I have been studying body language since my wife bought me a book on it in 1979.
There is still much to learn, and I will never can know it all.
We sometimes get fooled when observing another person’s body language. That can happen for a number of reasons. Here are a few of them:
1. The person may be from a different culture or background from us.
2. We fail to take into account what is happening around the BL signal – the context.
3. We rely on a single gesture to imply full meaning rather than clusters.
4. The gestures we are seeing are not consistent with the words the person is using.
The third point is the topic of this article. Looking at a single gesture and applying meaning has a significant danger for misinterpretation.
If you are observing another person making three or more gestures that are all consistent, then your chances of accurately decoding the emotion being conveyed are greatly increased.
For example, If I see a person with raised eyebrows, I might interpret it as worry or anxiety. That may or may not be true. People raise their eyebrows for a number of reasons.
However, if I witness a person who is shuffling weight from one foot to the other while putting a finger in his collar and moving it back and forth while simultaneously showing a frown with the mouth and raised eyebrows, I can be quite certain this person is experiencing anxiety.
Let’s look at another example. Suppose I see a woman whose eyebrows are furrowed. I may assume she is angry, and that could be the case. But, if I also witness her with flared nostrils, hands on her hips, shoulders back, chin jutting forward, I had better get ready to do some serious groveling.
Another trick is to observe the fleeting gestures, also called “micro expressions.” These gestures happen so quickly we might miss them if we are not on the alert.
A micro expression may be as short as 1/30th of a second. Observing a series of micro expressions that all point in the same direction is a great way to improve the accuracy of reading the body language signals.
I will share an example of a micro expression using myself as the guinea pig. Here is a link to a short (10 minute) video I once did on “Planting a Seed of Trust in the First 10 Seconds.”
Note: The material on shaking hands in this video no longer applies until conditions with COVID-19 change, but you can see a great example of a micro expression at 4 minutes and 46 seconds into the video.
At that point in the video, I am talking about ways to show your eagerness to meet the other person.
I first describe your body language if you are really positive and have a good feeling when approaching the other person. I then go on to explain the negative side, if you are not particularly happy about meeting this person.
Just before going with the negative side, I pull my mouth tight and to the side. It is only for a fraction of a second, but that gesture is a micro expression that signals that I am moving from a positive frame of mind to a negative one.
When I was making the video, I had no knowledge that I was making a micro expression. It was only when I reviewed the video later that I saw the gesture.
It is typical that we are conscious of only a tiny fraction of the body language signals we are sending to others. Observing all of the body language signals that are coming in, including the micro expressions will enhance your ability to detect a cluster.
You also need to consider that a person can be experiencing multiple emotions at the same time. For example, a person may be feeling embarrassed with a hint or regret or even grief. That would allow for multiple signals to be sent simultaneously. The permutations are countless.
Get in the habit of looking for auxiliary clues when witnessing emotions expressed through body language. If you make a conscious effort to look for multiple signals, you will gain strength in this important life skill.
This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”
I have been studying body language since my wife bought me a book on it in 1979.
Here is one of my favorite measures for the quality of a leader.
Build a SAFE Environment
In most organizations, there is a continual environment of fear. What we need to realize is that there are different kinds of fear. There is the fear due to market conditions or competition that may make a company go bankrupt.
We have learned over the past decade that just because a company is great now is no guarantee it will even exist in a year or two. There is really no such thing as lifelong job security anymore.
Longevity not guaranteed
As an example, look at Circuit City. In the early years of the 2000’s, it was on top of the heap, and even qualified as one of the “Great” companies in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great. By 2008, the company was history.
So, it is not surprising that few people feel the kind of job security that most individuals felt in the 80’s and 90’s. It is just a fact of life, and that kind of fear needs to be used to create the impetus to do better on a daily basis.
More common fear
The more crippling kind of fear is a nagging feeling that if I tell the truth about something to my boss, I am going to suffer some kind of punishment. It may not be an immediate demotion or dismissal, but eventually I will be negatively impacted in ways I may not even recognize.
So, I clam up and do not share thoughts that could be helpful to my organization.
Create the right culture
Great leaders create an environment where this kind of fear is nearly nonexistent. My favorite quote about this, that I note on my corporate website, is “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.” In a culture where there is no fear, trust grows spontaneously, much like the mold on last week’s bread, only in this case, the mold is a blessing.
So, what is the mechanism by which great leaders create this lack of fear? They do it by “reinforcing candor.” They let people know they will not be punished for speaking their truth.
Reward rather than punish
On the contrary, these leaders show by words and deeds that people who speak up are actually rewarded for sharing something scary or just not right. That safety gives these leaders the opportunity to correct small problems before they have huge negative consequences for the organization.
That is brilliant leadership!
If you are a leader, focus on one thing when someone tells you something you did not want to hear. Focus your actions on making the person glad he or she brought it up. That behavior is the most constructive thing you can do to build a culture of trust within your organization.
Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 585-392-7763.
Accountability is one of the most frequently used words used in business today. It is often teamed with the verb “to hold.”
When managers “hold people accountable” at work, it often causes a hit to trust as demonstrated in this example.
I was called in to do some consulting work on trust by the principal of a large high school. The school had combined with another high school and was having some challenges integrating the cultures.
As I interviewed the principal he kept using the phrase “hold our people accountable.”
I noticed that he fell into the same trap that I find most executives in the corporate world do. Leaders typically refer to holding people accountable as catching people doing things wrong and then pointing it out in a punitive way.
The ironic thing here is that most people on most days are doing good work and should be praised. Therefore holding people accountable should be a positive thing much of the time.
Most leaders forget about the positive things and only hold people accountable when they have done something wrong. I believe that is a big mistake because it destroys trust.
Employees in organizations of all kinds often complain that the only time they hear from management is when they’ve done something wrong. Therefore the issue of accountability becomes a negative statement in the vast majority of cases, and accountability becomes a punitive action.
What if we held people accountable in a proactive way and basically gave feedback in proportion to the good work as well as the areas for improvement.
I even invented a word for the concept. I call it holding people “procountable.” That practice would allow for a much more positive environment to permeate the organization.
Exercise for you: Today, be aware of when you seek to “hold people accountable” in a negative or punitive way. Recognize that there is an alternative. You could easily hold people accountable in a proactive way and give feedback on their good work as well as their areas of opportunity.
My model for helping leaders do a better job with accountability uses five words that all start with the letter “C.”
Clarify Expectations – When delegating tasks, the expected deliverables should be crystal clear. Do not rely on your interpretation of the understanding, always verify that the employee knows specifically what is expected by when. If there is a track record of missing expectations, write the specific details down and make two copies.
Comprehensive – Feedback the positive things as well as the opportunities for improvement. Make sure the ratio of positive to negative feedback reflects the actual holistic performance.
Contribution – Leaders should consider that there are two people involved in the conversation. In most cases, the leader might have prevented the shortfall in performance by taking action sooner. This does not absolve the employee of responsibility, but it does acknowledge that the leader is always a part of the equation.
Care – Corrective feedback should be done from a framework of care and respect for the individual. Even negative information should be given in a way that shows that you truly care about the other person.
Collective Responsibility – This is the knowledge that you and the employee being coached are really on the same team. You cannot succeed unless both of you succeed together.
Think about being more proactive with your accountability feedback. You can do so in a more principle centered way. When we hold people accountable in a punitive way it works against a culture of trust every time.
By being more balanced in our feedback, we can improve the environment in any organization.
The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to http://www.avanoo.com/first3/517
No, that is not a typo in the title. This article is a twist on the concept of “holding people accountable.” Those three words seem to be the mantra in management circles over the past few years. When used, these words almost always mean that someone has fallen short versus expectations, and the supervisor needs to point out that lapse and have a discussion about improving performance. If you listen carefully, nearly 100% of the time managers use “hold them accountable,” it is coming from a failure point of view.
One source of the problem is the word “hold.” It conjures up an image of holding a person’s feet to the fire. The transitive verb to hold means, ” to make liable or accountable or bound to an obligation” (Mirriam Webster 11th Collegiate Dictionary). In other words, when we hold something in this sense, a force is acting to restrain it, and make it liable to a prior obligation. That is clearly negative spin rather than the alternate concept of helping people do the right thing for the betterment of the organization.
Imagine how the world would be different if we eliminated the negative concept of accountability and replaced it with a positive concept called “procountability.” In this case, the action would be to reflect on the many ways an individual is doing well and measuring up to, or exceeding, expectations.
For most people, being held procountable would be a positive experience that would encourage more of those actions rather than cause a person to cower in fear of the next chewing out from the boss. Sure, there would be times when a person did not measure up to expectations, so the procountable discussion would point out that the intentions of the individual did not produce the expected result in this instance. Some coaching may be needed, and occasionally a kick in the butt may be helpful, but most of the procountable discussions would be supportive and lead to higher productivity on the part of the individual.
The logic here is that most people come to work on most days with the intention of doing the right things. Very few people actually try to mess up at work, and if you tolerate any of these people on your team, shame on you. Get rid of them as fast as you can. So, if most people are doing the right things most of the time, we could have numerous procountable discussions relative to their successes. When a occasional lapse does happen, for whatever reason, it would be the exception rather than the rule on feedback. That difference alone would change the equation greatly. If 95% of the feedback is coming in the form of supportive comments, and only 5% coming in the form of potential improvements, the working environment would be a much better place for most employees.
Unfortunately, in most organizations that obsess on holding people accountable, the feedback employees hear from managers and supervisors is 95% negative and only 5% supportive. After a while, the culture gets beaten down, and the need for more corrective and punitive discussions becomes more frequent. The common phrase uttered by thousands of workers over the decades is “the only time I ever hear from my boss is when I screw up.”
Try reversing the logic and encourage managers to hold employees procountable rather than accountable. It will change the entire environment at work. Soon there will be a lower propensity for problems because the overwhelming volume of feedback produces a positive feeling that comes from being recognized for doing the right things.