Leadership Barometer 44 Rapport

March 29, 2020

 

We all know that the first few seconds when meeting a new person or client are critical to the relationship.

Malcolm Gladwell referred to the “thin slices” of meaning we interpret subconsciously when meeting someone new. His contention is that a relationship is basically established after just a few seconds, so it is important to know what to do and what to avoid doing in this critical period.

While we know the vital importance of body language and tone of voice, few of us have received any formal training on what things to do and to avoid to maximize the potential for good rapport and trust.

The overarching objective is to let your natural personality and essence shine through as well as be sincerely interested in learning the qualities of the other person. This means making sure all the signals you send are congruent with your true nature and being alert for the full range of signals being sent by the other person.

While there are entire books on this topic, I wanted to share six things to do and six things to avoid from my own experience and background.
Note these items are somewhat mechanical in nature. They are not intended to replace the good judgment in any instance but are offered as tips that can help in most cases.

Things to do:

1. Be yourself

Trying to force yourself into a mold that is not your natural state will not translate well. Regardless of your effort, you will unwittingly send ambiguous signals that will subconsciously be perceived as you trying too hard to establish rapport.

2. Shake hands (assuming you are not in the middle of a pandemic).

In most cultures, the hand shake is the touch ritual that conveys major content about both individuals.
Each person is sending and receiving signals on several different levels in the few moments it takes to shake hands.

Learn how to do it right, and do it with the right attitude. The handshake should project what is in your heart.

Note, there are many myths about handshakes. For example, a “firm” handshake has historically been thought to send a signal of competence and power.
If the firmness is amplified to a bone-crushing clamp, it actually sends a signal that the crusher is insecure, because why else would someone crush a hand unless he thought it was necessary to appear powerful.

Remember this simple rule of thumb, if the person can feel the handshake after it is over, you have gone too far.

3. Make good eye contact

We communicate at many levels with our eyes. It is important to really see the other person in a natural and pleasing way.
Here is a tip about eye contact while shaking hands. Try to see through the eyes into the soul of the person you are meeting. Inside the other person’s head is a wonderland of possibilities, and the window to that information is first through the eyes.

4. Smile

Make sure it is appropriate to smile (although sometimes a somber expression is more appropriate – like at a funeral). The caveat here is that the smile must be genuine, not phony.

Learn to smile from the eyes by picturing an oval from your eyebrows to your lips. Show your teeth, if they are in good shape. This really helps the warmth of a smile.

Be sure to maintain eye contact while you are smiling. The peripheral vision of the other person will allow him or her to appreciate the smile. Consider the duration of the smile, because too short or too long of a smile can send mixed signals.

5. Give a genuine greeting

Most people say “how are you” or “nice to meet you.” Those greetings are not bad, but they do pass over an opportunity to show real enthusiasm for meeting the other person. Reason: these greetings are perfunctory and overused.

They accomplish the greeting mechanically, but they do not establish a high emotional engagement.

You might try a variant like “I am excited to meet you” or “how wonderful to meet you.” Be careful to not get sappy: see caveat number five in the second list below.

6. Ask the other person a question

The typical and easiest thing to do is say “tell me about yourself,” but you only would use that if there was adequate time for the individual to take you from grade school to the rest home.

A better approach is to consider the environment around the person. There will be a clue as to what the other person might be experiencing at that moment. If you link in to the emotion with a question that draws out the other person, you have established dialog that is constructive.

For example, if you meet a person in a hotel lobby who is dragging two suitcases with his left hand, you might say while shaking the right hand, “have you been traveling all day?” or “can I help you with one of your bags?”

Doing these six things will set you up for a good first impression provided they are consistent with the situation and your persona, but there are extensions of these same six things that should be avoided or you may blow the opportunity.


Things to avoid:

1. Do not work too hard

Other people will instantly recognize at a gut level if you are putting on an act to impress them. If your natural tendency is to be a slap happy kind of salesman when meeting people, try to turn down the volume on that part while maintaining a cheerful nature.

2. One handed shakes only

The two-handed shake, known as the “politician’s handshake,” is too invasive for a first meeting. It will cause the other person to emotionally retreat as a defense mechanism.

It gives the impression that you are trying to reel in a big fish. Speaking of fish, also avoid the dead fish handshake. A firmly-flexed vertical hand with medium modulation is the best approach.

Be sensitive to the fact that some people avoid handshakes due to physical reasons and do not force the issue or embarrass the person.

Other than the handshake, there should be absolutely no touching of any other part of the body. This means, do not grab the elbow as you walk toward the elevator, do not put your hand on or playfully punch the shoulder of the other person, even if he is a “good guy.”

Obviously, stay away from touching the legs or knees of any other person when sitting.

3. Avoid too much eye contact

Anything over 70% of eye contact during the first few minutes will cause great anxiety in the other person. A fixed gaze will send signals that are ambiguous at best and threatening at worst.

The best approach is to lock eyes for a few seconds, then move your gaze on something else, perhaps a lapel pin or name tag, then return eye contact for a few seconds more.

If you are a male meeting a female, avoid giving the up and down “checking her out” pattern, as most women find that highly offensive.

Another caveat with eye contact is to avoid looking around the room during the first moments of meeting another person.

Make sure the person recognizes you are focused 100% on him or her, even if the timing is fleeting.

4. Do not smile as if you are holding back gas

If you try to force a smile, it will look as phony as a bad toupee. If you have a problem warming up to a new person with a genuine smile, try envisioning the person as having a check for a million dollars in her purse that she is about to give you.

In reality she may have things inside her head that could be worth much more than a million dollars to you. Consider that possibility and be genuinely happy to meet the person. It will show on your face.

Do not go over the top with enthusiasm in your greeting – The greeting must come straight from the heart to send the signal you want. Your greeting should not gush or be drawn out like an Academy Award performance like, “Oh darling, how simply marvelous to meet you” – kissy kissy. You could make the other person want to vomit.

5. Avoid talking about yourself
Hold up on discussing your interests until cued by the other person. The natural tendency is to think in terms of this new person’s relationship to your world.
Try to reverse this logic and think about wanting to know more about his or her world, so you can link in emotionally to the other person’s thoughts.

If you ask two or three questions of the other person, he or she will eventually ask a question about you.

6. Listen more and talk less

Try to keep the ratio of listening versus talking to roughly 70-30% with the weight of your attention on listening. The highest rated conversationalists are the ones who say the fewest number of words.

By doing the six steps I have outlined while avoiding the extremes on the second list, you will have a good start to a new relationship. You will have planted the seeds of trust well. After that, you need to nurture the relationship continually to allow the seeds to grow to maturity.

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.























Body Language 72 Exasperation or Rage

March 20, 2020

When someone is completely exasperated or enraged, it is usually easy to tell. The body language gestures are rather specific and well known.

Rage is an extreme form of anger that has a special category because the person experiencing it nearly loses all control of her body. The extreme gestures of exasperation or rage are usually short lived and give way to more typical expressions of anger.

Here are a few things to look out for when dealing with an exasperated person.

Puffed out Cheeks

The genesis of this gesture is an exhale but with a closed mouth so the cheeks puff out. Of course, the steam coming out of her ears is imagined, but the look is unmistakable. This person is really upset.

Followed by open mouth with verbal gasp

The mouth opens and the person shows her teeth as she either screams or just gasps. The connotation here is that whatever happened to her is so extreme that she cannot imaging how to contain her anger and finds it hard to find adequate words to describe the situation rationally.

Hand gestures

With a person who is exasperated, the hands are usually involved in the body language. Usually you will see both hands extended in front of the sternum with fingers rigidly curved as if the person is holding two invisible grapefruits. This symbolic gesture is a visual signal that the exasperated person needs to be restrained so as to not strangle the person causing her the angst.

Hands to face

The secondary gesture may also include hands to the face. The person would put both hands to her cheeks as she tries to restrain herself. Another form would have the person putting her hands on the top of her forehead as if she is trying to keep her skull from exploding due to the extreme pressure.

Eyes, eyebrows, and neck

The most common gesture with the eyes and eyebrows is a furrowing of the brows to reflect anger.

Another common gesture is a complete wide-eyed show of rage. A person who is totally enraged may have bulging eyes that look like they are about to pop out of the face.

You may also see obvious bulging ligaments in the neck, which is a common occurrence with rage.

An exasperated person will often roll her eyes in disbelief. It is like she is saying “How can you be so stupid?”

Pointing

If the object of her anger is right there, you may see pointing with the index finger or a rigid vertical hand as she starts to verbalize what is upsetting her so much.

What to do when another person shows exasperation

People at this extreme need space to come to grips with what is going on inside. They need to feel heard, even if that cannot say a word. They often need time before they can speak. They are also looking for some form of response, but you need to be careful how you respond.

The first thing to do is not escalate the situation by mirroring the body language of the person expressing rage. Remain calm and let the other person blow off the initial steam without any comment. In this moment, it is so tempting to fight back, but that almost always makes things worse.

Think about being kind and caring at this moment. Don’t brush aside the whole thing, but also try to not appear condescending. Do not belittle her for losing control. Let the enraged person have her full say and consider carefully what response would de-escalate the situation.

By remaining calm, you take the fuel away from the anger of the exasperated person, but recognize that in some circumstances remaining calm can further enrage the person, so you need to read the body language accurately to know how to respond. It may be helpful to allow a cooling off period before trying to make a difference.

Once the person has regained composure, ask open ended questions to draw her out. Once she has expressed the root cause of the problem, then she may be able to hear and consider some ideas for how to move forward.

I think it helps to acknowledge the other person’s situation and show as much empathy as you can, once you are convinced the person is ready for dialog. If the situation were reversed, you might have had a similar reaction. By this method you can talk the other person down to earth and begin a constructive conversation of how to address the problem in a mature and rational way.

These actions will form a basis to start rebuilding trust with the other person. It may be a long way back to full trust, but you have to start with the proper baby steps.

Things to avoid doing

Do not go on the defensive or walk out. Do not attack or blame the person experiencing exasperation or rage. Refrain from snide remarks or making character assassinations.

Do not block the other person from expressing herself. Do not bully her into talking if she is not yet ready to talk. Don’t crowd the person; give her space. Refrain from dismissing the person.

The other side of the equation

The other side is what is going on inside the person who is witnessing the rage of another person. Someone expressing rage may be a trigger to those who have been abused in prior situations with someone else, like a parent or abusive spouse. A set of coping mechanisms may kick in as needed.

For example, the person may completely withdraw as a means of physical protection or experience genuine terror. If she was the potential trigger for the rage she is seeing, then strong feelings of guilt or shame may surface.

Both parties must use good judgment to de-escalate the situation and regain control. Once the situation has stopped boiling over, it is a good idea to debrief the flare up to identify things to do in the future that will prevent a recurrence. If done with sensitivity and kindness, the ugly incident may become the foundation for building higher trust between the individuals involved.

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


Body Language 44 Comfort

September 7, 2019

We have all played the role of comforter at times in our lives. There are a number of body language considerations as we perform this important function.

The first rule when trying to comfort another person is to put on your figurative “listening hat.” Keep your ears open and your mouth shut.

Listen more than talk

It is annoying for a hurting person to get a few sentences into describing her pain only to hear, “Oh I have experienced that as well; my aunt did that to me just last month.”

If you are to provide comfort, try to have your output to input ratio be something closer to 10%, at least until the person has had the opportunity to tell the full story.

Use reflective listening where you let the other person know you are following the points closely with your following skills and an occasional natural reflection to indicate your understanding.

There is a caveat here. Most people believe they use reflective listening well, but they are actually clumsy with too many or poorly-timed reflections. Rather than help, poor listening actually makes matters worse by annoying the other person.

Touching

Touching the other person is often a way to provide some comfort, but obviously there are a host of caveats about using that technique. You have to use judgment and consider whether the other person would rather not be touched.

One possible way to analyze the situation is a derivative from the Golden Rule. Would you want to be touched by the other person if the roles were reversed? This idea is far from bullet proof, but it may provide some insight.

Touching may be effective with family or very close friends, but be extremely conservative with touching in a professional setting. Basically, don’t do it if you want to be safe.

Also, observe the overall body language as you approach the hurting person. If the individual pulls back, even in a slight way, it would be better to not use the comfort of touch, at least at that particular time.

Don’t preach

This is not a time for the comforter to spout out platitudes of what might seem helpful to him or her. That kind of advice may be appropriate at some future time, but when the individual is hurting, he or she is in no mood for a sermon.

Seek to understand and empathize

By listening intently and asking questions, you can get the idea of what is causing the problem, but it is best if the hurting person comes up with what to do about it. Sometimes in an effort to be helpful, people will become prescriptive, and that often comes across as being pushy. It is better to ask occasional questions for clarification.

Ask open ended questions

Try to avoid asking a question that can be answered by a simple “yes” or “no.” For example, if you ask “Has this happened to you more than once in the past week?” the person could just say “yes.” Instead ask, “How often have you experienced this, and what did it feel like?”

Let the other person “come to you”

It is obvious that the other person needs some comfort, and since you are there it is only natural to try and help. Let the other person come to you when he or she is ready for your help.

Playing the role of comforter is essential, and we have all done it at times. Recognize that to do this task successfully requires great tact and skill. Take your cues from the person who is hurting, and let that person have the floor most of the time.

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.TheTrust 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.


Is Transparency Situational?

May 18, 2013

TranspaarencyOne of the buzzwords for Organizational Development these days is “transparency.” The concept is that organizations can gain higher trust with all stakeholders if they are more open and less secretive. The correlation between higher trust, which also means better performance, and greater transparency has been well documented.

A great book on this topic is “Transparency,” by Warren Bennis, Daniel Goleman, and James O’Toole (2008). The authors make the case that creating a culture of greater candor improves performance by fostering higher trust. Bennis even extends the argument by pointing out that in today’s networked environment, transparency is going to happen even if leaders try to hide the truth, so they would be foolish to even try to be secretive.

Transparency makes a great discussion, because we are all aware that total transparency is not always a good thing. There are many times in life when not saying what you think will produce a better outcome. For those who would like some evidence, consider the TV advertisement where a man is reading the newspaper at the kitchen table. His wife comes into the room behind him so that he cannot see her. She is wearing a red dress that is three sizes too small for her, and she is bulging all over. She asks, “Honey, does this dress make me look fat?” Without looking away from the paper or toward her at all, he immediately replies, “You-betcha.” The response was good for transparency, but not too smart for the relationship. The ad was cute, but it was a marketing flop, because I cannot recall the product they were selling.

In an extreme case, like above, it is easy to tell when transparency is not wise, yet most of us would agree that more transparency in the corporate world would improve conditions. So, what are the rules for telling when it is better to keep things to yourself rather than blurt them out. Here are seven factors that can tip you off that it is perhaps better to not be transparent on a specific issue.

1. If the statement is unkind or cruel

Thinking a negative thought about another person or situation is a common occurrence. When we share that thought without regard to the feelings of another person, we run the risk of destroying rather than enhancing the relationship. Try to use the Golden Rule as a guide when to share improvement opportunities or observations that might be edgy.

2. If the statement is illegal

There are times when it is against the law to share some information. In the corporate world, this happens when the valuation of an organization might be materially altered if the information became common knowledge. Suppose an organization was considering a merger with another company. It would be illegal to talk about it ahead of time, so transparency in this case would be inappropriate.

3. If the statement is dumb

Consider a negotiation for a new contract. You know that your company would settle for $100,000. The other organization offers $150,000. A transparent response would be, “Well, that is acceptable because we were willing to go as low as $100,000.” Most of us would agree that kind of transparency is just dumb.

4. If other people do not want to know

Some individuals blab out their thoughts and feelings constantly, even when other people have no desire to hear them. If you are speaking, and people roll their eyes when you say, “Well, I think that…bla, bla, bla,” then you know that nobody really cares what you think about the subject, and it is better to keep it to yourself. Watch the body language of other people when you are being transparent to detect when you are going too far.

5. If you are being combative

Some people like to argue over numerous petty things. It is like a sport sometimes. This habit of sharing feelings in order to score points gets old quickly after people reach the saturation point. We used to call a person like this a PITA (stands for “pain in the rear”).

6. In times of a crisis

There are some situations where blurting out the full truth would cause a panic situation. I can recall one time being a waiter in a restaurant, and we discovered that a busboy had inadvertently put gasoline rather than kerosene into the glass table lamps. When the discovery was made, all of the lamps had been lit and were burning, so we decided to calmly remove the lamps one by one and replace the gasoline with kerosene out in the parking lot. We completed the work quickly and efficiently, and the diners were never aware of a problem at all. It was a calculated risk that might have backfired, but we figured if the lamps were working well when we discovered the problem, they would continue to work while we swapped them out. An alternative approach to be transparent and order everyone out of the building immediately may have resulted in one or more lamps being tipped over in the rush to get out, which could have caused loss of life and the entire building.

7. When the truth would do more harm than good

This is a delicate one that comes up from time to time in medical situations. Suppose there is an airplane crash, and you were a medical person tending a mother who was dying and had only a few minutes to live. She asks you if her son survived the crash. You suspect the son has died, but are not sure. You allow the mother to have more peace in her own death by saying, “We hope to be able to save him.” The fully transparent answer would be “We are pretty sure he is dead,” but the more humane response at least lets the woman have a little more hope in her final minutes.

In this analysis, I have gone from the obvious situations where being transparent is not the best approach to highly delicate conditions that call for instant value judgments and are quite subjective. If we move back to a corporate discussion, the observation is that most organizations would be better off by being more rather than less transparent. Let’s look at a classic example to illustrate the point: the announcement of a future layoff.

The senior leaders have decided that a layoff is needed to contain costs during a time of a substantial business downturn. They argue among themselves whether to announce the lay off in advance or wait until the day impacted people will have to leave. The argument for advanced warning is that people will have time to look for alternate work while they still have jobs. The argument for not announcing early is that there could be sabotage among people, and that since only 20% of people will be affected, why upset 100% of the employees. This kind of discussion goes on frequently in organizations, especially during difficult times.

While there is no “right” answer that is correct in all cases, I maintain that the more open approach will have a better result for most situations. There are three reasons for this:

1 ) When people are treated like adults who can take bad news and deal with it, they are more likely to remain calm and rational than if they are treated like children who must be sheltered from the truth.

2) If people are given time to find a better pathway to the future rather than mouse-trapped by an immediate layoff, they are generally grateful.

3) It allows for open cross training for the people who have to backfill.

The issue of transparency is an interesting one, because it is clear that always being totally transparent is not a good approach and having a totally secret approach is also stupid. Somewhere in the middle there are intelligent choices, and it is up to leaders to make the right ones for the situations at hand.