Body Language 77 Compassion

May 4, 2020

When a person is expressing compassion, what are the typical body language gestures you are likely to see that go with the emotion?

The most recognizable signs are a pleasant facial expression with perhaps a tinge of concern and slow gracious hand gestures. Let’s pick apart the various signals to clarify what makes them unique to compassion.

The first part of the article will be about recognizing a person who is showing compassion. After that, I will deal with ways we can show compassion to others and some traps to avoid.

Keep in mind that the body language signals of a person showing compassion will be highly influenced by what is causing the person to feel compassionate. If it is responding to another person, or even a family pet, who is hurting, the gestures will be similar to those of empathy. If the person showing compassion is simply listening to another person gripe, the gestures will be more consistent with patience.

The face

The person’s eyes will be soft with no hint of agitation. The eyebrows will be neither raised nor furrowed. They will be in a natural and neutral position. Alternatively, the corrugator muscles may pull the eyebrows in and up, thus giving the appearance of some concern. This configuration can easily be confused as sadness, because sad eyes have the same look.

The mouth may have a slight smile, or at least not a frown. The cheeks will be high, and the entire face will show an expression of a person who is listening. A compassionate person is in a heightened state of awareness and connectivity with the other person. Depending on the circumstances, the lips may be pressed together in sympathy.

Head

The head will either be erect or slightly tilted downward. If the person is in a listening mode, you will probably notice good following skills such as frequent head nodding. You may also witness a slow shaking of the head from side to side as an indication that the person is finding the pain of another hard to comprehend.

Hand gestures

There are many different hand gestures that go along with compassion depending on the situation. The person might put fingers to the mouth in contemplation.

You might see arms extended with both palms facing upward and the fingers slightly curled. This is a signal of openness and caring. You would not see closed fists as a way to express compassion.

Touching rituals

For people who know each other well, there may be a hand placed on the forearm of the other person as an indication of support. Keep in mind that in all circumstances, it is wise to refrain from any physical contact other than shaking hands (and even that is off limits in a pandemic situation) unless you know the other person very well.

You might witness a compassionate person holding both hands of a loved one in front of the sternum.

I recall having a painful bicycle accident as a youth, and my mother rushed to my side and gave me the kind of hug that only a mother can. It was very comforting to know that she felt my pain. I believe that mothers are the most compassionate people in the world, and they have a way of expressing it that is unmistakable.

Relation to trust

It is hard to show true compassion to a person who you do not trust at all. On the flip side, extending trust to another person is a great way to demonstrate compassion and build higher trust with that person for the future. It goes along with what I call the “First Law of Trust,” which is “if you are not satisfied with the level of trust you are receiving from other people, you need to show more trust in them.” Trust is a reciprocal phenomenon.

Recognize that compassion is not something that can be faked. You can extend trust, but you cannot convey compassion unless it is genuine.

When a person is ill

Compassion shows up as a frequent gesture when people visit someone who is in the hospital. In this case, the individual is usually in bed and the person showing compassion will sit in a chair next to the bed to listen and offer comfort.

Nurses and other medical personnel will go about their duties but with a kind and soothing flow that indicates respect and empathy.

Summary

The gestures for showing compassion are significantly influenced by the circumstances going on as well as the relationship between the two people. There are many different expressions that can show compassion and empathy. To obtain an accurate reading of the gestures, look for a cluster of signals that all point in the same direction.

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



Wait Your Turn

February 21, 2015

Businessman pointing at his watchEver since we were children we have had to wait our turn. The world is filled with individuals who all have needs, and the services available to attend to those needs are pitifully inadequate to meet them all at once.

Hence, the need for a cue and a triage process. Hospitals deal with this problem every hour of every day. The decision process is complex, but the hospitals are used to the routine and do it by rote.

Other institutions handle the problem of priority with varying degrees of skill. For example, some nursing homes are quite good at assessing the needs of the individuals.

Unfortunately, many of them are so understaffed, the residents often feel abused when they have a personal need and have to wait long periods for assistance.

Attempts to gain higher priority by several different methods, like calling out every 15 seconds, usually backfire and put that person lower on the priority list than those who humbly wait.

For the person waiting, it seems so unfair and annoying. I learned that lesson when I was in High School.

One cold winter night, I had finished my homework and decided to take a hot bath before going to bed. My Dad was out of town on business, and my Mom was out at an art class.

No problem; I was 17 years old. I got in the hot tub and gleefully soaked for as long as I could stand. Then I got out of the tub to dry off.

I remember grabbing the towel, then immediately blacked out from the lack of oxygen. The next conscious moment, I was on the floor of the bathroom with blood all over the place.

I had fallen, hitting my chin on the tub resulting in a gaping cut that would require stitches for sure.

I called the place where Mom was taking her art class and told them to send her home for an “emergency.”

Can you imagine how cruel that was to do to my mother? She had no idea what the emergency was!

She came screaming home and transported me to the emergency room of the hospital several blocks from our home. I sat in the waiting room of the hospital for over an hour with a towel to sop up the blood.

They took me into the triage room and started to work on me. Then, it seemed that the attention went elsewhere. There was a bunch of activity in the room next to me and all of the staff was called over there.

I was very upset because I had to wait longer to get treatment. After another hour, they came back and stitched me up.

When I complained, they told me that a man was brought in with a heart attack, and he died. It turned out that the man was the father of one of my friends.

Ten minutes earlier I was feeling sorry for myself, and now I realized my problem was nothing compared to what was going on just a few feet down the hall.

That was a memorable moment for me.

Never assume you know the full extent of the load on service providers and be patient when other people are getting attention.