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.
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.
Surprise! This article has nothing at all to do with computers or technology. Rather, it is about the human condition and spirit.
Every day, there is a special moment for each of us. It is that first instant when we become conscious after sleeping. We may have been dreaming or not; that does not matter. That very first blink of consciousness is something marvelous. Here is what I experience, and I am sure it is the same for you.
Blink. “Oh, I am here. Where is here? Who am I? What is my role here? Am I happy or sad? Do I hurt? What’s on my agenda today?”
Crossing that demarcation line between the unconscious and the conscious world is a kind of “rebooting” activity where we spend just a second or two getting our bearings.
In that instant of first awareness, we each have a wonderful opportunity. We have the power to choose. Whatever external or internal conditions are facing us, we each have the opportunity to decide how to respond to them. I believe that is what separates humans from other species: the power to choose our attitude.
I believe that the freedom to choose my own quality of life is amazingly liberating. I may be waking up as a prisoner of war or a person with a terminal disease or a hangover. In that first blink, I may realize that I have been out of work for six months, or perhaps yesterday I won the Nobel Peace Prize or an Olympic Gold Medal.
Regardless of the miserable or delightful circumstances, I remember my conditions as my brain reboots each morning. I still have the opportunity to choose how I wish to respond to those conditions. Unfortunately, most of us quickly jump to a fatalistic view that we are powerless to modify the quality of life, which is where the opportunity lies.
If we can push the “pause” button in our thinking long enough to suspend the pain or the negative things that are lurking in a corner of our brain to ruin our day, then we might consider the options. For example, this morning, I awoke at 2:30 a.m. with a stabbing pain in my right little toe. The pain actually woke me up. There was no reason why there should have been a pain in my toe today. I did not stub it or drop something on it, but there it was, big as life.
I recall lying there trying to figure out what the pain was. Since I had no clue, my brain continued with the rebooting exercise as I began to think about the good and not-so-good things that awaited me today. When a computer reboots, it does not have options for changing attitudes. It just goes through the programs and determines the health of the system with no ability to change its response to certain failures or bugs.
I decided to let my human side take over and process today in a positive light. After all, I did wake up, so I began to marvel over the choices I had today and the multitude of things I could get done. For example, I could create this article, and though I am not revealing any rocket science here, perhaps my thoughts translated through this medium may be helpful to a few people. As a result, I would be using my energy as a positive force in the universe. What better way to start out a day?
Try to make your first moments of every day a special conversation with yourself. Think about the opportunities you have rather than the difficulties you face. I think there is some powerful magic we all share as part of the human condition. Of course, you can wallow in self pity or depression. It is your life to live. I hope you will use this reminder to make a positive contribution to your mental process right now, and especially tomorrow morning.