Body Language 68 Shock

February 21, 2020

The differences between facial expressions indicating shock versus those of surprise or fatigue are small.

In this article I will discuss my take on how you can tell these three emotions apart from the shape of the open mouth, along with other cues that point to a specific emotion.

When a person is experiencing shock, the mouth goes wide open, as in the accompanying picture. The mouth is open and makes the shape of the letter “O.” The eyes are generally wide open to the fullest extent and the eyebrows and forehead are pulled up as much as is humanly possible.

This is the classic look of a person who is in shock. I believe there is a difference between a shocked facial expression and one of a person who is surprised. Often a surprise is something that is happy to the person, so I would look for more of a smile while still having the mouth full open.

The second picture conveys the emotion of surprise better than the first one, at least in my mind. Her mouth is open, but there is definite smile involved.

Notice that the person is showing her teeth whereas the person in shock will tend to not show teeth. Of course, the surprise could be something negative, but that happens in a minority of cases.

With a negative surprise, there would still be an open mouth, but the expression would resemble more of a frown. That is actually pretty rare.

If you look up pictures for the emotion of surprise, you will see that nearly all of them are showing a smile, and the majority of them have hands to the face in some way: often holding a cheek or even both cheeks.

In the case of fatigue, you also see a wide open mouth, but with a yawn the hand is usually attempting to cover the mouth and the eyes are shut tight, whereas with surprise or shock the eyes are fully open.

A yawn can originate in different ways.  Often it is a form of mirroring the gestures of others.

I am sure we have all caught ourselves yawning immediately after another person has done the same thing.

Another cause for a yawn is insecurity or doubt.  If we are anxious about something, we will tend to yawn a lot more. Notice yourself yawning while sitting in the waiting room at the dentist.

With all three of these gestures, the mouth is wide open, but the ancilliary cues give us enough information to interpret the emotion correctly.

What is of interest here is that you need to assemble various bits of data in real time and put together a mosaic of the cluster of signals to interpret an expression accurately.

Several different emotions involve an open mouth, so you need more data than just that fact to understand what the person is experiencing.

The last statement holds true for all types of body language gestures. The particular one in this article is a case in point how slight differences can mean entirely different things, and you need to be alert to look at the whole picture.

There are two ways you can use this information professionally. First, you can ask the right questions based on an accurate reading of the other person’s emotions.

For example, you might ask, “Why do you find that statement to be shocking?” Alternatively, if you see a smile in connection with a wide open mouth, you might ask “What about what I just said is surprising to you?”

A second way you can use this information is to make note of your own body language in specific circumstances. Are you confusing other people when you yawn as opposed to reacting with surprise?

In other words, keep track of how accurately you convey your true emotions with your gestures.

In every case, you need to use Emotional Intelligence to make an appropriate reflection of how you are interpreting the gestures. Doing that will enhance the trust other people put in you and thereby strengthen your relationships.

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


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