Body Language 54 Doubt

November 16, 2019

The physical manifestations of doubt are pretty easy to spot. We have a special way of contorting our face and upper torso to convey the message.

This kind of analysis is very much culturally specific, as are many body language gestures. This article is focused on facial and upper torso expressions of doubt in a Western Society.

We need to pay close attention when we see signs of doubt, because it has a direct impact on the trust between people. I will describe some tips to use at the end of this article.

While the facial postures below may be observed in association with various other emotions in some circumstances, these are the ones that are typically involved with an expression of doubt. When you see many of these gestures at the same time in a cluster, it sends a strong message conveying doubt by the person doing them.

Eyebrows

Typically, you will see one eyebrow up and the other normal or slightly down (if the doubt has a tinge of anger associated with it). Sometimes both eyebrows can be raised at the same time. That would normally signal surprise along with doubt.

If both eyebrows are down and furrowed, that indicates anger or frustration with some amount of doubt.

Forehead

The forehead of a person who is experiencing doubt will often be wrinkled, especially if the eyebrows are raised.

Head Tilted

Usually the head will be slightly tilted for a person who is experiencing doubt. The gesture goes along with a pondering stance that suggests analysis on the part of the person with feelings of doubt. You will rarely see a doubtful person with a completely erect head.

Eyes

For a person who is experiencing doubt, the eyes are usually looking to the side, and often upward. The connotation is that the person is trying to reason something but cannot reconcile it in his or her mind. The eyes looking sideways and upward indicate mental activity trying to rationalize what is going on.

Nose

The nose is neutral when a person is in doubt. For example, you will not see a person wrinkle his nose as part of this gesture. If you see that, the other person is likely experiencing some form of disgust along with the doubt.

Mouth

There is a lot going on with the mouth for a person in doubt. Most likely you will see the mouth pulled slightly to one side. The mouth may be open, showing teeth, or completely closed. If the upper lip is curled up, then the doubt is usually accompanied by some disgust or distrust.

The corners of the mouth may be down as a sign of bewilderment or negative feelings about what is going on.

Chin

If the doubt is a part of puzzlement, then the chin is often stroked or grabbed by one hand.

Hands

Sometimes you can see the hands held up with palms up to either side of the body. The connotation there is “what the heck is going on?”

The gestures associated with doubt are numerous and usually easy to decode. Look for a cluster of the ones mentioned above. When you see it in a Western Society, you can be pretty sure the person is having feelings of doubt.

What to do

If you see this cluster of gestures, do not just ignore it. Instead, try to gently understand the genesis of the concern. Ask open-ended questions that will give the other person a safe way to describe what is bothering him or her. Listen carefully to the response, and do not try to correct the person on the spot.

Ponder the input and see if you can create a helpful discussion about what alternative approaches might have led to a different outcome. Thank the person sincerely for sharing some insight about what you did that you might not have known otherwise.

These sincere opportunities for closure can go a long way toward making a large trust deposit with the other person. Congratulations! You took a negative situation and turned it into a trust-building moment between you and the other person.

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


Body Language 21 The Mouth

March 30, 2019

Body language gestures of the mouth are usually straightforward, but there are some tricky nuances to consider. First we will consider the most recognizable gesture: the smile. Actually, there are many different types of smiles to identify.

Smiles

Duchenne Smile – This is a highly recognizable smile, but only a small portion of the population can model it well. The smile actually starts with the eyes. You can see a twinkle in the eye and a slight but natural squint that produces crow’s feet at the corners. The cheeks are elevated and the entire face, including the mouth takes the shape of an oval.

The corners of the mouth are raised through the Zygomatic Major Muscle. Those people who can accomplish a Duchenne Smile have a huge advantage, because trying to force the face to this configuration often looks phony as described below.

Non-Duchenne Smile – this is where the mouth forms a shape by raising the corners of the mouth through the Zygomatic Major muscle but without the effect of “smiling eyes.” The smile is confined to the mouth region only, so it does not have the holistic appearance of a true Duchenne Smile and often is interpreted as being duplicitous or at least insincere.

The Botox Smile – This smile looks pasted on and is perfunctory for service people who wish to look pleasant but it comes across as insincere. It is also known as the “Pan Am” smile after flight attendants who were instructed to flash a pasted-on smile at each customer. This smile is also seen on the faces of beauty pageant contestants while they are being judged. My friend Jeanne Robertson has a whole comedy routine about how she learned to smile continuously while competing in the Miss America Pageant.

Tight Lipped Smile – As the name implies, this smile is characterized by not showing any teeth. Depending on the circumstance, this smile can convey approval or precaution. According to Bill Acheson in “Advanced Body Language,” one cardinal rule when meeting a person for the first time is to smile naturally but make it broad enough that you show your teeth. He explains that the custom is a carry over from when the condition of a person’s teeth was an indication of health and status.

Pulled Smile – also know as the “smug smile” this is where the mouth is pulled to a smile configuration, but on one side only. Generally, this configuration suggests some form of agenda going on, and it is not a smile that invites high trust in the individual. The extreme form of a pulled smile was demonstrated by McKayla Maroney in the 2012 Olympics when she was awarded the silver medal in the vault. She contorted her face pulling her mouth entirely to one side to indicate she was “not impressed” with the performance of the other gymnasts or the judges. This contorted smile was made into a meme that became a PR issue.

Laughing Smile – Occasionally you will see a person make a smile with his or her mouth wide open. This is known in some circles as the “Marilyn Monroe” smile. It is as if there was a laugh that was frozen in time. This smile also tends to lower trust, because it is seen as less than authentic.

Frowns

Classic Frown – We are all familiar with a frown brought on by the person feeling negative about something. The lips are pulled downward and often the head and gaze go down as well. This is the look you see on football players’ faces when they have lost a close game. Another place to see a classic frown is at a funeral. This is also the habitual expression on the face of Donald Trump when he is trying to negotiate something.

Clenched Teeth – This type of frown has the additional element of clenched teeth, which causes the jaw muscle to pop out. I once had a boss who did this whenever he was really upset. It was a telltale sign to watch out if his jaws popped out and became red.

Puffed Cheeks – Occasionally you may encounter a person who frowns but then fills up his cheeks with air. This is an indication of exasperation; it is like the person is getting ready to blow up.

Other Mouth Gestures

Puckering up – This gesture can have different meanings based on the context. It may mean that the person is deep in thought. It could mean you are getting the kiss off by the individual. If done softly and delicately it may be an actual signal of blowing a kiss.

Twitching – Some people will have an involuntary twitch. Most common is the twitch of the upper lip. If you see this gesture in a person, it may be habitual and be of little significance in terms of body language. Watch to see if the twitch comes just after a particular person addresses him or when something that may be sensitive comes up. If a person twitches during stressful conversation, it is a great clue to use when observing his level of stress in the future. I knew a university dean who would twitch whenever he was stressed. He was aware that he was sending signals, but he could not stop it.

Covering the Mouth – The classical interpretation of this gesture is that the person is lying or telling a half truth and covers his mouth to avoid detection. That may be true in some circumstances, but covering the mouth can also be a reaction to being embarrassed; it may also be out of fear of halitosis the discovery of bad teeth. The best advice when you see a person covering his or her mouth is to gather more data to see if there is some pattern.

Wiping the Mouth – This may be a function of the saliva getting into the corners of the mouth. Some people struggle with that problem and need to wipe their mouth many times when speaking in public.

Biting the Lip – This gesture is usually related to insecurity, and it is normally the lower lip that is involved. As with all body language, it is important to notice the pattern of making this gesture. If it is at a logical point where the person may be feeling insecure, then the interpretation is likely correct. There could be another cause, so be alert for other signals. Bill Clinton was famous for using this gesture in his more infamous moments.

The gestures in this article were some of the more common mouth configurations you are likely to encounter. There are other, more subtle gestures you may see as well. The best advice is to keep track of a person’s habitual behavior, and then you can use that baseline pattern to assess what is happing with the individual.

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


Body Language 12 Pulling on the Ear

January 26, 2019

Pulling on the ear lobe is a gesture that you have seen from time to time, but if you are like me, you may have been unaware that it often has a specific meaning. Actually, there are many different interpretations of this gesture, as I will outline in this article. Be careful to get additional information before trying to ascribe meaning to a person who is pulling on his or her ear lobe when listening to you.

The first interpretation is that when a person is listening to you and is absent-mindedly pulling on his or her ear lobe, it is a signal that the person is interested in what you are saying and that you have the floor. As with most BL gestures, there is some element of physiological basis for the movement.

In this case, the best way to understand the underlying meaning is to exaggerate the gesture to make it more pronounced. If you were talking to me and I cupped my hand up to my ear in order to amplify the intake of sound waves, it would be a more overt form of pulling on the ear lobe. I am interested in hearing every part of what you are trying to convey. I do not want to miss any part of what you are saying.

When you see the gesture of someone pulling on his or her ear, continue to talk and know your input is of high interest.

Another interpretation is almost the exact opposite of the first one. In this case, pulling on the ear lobe is thought to be a way to block the information from coming in. The interpretation is that the person wants to “hear no evil.” The extreme form of this gesture is when children try to cover their ears when they do not want to hear what is being said.

If the interpretation is negative, it could be in reaction to increased stress because the person believes you are exaggerating or lying. The increased stress causes additional blood flow to the ear which may trigger pulling on the ear lobe.

Another interpretation of tugging on the ear lobe is that it could be just a physical itch from eczema behind the ear lobe or some other physical reason, such as a woman with an uncomfortable earring.

The easy way to detect if the gesture is one of interest or covering up a lie is to notice if the ear itself has turned red. A flushed ear or neck is a telltale sign of stress, so check out the source of that stress before trying to interpret the meaning of the gesture. If increased stress is the case, trust is likely being compromised by continuing the conversation.

Be very careful when you are addressing a person and he or she is pulling on his earlobe. It could be a negative sign to interpret as blocking information or a positive sign to interpret as high interest. You need to judge which meaning is likely valid by observing the facial expression and including the context of what is going on when the gesture is made.

For example, if the forehead is wrinkled or the eyebrows furrowed, then you can assume the gesture is a negative one. If the forehead is high and the mouth has a slight smile, you can assume the person is interested in what you are saying. Keep in mind that clusters of body language increase the accuracy of proper interpretation, so look for multiple signs.

Look out for habitual gestures where a person does something all the time. I knew a man who would frequently stick the eraser end of a pencil in his ear and move it around like he was cleaning his ear, except he always did it only to the right ear. There was no particular significance to this habit, it was just sort of a nervous tick he had.

There is another BL gesture that is common, and this one usually signifies high interest on the part of the listener. It is putting something in his or her mouth as you are speaking.

It may be a paper clip, or the back end of a pen, or even the person’s pinkie or thumb. The gesture is a desire for more information and is thought to be the equivalent to saying “feed me.” I want to hear more of what you are saying.

Normally, gestures that include hands to the facial region can have more than one meaning, and it is important to sort out the one indicated by what you are seeing. In most cases hands to the face indicate high interest, but you need to observe closely the concurrent other signals before interpreting these gestures.

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