the time. There can be a number of medical causes for this condition that render the person nearly incapable of sitting or standing up straight.
For people with habitual slouches, there are some body braces that can help keep them erect. I have never worn one of those contraptions, and they don’t look very comfortable to me.
When you see a person who is slouching, first ascertain if the person is doing it most of the time or if it is triggered by something that is currently going on. That knowledge will help you interpret the most likely meaning of the slouch.
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.
Conflict brings out all kinds of body language that is rather easy to interpret. In this picture, we see one individual trying to make a point but the other person completely blocking out the information, at least on the surface.
There is a significant caution before I get into the analysis to follow. You cannot judge the totality of what is going on from a single picture or view of what is happening. The attached photo, may not tell the whole story.
One person is speaking in anger or frustration, and the other person is obviously shutting her out and rolling her eyes upward. It is clear that there is conflict going on, but it is not clear where, why, and how the conflict began. It probably predates this specific conversation.
Also, keep in mind that in any situation both parties are acting according to their own viewpoint of what is right to do. Each person is totally justified in her own mind, and each is frustrated.
When trying to assess what is going on in communication between individuals, you need a lot more background and information to figure out why each person is acting the way she is.
Is there a history of conflict between these two people? Does the speaker or listener have a history of conflict with others in the office? If a person habitually brings conflict to situations, others will not want to interact with her or will interact with her badly.
When a person is listening to another individual, he or she normally “attends” to the other person by looking at least in his direction and often making eye contact. There will also be some additional attending gestures such as head nodding or head tilting to indicate attention.
The listener may be day dreaming or totally focusing on what he or she is going to say next, but at least there is some attempt to look engaged in the conversation. There can be less overt ways a listener can show disinterest in the conversation. For example, the listener may start reading email on her phone or pick up a catalog and start leafing through it. Another common ploy is to just put a blank look on her face and show no emotion or connection to the conversation.
Occasionally, you will run into an individual such as in the picture who has no intention of listening and tries to show it as graphically as possible. Here we see the woman actually blocking eye contact with her hand and making a sarcastic eye roll to enhance the signal. She clearly does not want to listen, and the situation between the two people has escalated to a point where she has no qualms about sending strong signals.
When a listener withdraws, it can be a clue that the person does not feel safe in the situation or with the person who is speaking. The body language is defensive and may be a way of protecting the person from harsh or demeaning words.
Another reason for withdrawal may be that the listener knows from experience that the interchange will not be positive or productive. Negative interchanges can have long term repercussions.
Whatever the outward signal, if the listener is showing little interest in the input, it is best to think broadly about why you are getting this behavior or just go mute. As long as you are droning on, the listener is free to show absolutely no interest in what you have to say. Keep in mind that what the other person wanted you to do in the first place was shut up, so the awkward silence may get extremely long.
If the speaker is one who creates conflict and the listener wants to avoid it, there is probably nothing the listener can say that will be accepted by the speaker, so the listener has no real incentive to say anything.
One thing to avoid is saying something like “Why don’t you look at me when I am speaking to you?” A question like that can be interpreted as threatening. The same problem occurs with talking louder or faster. These actions will not remedy the situation, and they can even make the situation worse.
Situations like this point to larger or ongoing problems that have resulted in a lack of trust between people. The trust level needs to be addressed before open and meaningful communications can begin. It is wise for both people to think back on the progression of the relationship that brought them to this point.
Either person can act to improve the situation. Either can say, “It seems like we are not communicating well. I don’t want to be in conflict with you. What can we do to repair this situation?” However, if there is a persistent instigator of conflict, that is the person who has the most responsibility to repair the relationship and rebuild trust. The other person may have tried many things in the past to reach out or express herself, was shut down, and now has given up.
Each person needs to examine her contribution to the ongoing issues.
Obviously a good, constructive conversation requires that both parties participate roughly equally. If the speaker does not let the listener respond, it is not a real conversation and creates a breach of trust. If the listener withdraws from the beginning, even if it is a result of prior bad experiences, it does nothing to heal the relationship.
Bilateral trust is vital for mature conversation. When you run into a situation like the ones described above, don’t try to badger the other person into paying attention, and if you are the person listening, don’t withdraw. Work through the issues that you have. Investigate what may be causing the issues, talk it through, and and try to rebuild trust. It can take time, but reestablishing an environment of trust is well worth the effort for both people and the entire organization.
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.