Body Language 81 Search Me

June 29, 2020

There are many gestures that indicate a person doesn’t know. The verbal phrase might be “search me” but the body language gestures are unmistakable.

Arms and hands

The most common gestures involve the arms. As in the attached picture, the woman is holding her arms out with palms up. There are several variations of this gesture but they all involve palms up and the shoulders somewhat raised. It may manifest itself with a shrug.

The hands can be level as in this picture or they may be uneven due to one shoulder being much higher than the other.

Another common gesture with the arms and hands is to have one arm across the stomach causing a kind of shelf on which the opposite elbow is propped with a finger either on the chin, cheek, or even in the mouth with a biting expression.

Facial expression

The usual facial expression to go along with the hand gestures is one of slight confusion. The mouth will be shut or sometimes it will be pulled to one side indicating the person is thinking. The eyes are normally wide open and the eyebrows will be high.

Alternatively, the eyes might be looking to the side as if the person is looking for some clue or playing a kind of guessing game with you.

General posture

In most cases when you see this gesture the person will be standing. It is possible to show it while seated, but it is far less common.

What to do

When you see this expression, you need to take the circumstances into account. If the person was just asked which movie she wanted to see, the connotation would mean that she really does not care. On the other hand, if she was asked about a new technology, it may mean she really does not know.

In either case, the best response is to get the person to talk. The gesture itself is clear, but the resolution needs to come through dialog. Avoid a mirroring gesture when you see these things. Instead, offer specific alternatives to help the person verbalize a preference.


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



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 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 33 Mirroring

June 22, 2019

You have probably noticed that people have a tendency to mirror or mimic the mannerisms of other people, particularly if they are interested in the conversation.

For example, you may be chatting with another person at a table and realize that you have folded your hands in the same way the other person has already done. You did not make this move consciously, but the mirrored configuration happened by instinct.

Mirroring can be a very powerful force. Let me share a real example to see if it works for you. If I use the word “yawn” in this article, some percentage of the readers will find themselves yawning within a minute. See if you are one of them. Did I bait you?

The most common form of mirroring is a smile, You will instinctively smile at a person who smiles at you. Try this experiment next time you are walking down a hallway. As you pass a person, show a smile and see that in most cases the person you smiled at will return the smile to you.

According to Psychologia, the mirroring is primarily caused by a neuron that affects part of the brain. That neuron causes you to mimic the facial expression you see in others. The gesture shows affinity for the other person and is a way of bonding. Mirroring is a way of controlling your mood.

You can change your mood simply by thinking thoughts consistent with the desired state. If you smile and think you are happy, it will tend to cheer you up.

If you feel deep anger, chances are that emotion is becoming evident on your face. Likewise, if you think successful thoughts, you have a tendency to move in the direction of higher success.

The science is called Psycho-Cybernetics as described in the book by the same name by Maxwell Maltz in 1960. He described techniques to develop positive inner feelings as a means to enable positive outcomes. Another common way of expressing the phenomenon is “fake it till you make it.”

Try another test. Next time you are discussing something with a friend, try steepling your hands by having fingers together and palms apart. You should notice that you feel more confident about what you are saying. That is because steepling is a means to show confidence or even superiority.

Mirroring occurs in voice mimicking as well as body positions. You can observe people modifying the volume, cadence, and even accents to match the person the other person. It can be a great way to develop rapport and trust, but there is a major precaution.

You have to be careful with mirroring, because if you do it consciously, you will likely overdo it, and you will annoy the other person. If you have ever been on the receiving end of someone trying too hard to mirror you, then you know how exhasperating it can be.

The best approach with mirroring is to observe it in others, but let your subconscious do the mirroring for you. It will be more natural then and will likely be well accepted.

As you go about your daily routine, try to count the number of times you see people mirroring other people. If you count accurately, you may be astonished at the number of times you see this type of gesturing.

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. 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