Body Language 97 Twelve Layers

October 20, 2020

For the final few articles in this series on body language, I am highlighting some of the excellent content in a program entitled “Advanced Body Language” by Bill Acheson of the University of Pittsburgh.

In this article, I will summarize his Thinking on how we pick up twelve layers of information when we interface with another person. Most of the time the signals are processed by us unconsciously, but that does not mean they don’t matter to us.

The body language is most important when we are meeting someone for the first time. According to Bill, what we can observe in the other person is ten times more important than what we say.

The 12 layers are the management of:
1. Time
2. Space
3. Appearance
4. Posture
5. Gesture
6. Voice
7. Eye Contact
8. Facial Expression
9. Breathing
10. Touch
11. Smell
12. Congruence

Actually, in his recording he left off the 12th item, so I added the concept of congruence, because when one part of body language is out of step with the others, it sends a warning signal that something is wrong here, even if we cannot put our finger on it consciously.

When we see conflicting signals, the caution flag goes up in our mind, and we have a much more difficult time establishing a relationship of trust. That caution flag, even if it is subconscious means it will take substantially longer to trust the other person than if all signals were consistent.

According to Malcolm Gladwell in the book “Blink,” human beings have a remarkable ability to size each other up in a heartbeat. He estimates that we form a first impression of another person within the first three seconds. He calls the phenomenon “thin slices” after the analogy that if you slice something, like a cucumber, thin enough, you can actually see through it.

Near the start of his program, Bill shares some data he took when working with a group of 600 business woman. His question was, “In a business setting, how do you know when a man cheats on his wife?” The top 7 responses were all body language.

In the video Bill shares the top two responses. The first was if a man wears too much cologne or aftershave. The second giveaway, mentioned by 70% of the women, is if the man is wearing a pinky ring. What male would have guessed those two responses?

Another fascinating statistic has to do with trust. The research shows that 97% of the women he polled said they do not trust a man who wears more jewelry than they do. I suppose that one seems pretty obvious.

In his program, he makes several general observations comparing men and women. Bill is always careful to point out that these observations do not hold in every case, but there is enough of a trend to make them a valuable tool.

For example, he has measured that of out of all the emotions, there is only one emotion that men project with far greater accuracy than women. That emotion is guilt. He suggests that if women experience guilt, they usually do it to themselves.

I hope you have enjoyed these few articles summarizing the entertaining and sometimes startling research of Bill Acheson. I hope that you are interested enough to pick up a copy of his program. You will find it fun, entertaining, and insightful.

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

Body Language 80 Bored

June 23, 2020

Identifying when a person is bored seems very simple. The outward signs are pretty obvious and well known.

You need to be careful, however, because the gestures for a person who is fatigued are almost the same as for one who is bored.

Here are some tips to separate the two concepts.

First of all, consider what is going on around the person. If this is hour three of a four-hour lecture on pollution containing hundreds of detailed PowerPoint slides, then when a person has his chin in his palm, it is likely out of boredom.

On the other hand, if a student is holding her head up with her hand, during a lively or funny class, you might want to inquire if she was up all night finishing her paper.

The Eyes

The big difference between fatigue and boredom is in the eyes. A bored person is usually sitting and staring out with a blank stare and heavy, but not closed, eyelids. A tired person usually will have her eyes shut or nearly shut.

If you see a person unable to maintain focus with her eyes, then suspect boredom as the cause. You may also observe a rolling of the eyes with boredom but not fatigue.

The Hands

The usual position of the hand is for one hand to be propping up the head. Occasionally you may see both hands doing this at the same time, but the predominant gesture is just with one hand.

A person experiencing extreme fatigue will often put his or her head down on the table rather than try to hold it up with a hand.

The Mouth

The telltale sign of a bored person is to yawn. Unfortunately, it is difficult to separate a yawn induced by boredom from one caused by being overtired. It is often the case that both fatigue and boredom may be occurring simultaneously.

It is interesting to observe how infectious yawning is. When a person sees another person yawn, it is common to see the first person yawn within about 10 seconds. You can observe yourself yawning shortly after observing another person doing it. You may even yawn immediately after seeing your dog do it, or vice versa.

General Posture

The most common forms of boredom occur when people are seated. People who are bored generally lean forward rather than backward. The opposite is often true for people who are fatigued.


Look for fidgeting or doodling as another indication of boredom rather than fatigue. A tired person is trying to sleep, so there is no energy to play with a paperclip or make a paper airplane.

A person who is bored has some energy that is likely to come out in the form of interfacing with a handy object, like a pencil.

What to do

Usually teachers or those who facilitate group activities will see these kinds of gestures.

Obviously if many of the students are exhibiting these kinds of symptoms, you need to take note and call a break or an activity that will get people moving or engaged some other way.

With fatigue, you normally will see the reaction in only one or two people, while boredom can spread over an entire group.

Be alert for the problem and change your methods to keep people engaged. When their outward gestures are extreme enough to see, they are not listening to you anyway.

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

Measuring Morale

April 13, 2013

scaleCan you measure morale accurately by simply walking into a room and observing people? I think you can. In my courses, I often ask participants to tell me the best way to measure morale. Most of them come up with the idea of an employee survey or some other form of lagging indicator, like turnover rate. While both of these techniques are useful, I think there is a far faster and more accurate way to measure the morale of people in an organization, and you can do it while there is still time to take corrective actions. All you have to do is observe the individuals, and they will give ample clues as to their morale.

Here are seven ways to measure morale by watching and listening to what people do:

1. Posture

If people are standing with one hip raised, that is a sign of a poor attitude. It is a hostile gesture where the individual has a chip on his shoulder and he is daring you to knock it off. If people are sitting in a slouched-over configuration, that may be simple fatigue or it may be they feel beaten down and fearful when managers are around. If you walk into a room and people are sitting around a table leaning back with their arms folded, you can immediately sense these folks are dug in, grumpy, and not happy. The most sensitive areas for posture are in the shoulders and the position of the spine. I once walked into a restaurant to meet up with a colleague for a chat. She was sitting in a booth with her back to me and did not see me approach. All I could see of her was the back of her head and the upper 6 inches of her shoulders. I accurately determined before seeing her face or hearing her voice that she was in crisis mode due to a family tragedy.

2. Gestures

When people are together, watch the gestures. If they are doing a lot of finger pointing as they speak, there is a hostile environment. If their hands are most often open with palms up, that means they are open to ideas and suggestions. Watch to see if the gestures remain the same as managers come in the room. For example, if people are having an animated conversation about some outside event but clam up both verbally and with gesturing when the manager walks in, it is a sign of either fear or apathy. Certainly hostile or vulgar gestures are obvious indications of poor morale. The best display of good attitudes is if the gesturing remains the same when a manager approaches. People are comfortable and not threatened by this leader.

3. Facial Expression

There are thousands of facial expressions that have meaning, and many of these are specific to the culture in which they are used. The eyes and mouth hold the most information about attitude. For example, when a manager is giving information, if people roll their eyes, the meaning is that they believe the manager is basically clueless and is wasting their time. If they are tight lipped, it is normally a sign of fear and low trust. The most positive expression for morale is a slight smile with bright open eyes and highly arched eyebrows. This expression indicates interest and openness.

4. Tone of voice

When people speak, their tone will give away how engaged they are in the conversation at hand. Apathy is easy to spot with a kind of roll-off of words in a low pitch that says “I don’t care.” If the voice is stressed and shrill, that usually connotes fear of some type. Anger is easy to detect as the voice becomes choppy and the pitch and volume go up dramatically. The sneer also can be detected as people take on a mocking tone when they mimic other people. Medium voice modulation with good diction usually means good engagement and attention.

5. Jokes

When people make jokes at the expense of the other people, it is often thought of as just kidding around. The fact is, there is always some kind of truth underlying every dig. So if people are mocking a manager for always showing up late to the meeting, it may cause a chuckle, but it actually reveals that people believe the manager has no real respect for them. Some groups are world class at making jokes at the expense of team members. I maintain this is a sign of poor rapport that will show up as lack of good teamwork. This poor behavior can be easily stopped by just coming up with a rule that we will no longer make jokes at the expense of others.

At one company where I was teaching, the rule about not making jokes at the expense of others was the third behavioral rule on their list (I always have groups create such a list). It was easy to extinguish the bad habit because we just allowed people to hold up three fingers whenever anybody violated the rule. The poor behavior, that had been going on for decades in that organization, was fully extinguished in less than one hour.

6. Word choice

When people are honestly engaged in positive conversation and are making constructive observations or ideas, it shows high morale. If they undermine the ideas of others or management, it shows a lack of respect that has its roots in low morale. If the leader asks for a volunteer and you can hear a pin drop, that is a different reaction than if three hands go up immediately. People with high morale spontaneously volunteer to help out the organization. They respect their leader and truly want him or her to succeed because they know if the leader is successful then good things will happen for them.

7. Reinforcement

In a culture of high morale, people have a tendency to praise each other and seek ways to help out other people. When morale is low, everybody is in it for themselves and will discredit the ideas or desires of other people to preserve their own status. Leaders who know how to build a culture where individuals spontaneously praise each other for good deeds can foster higher morale by that emphasis alone.

These are just seven ways you can identify the morale of a group simply by observing what people are doing and saying. You can go to the trouble of a time consuming and suspect survey, but you do not need to in order to measure morale. Measuring turnover or absenteeism will be an accurate long term reflection of morale, but by the time you get that data, the damage is already done. You have often lost the best people. By observing people every day and making small corrective actions along the way, you can prevent low morale and build an environment of higher trust. In that kind of culture, productivity will go up dramatically.