Body Language 19 The Eyes

March 16, 2019

Of all the different types of body language, the eyes win the prize for conveying the most different meanings without speaking. This one aspect of body language alone could fill a whole book; in fact, there are many such books that deal with the language of the eyes only.

For this article, I will share some of the more powerful and well-documented eye gestures along with their meanings and some caveats to avoid misinterpreting eye gestures.

This article will highlight only the aspects of the eye itself and the eyelids (blinking). There are a huge number of additional meanings that we will add next week when we discuss the impact of eyebrows. For now, let’s concentrate on the eye itself and the eyelids.

Eye Contact

The first aspect of body language with the eyes is eye contact. When you lock eyes with another person, it is called eye contact. You are looking directly into the soul of the other person using the eye like a window.

The percentage of time you look directly at the other person determines the rapport you will develop in that conversation. That rapport becomes the basis of growing trust.

According to Bill Acheson of the University of Pittsburgh, “If you have less than 70% eye contact with me, I will not trust you.” On the other hand, staring at another person with nearly 100% eye contact creates a creepy feeling that also destroys trust. You need to break eye contact at least once a minute when talking to another individual, but it is important to keep the gaze to the facial region.

Gazing around the room will send a signal of disinterest, and scanning down the body will label you as a pervert. My own personal rule of thumb is to have between 50-80% eye contact with another individual in conversations that involve only the two of you.

Of course, if there are many people in the conversation, the eye contact for any specific individual will be much lower, as it is important to make eye contact with each person in the group.

There is another aspect with eye contact that can be very distracting if it is allowed to continue. The best way to describe it is with a personal example.

Early in my career, I was anxious to impress managers higher in the organization. I noticed in weekly staff meetings, my manager seemed to be looking at me a lot, even if I was not talking at the time.

Eventually I started to become self-conscious about his aggressive eye contact, so I would look away quickly whenever that manager looked directly at me. I can recall becoming highly uncomfortable when sitting across the table from this manager and ended up sitting on the same side of the table from him to reduce the problem.

Pupil Dilation

Dilation of the pupils is also a major clue to what the other person is thinking. Normal dilation has the pupil (dark spot in the center of the eye) taking up roughly 30% -40% of the diameter of the iris (colored circle).

In this discussion, we need to separate out the impact of light levels and medical conditions on dilation. The iris dilates naturally in low light situations to allow more light to reach the retina, which allows people to see better in the dark.

Likewise, in bright conditions the pupil will reduce in diameter to avoid overloading the retina. In addition to this normal metering of the pupil size due to ambient light, there are other factors that impact the size of the pupil.

One common situation is in response to some types of drugs on the system. The eye doctor puts drops in your eyes to dilate the pupils so that the retina can be observed more easily.

Many of the psychedelic drugs have the same impact on dilation. This condition is medically called mydriasis, and it is why police officers are trained to notice whether a person’s eyes are dilated.

It is also possible that a person can have a disease or other eye condition that results in dilated pupils. When this condition is present, the pupils are generally habitually dilated.

For purposes of interpreting body language through pupil dilation, we are interested in situations where normal dilation is observed, but then there is a noticeable opening of the pupils in response to some stimulus, like a pointed question or a threatening gesture.

Let’s suppose you are in a moderately lighted environment and have had no drugs. What conditions might cause your eyes to become dilated involuntarily? This is where the body language aspect becomes very interesting. A person’s pupils will dilate automatically in response to fear or desire.

The study of pupil size as an indicator of emotion is known as pupillometrics. Eckhard Hess, a University of Chicago biopsychologist, did several experiments in the 1970s to determine cause and effect.

He did extensive measurements of how attitude can be determined by pupil size. “The changes in emotions and mental activity revealed by changes in pupil size are clearly associated with changes in attitude.” In general, Hess measured that positive attitudes led to larger pupil size and negative attributes resulted in smaller pupil size.

Keep in mind that the dilation of your eyes is not possible for you to detect without looking in a mirror, yet it is an obvious signal that you make in the presence of others in response to a stimulus. This is just one of the reasons why it is nearly impossible to hide some feelings from people who understand body language.

Blinking Rate

Another obvious signal that is difficult for the person doing it to detect is blinking rate. Normally, adult humans blink at a rate between 15 to 20 times a minute. There are some situations where a person’s blink rate will be high most of the time. These would include wearing contact lenses and some diseases of the eye. Curiously, babies have a much longer rate and only blink a couple times a minute.

What is of interest in body language is whether there is a marked change in the blinking rate just after some situation or conversation. When a person is under stress, the blinking rate will start to increase without the person being aware of it.

If you observe someone going from a normal 15 per minute rate to 30 to 40 blinks a minute, that person is likely under a great deal of stress, but is often trying to hide that fact.

I learned that lesson years ago when negotiating with a Japanese executive over price for some product. He tried the famous “Silent Treatment” with me in order to get a concession. Since I was aware of his ploy, I just stared back at him and watched his blink rate. I saw it double then double again until he finally caved in. I doubt that he even knew I was reading the stress level that was going on as observed in his blink rate.

Next time you are negotiating for a new car, recognize that the sales person is trained to watch your blink rate. If you are clever, you can reverse the logic and determine when the sales person is feeling the heat. Because you know this trick, you will be less likely to give away your stress level inadvertently.

This article is just the start of our discussion about body language of the eyes. When we couple the above ideas with what the larger facial muscles (cheeks and especially eyebrows) are revealing, the available information in the region of the eyes will become exponentially more complex and interesting.

My article next weekend will dig into 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


Successful Supervisor 81 – Trust Leads to Better Communication

June 23, 2018

In any organization, the most frequent complaint about the quality of work life is usually about communication.

Supervisors are the mainstay of communication in any organization, because they work at the critical junction of the professional staff and the workers.

If you work in an area of low trust, communication is difficult at best. People will continually second guess what you are trying to convey. They will look for ulterior motives or hidden agendas.

It is common for workers to actually hear what they think the supervisor was going to say rather than what she actually did say.

To assure your message has been internalized, it is necessary to verify what the people in the group heard you say. Often there is at least a partial shift in meaning if trust is low.

In the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer, Richard Edelman measured a shift in what it takes for people to believe information they are hearing about the organization. Prior to that time, the majority of people said they were likely to believe the information if they hear it once or twice.

By 2011, most people said they needed to hear the information three to five times before they were likely to believe it is true.

That shift in perception means that supervisors need to be highly creative to send consistent messages in different ways until people really understand and internalize the information.

The best way to test if people have heard you is to ask them to repeat what they just heard you say. Be sure to do this in a friendly and sincere way rather than with a demeaning attitude. Stress that you are taking this verification step to test for understanding on important points.

When trust is high, more of the true meaning is absorbed instantly. The supervisor may even mess up the communication, yet the workers will hear the correct message. That is because people are emotionally aligned with the supervisor more often and know what is in her heart. If something comes out garbled in a statement or email, they are more likely to cut her some slack.

I believe the weakest communication skill set for most human beings is listening skills. When employees complain about poor communication skills on the part of supervisors and upper management, the most frequent interpretation is that they are not being heard, or if they were heard, their views were disregarded.

One reason for this problem is that humans can think at roughly four times the speed as we can talk, so there is a lot of excess capacity in the brain while someone is talking to us to formulate our responses. We end up not paying close enough attention to the full message.

It is vital that supervisors practice good listening skills, but there is a major challenge in doing so. Great listening means paying attention at a higher level than we do in casual conversation, but that takes so much energy that most supervisors cannot sustain the effort and relapse into casual listening.

The proper way to listen with precision is to reflect some of the content back to the speaker. It is called reflective listening. That technique also requires more energy than most supervisors can sustain continuously and many find it difficult to do.

The antidote here is to have a signal whereby you know which conversations require you to wear your “listening hat.” The signal is when an employee is coming to you in a highly emotional state. I think over 80% of conversations are casual, so relaxed listening is adequate in those situations.

Serious conversations with another person who is highly emotional require us to shift into a higher gear of listening effort.

Pay close attention to your communication skills. If they are solid, you are likely adding to the trust on a daily basis. If they are weak, get some help to avoid having your communication weakness drag down the ambient culture in your organization.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision 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 500 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


Instant Rapport

September 30, 2012

We all know that the first few minutes when meeting a new person or client are critical to the relationship. Malcolm Gladwell referred to the “thin slices” of meaning we interpret subconsciously when meeting someone new. His contention is that a relationship is basically established after just a few seconds, so it is important to know what to do and what to avoid doing in this critical period.

While we know the vital importance of body language and tone of voice, few of us have received any formal training on what things to do and to avoid to maximize the potential for good rapport and trust. The overarching objective is to let your natural personality and essence shine through as well as be sincerely interested in learning the qualities of the other person. This means making sure all the signals you send are congruent with your true nature and being alert for the full range of signals being sent by the other person.

While there are entire books on this topic, I wanted to share six things to do and six things to avoid from my own experience and background. Note these items are somewhat mechanical in nature. They are not intended to replace the good judgment in any instance but are offered as tips that can help in most cases.

Things to do:

1. Be yourself. Trying to force yourself into a mold that is not your natural state will not translate well. Regardless of your effort, you will unwittingly send ambiguous signals that will subconsciously be perceived as you trying too hard to establish rapport.

2. Shake hands. In most cultures, the hand shake is the touch ritual that conveys major content about both individuals. Each person is sending and receiving signals on several different levels in the few moments it takes to shake hands. Learn how to do it right, and do it with the right attitude. The handshake should project what is in your heart. Note, there are many myths about handshakes. For example, a “firm” handshake has historically been thought to send a signal of competence and power. If the firmness is amplified to a bone-crushing clamp, it actually sends a signal that the crusher is insecure, because why else would someone crush a hand unless he thought it was necessary to appear powerful.

3. Make good eye contact. We communicate at many levels with our eyes. It is important to really see the other person in a natural and pleasing way. Here is a tip about eye contact while shaking hands. Try to see through the eyes into the soul of the person you are meeting. Inside the other person’s head is a wonderland of possibilities, and the window to that information is first through the eyes.

4. Smile – Make sure it is appropriate to smile (although sometimes a somber expression is more appropriate – like at a funeral). The caveat here is that the smile must be genuine, not phony. Learn to smile from the eyes by picturing an oval from your eyebrows to your lips. Show your teeth, if they are in good shape. This really helps the warmth of a smile. Be sure to maintain eye contact while you are smiling. The peripheral vision of the other person will allow him or her to appreciate the smile. Consider the duration of the smile, because too short or too long of a smile can send mixed signals.

5. Give a genuine greeting – Most people say “how are you” or “nice to meet you.” Those greetings are not bad, but they do pass over an opportunity to show real enthusiasm for meeting the other person. Reason: these greetings are perfunctory and overused. They accomplish the greeting mechanically, but they do not establish a high emotional engagement. You might try a variant like “I am excited to meet you” or “how wonderful to meet you.” Be careful to not get sappy: see caveat number five below.

6. Ask the other person a question – The typical and easiest thing to do is say “tell me about yourself,” but you only would use that if there was adequate time for the individual to take you from grade school to the rest home. A better approach is to consider the environment around the person. There will be a clue as to what the other person might be experiencing at that moment. If you link in to the emotion with a question that draws out the other person, you have established dialog that is constructive. For example, if you meet a person in a hotel lobby who is dragging two suitcases with his left hand, you might say while shaking the right hand, “have you been travelling all day?” or “can I help you with one of your bags?”

Doing these six things will set you up for a good first impression provided they are consistent with the situation and your persona, but there are extensions of these same six things that should be avoided or you may blow the opportunity.

Things to avoid:

1. Do not work too hard – other people will instantly recognize at a gut level if you are putting on an act to impress them. If your natural tendency is to be a slap happy kind of salesman when meeting people, try to turn down the volume on that part while maintaining a cheerful nature.

2. One handed shakes only – the two handed shake, known as the “politician’s handshake,” is too invasive for a first meeting. It will cause the other person to emotionally retreat as a defense mechanism. It gives the impression that you are trying to reel in a big fish. Speaking of fish, also avoid the dead fish handshake. A firmly-flexed vertical hand with medium modulation is the best approach. Be sensitive to the fact that some people avoid handshakes due to physical reasons and do not force the issue or embarrass the person. Other than the handshake, there should be absolutely no touching of any other part of the body. This means, do not grab the elbow as you walk toward the elevator, do not put your hand on or playfully punch the shoulder of the other person, even if he is a “good guy.” Obviously, stay away from touching the legs or knees of any other person when sitting.

3. Avoid too much eye contact – Anything over 70% of eye contact during the first few minutes will cause great anxiety in the other person. A fixed gaze will send signals that are ambiguous at best and threatening at worst. The best approach is to lock eyes for a few seconds, then move your gaze on something else, perhaps a lapel pin or name tag, then return eye contact for a few seconds more. If you are a male meeting a female, avoid giving the up and down “checking her out” pattern, as many women find that highly offensive. Another caveat with eye contact is to avoid looking around the room during the first moments of meeting another person. Make sure the person recognizes you are focused 100% on him or her, even if the timing if fleeting. For example, Bill Clinton is said to have a gift of focusing genuine attention on each person, even when he is going down a long line of people he will never see again. With the intense eye contact, he makes each person feel valued in just a split second.

4. Do not smile as if you are holding back gas. If you try to force a smile, it will look as phony as a bad toupee. If you have a problem warming up to a new person with a genuine smile, try envisioning the person as having a check for a million dollars in her purse that she is about to give you. In reality she may have things inside her head that could be worth much more than a million dollars to you. Consider that possibility and be genuinely happy to meet the person. It will show on your face.

5. Do not go over the top with enthusiasm in your greeting – The greeting must come straight from the heart to send the signal you want. Your greeting should not gush or be drawn out like an Academy Award performance like, “Oh darling, how simply marvelous to meet you” – kissy kissy. You could make the other person want to vomit.

6. Avoid talking about yourself – Hold up on discussing your interests until cued by the other person. The natural tendency is to think in terms of this new person’s relationship to your world. Try to reverse this logic and think about wanting to know more about his or her world so you can link in emotionally to the other person’s thoughts. If you ask two or three questions of the other person, he or she will eventually ask a question about you. Try to keep the ratio of listening versus talking to roughly 70-30% with the weight of your attention on listening. The best conversationalists are the ones who do the least amount of talking.

By doing the six steps I have outlined while avoiding the extremes on the second list, you will have a good start to a new relationship. You will have planted the seeds of trust well. After that, you need to nurture the relationship continually to allow the seeds to grow to maturity.