Body Language 77 Compassion

May 4, 2020

When a person is expressing compassion, what are the typical body language gestures you are likely to see that go with the emotion?

The most recognizable signs are a pleasant facial expression with perhaps a tinge of concern and slow gracious hand gestures. Let’s pick apart the various signals to clarify what makes them unique to compassion.

The first part of the article will be about recognizing a person who is showing compassion. After that, I will deal with ways we can show compassion to others and some traps to avoid.

Keep in mind that the body language signals of a person showing compassion will be highly influenced by what is causing the person to feel compassionate. If it is responding to another person, or even a family pet, who is hurting, the gestures will be similar to those of empathy. If the person showing compassion is simply listening to another person gripe, the gestures will be more consistent with patience.

The face

The person’s eyes will be soft with no hint of agitation. The eyebrows will be neither raised nor furrowed. They will be in a natural and neutral position. Alternatively, the corrugator muscles may pull the eyebrows in and up, thus giving the appearance of some concern. This configuration can easily be confused as sadness, because sad eyes have the same look.

The mouth may have a slight smile, or at least not a frown. The cheeks will be high, and the entire face will show an expression of a person who is listening. A compassionate person is in a heightened state of awareness and connectivity with the other person. Depending on the circumstances, the lips may be pressed together in sympathy.

Head

The head will either be erect or slightly tilted downward. If the person is in a listening mode, you will probably notice good following skills such as frequent head nodding. You may also witness a slow shaking of the head from side to side as an indication that the person is finding the pain of another hard to comprehend.

Hand gestures

There are many different hand gestures that go along with compassion depending on the situation. The person might put fingers to the mouth in contemplation.

You might see arms extended with both palms facing upward and the fingers slightly curled. This is a signal of openness and caring. You would not see closed fists as a way to express compassion.

Touching rituals

For people who know each other well, there may be a hand placed on the forearm of the other person as an indication of support. Keep in mind that in all circumstances, it is wise to refrain from any physical contact other than shaking hands (and even that is off limits in a pandemic situation) unless you know the other person very well.

You might witness a compassionate person holding both hands of a loved one in front of the sternum.

I recall having a painful bicycle accident as a youth, and my mother rushed to my side and gave me the kind of hug that only a mother can. It was very comforting to know that she felt my pain. I believe that mothers are the most compassionate people in the world, and they have a way of expressing it that is unmistakable.

Relation to trust

It is hard to show true compassion to a person who you do not trust at all. On the flip side, extending trust to another person is a great way to demonstrate compassion and build higher trust with that person for the future. It goes along with what I call the “First Law of Trust,” which is “if you are not satisfied with the level of trust you are receiving from other people, you need to show more trust in them.” Trust is a reciprocal phenomenon.

Recognize that compassion is not something that can be faked. You can extend trust, but you cannot convey compassion unless it is genuine.

When a person is ill

Compassion shows up as a frequent gesture when people visit someone who is in the hospital. In this case, the individual is usually in bed and the person showing compassion will sit in a chair next to the bed to listen and offer comfort.

Nurses and other medical personnel will go about their duties but with a kind and soothing flow that indicates respect and empathy.

Summary

The gestures for showing compassion are significantly influenced by the circumstances going on as well as the relationship between the two people. There are many different expressions that can show compassion and empathy. To obtain an accurate reading of the gestures, look for a cluster of signals that all point in the same direction.

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



Trust: The First Law

June 22, 2013

Yin and YangAre you dissatisfied with the level of trust within your organization? If so, recognize that you are not alone. Few organizations have achieved a state where they are delighted with the trust that exists. Part of the reason is that trust is a bit like money; no matter how much we have, we usually want more of it. Most of the organizations I see have a significant deficiency of trust that shows up in all kinds of performance issues including apathy, shaky teamwork, poor attitudes, negative morale, low productivity, high turnover, absenteeism, and even revolt or sabotage.

Leaders of the organization point to the symptoms and declare that the employees are at fault for the low trust. The leaders are expending high energy to communicate the vision and values, they are making expectations crystal clear, they are attempting to hold people accountable for performance lapses, they are making sure everyone gets paid on time, so the problem of low trust must be with the employees or first line supervisors, right? Not necessarily!

One critical nature of trust is that it is reciprocal. When you extend more trust, it reflects back to you in nearly all cases. It is the same phenomenon we often hear about with people participating in any activity: “You get out of it in proportion to what you put in.”

I have coined what I call the “First Law of Trust.” If you are a leader, and are unhappy with the level of trust in your organization, the first thing to do is find ways to show more trust in your employees. There are numerous other things that are important to do, which I have written about in other articles, but the first thing is to extend more trust to others. It seems impossible to some leaders who complain, “But how can I trust them when they prove daily that they cannot be trusted.” That attitude is at the core of why there is low trust to begin with. It is a vicious cycle.

To break the cycle, leaders need to find ways, even small ways at first, to demonstrate higher trust in employees. This will seem unnatural to both the leader and the employees at first because of the history of behaviors and reactions in the past. Leaders feel like extending any kind of trust is stupid until the workers start behaving in trustworthy ways, and workers believe the leader must be up to some kind of trick to force them into more work.

I discovered the reciprocal nature of trust many years ago when my daughter was very young. She often wanted me to “twirl” her, which involved grabbing her wrists and carefully spinning around backward (gently at first to not pull her arms out of the sockets). She would fly out horizontal, hair flying in the wind, just loving it. When I would put her down, there was always the familiar refrain “AGAIN.” So I would twirl her again, this time longer and farther.

Upon remembering the numerous times I twirled her, I realized that I had never dropped her. The reason is that her unconditional trust in me required me to reciprocate in a way that kept her safe during the process. So it is with everyone, if we extend trust to them, they will be inclined to show more trust in us.
The way to break down a dysfunctional culture of low trust is not to put the screws to people with additional demands and rules. Try the other approach of extending kindness and trust and see if the positive reaction you get is well worth the risk of extending more trust. If that works, then you will be encouraged to add more trust to others, and you will reap more back toward you.

A common question I get is, “How do I go about showing more trust in them, especially when they do not deserve it?” The answer is to be creative and find little ways to begin to show more trust. These small gestures may seem dangerous, or trivial, but they usually work to grab people’s attention. Here are a few examples of typical actions a leader might employ to demonstrate higher trust.

• Change the coffee money fund from a locked box to an open container.
• Stop walking around the shop floor five minutes before quitting time.
• Let the employees select the menu for the picnic.
• Stop micromanaging and let people use their initiative.
• Remove a needless restriction on a dress code.
• Publicly eliminate a procedure that is no longer useful.
• Cancel a report that nobody reads.
• Quit requiring proof of purchase for small petty cash items.
• Unlock the supply cabinet.

These are just a few examples of actions that could be taken to extend more trust in people. I am sure that if you think creatively, you can identify dozens of other ways to show more trust, and many of them will not involve a high risk of loss. If you try this technique, you will generally get very positive results. In some instances, the prior practices may have the population so jaded that they will be out for revenge at any opportunity, so it may take more creativity and time to develop new patterns.

Remember the first law of trust. It is up to leaders to break the cycle of tyranny and develop a culture where trust goes both ways and grows more robust with time. It takes some courage to change old ways, but the payoff is immense.