Body Language 63 Fist in the Air

January 17, 2020

The gesture of putting one’s fist in the air is a very common one, but it can cause misunderstandings if you do not couple it with corroborating signals.

Part of the confusion is that the different meanings are at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. For example, the fist-in-the-air gesture at a football game would normally be a way to cheer on your team to victory, while if there were protesters outside the stadium, that same gesture could signify rebellion, hatred, or anger.

In order to ascribe the correct meaning to the fist-in-the-air gesture, you must factor in the context in which it is given and most importantly the facial expressions that accompany it.

When this gesture is seen in public, it is normally part of a group activity where many people are giving the same signal. It is possible to observe the gesture on the part of just one person, but that is rare.

In this brief article, I will describe several applications where the fist in the air might be observed along with the most likely message being sent.

A cheer of support

A fist in the air can be a supportive gesture among team members similar to a high five. It means we are all together, and we are united in a common cause. We support each other and cheer each other on with the gesture.

For example, you might see a sales team at their convention use this gesture when it is announced that the team met the aggressive sales goal for the year. Everyone would enjoy the year-end bonus as a result of reaching the challenging goal.

Appreciation

You can witness the fist in the air gesture among adoring fans at a rock concert. You will see many people in the audience highly animated jumping up and down with their fists in the air as they sing along to the lyrics.

Defiance

You can also see the fist in the air at political or social rallies. The connotation here is still that we are united in a purpose, but in this case it is often a negative form of protest.

In the Workplace

Workers can display their anger over a new policy being introduced by having many people in a meeting start showing their fists in the air.

At times like this, the leader who is conducting the meeting needs to see the anger building up and make a preventive statement before the gesture is taken up by most of the workers and it becomes like a mob scene.

For example, the leader might see one person starting to put his fist in the air and say something like:

“I know this is not going to be a popular move, but I wanted to share the information with you candidly as early as possible, because you have a right to be informed of the action. You also have the right to understand the reason this action was unavoidable. I will explain some ways we can get through this difficult time together.”

Warning

A fist in the air done by an individual may be a warning to keep physical or emotional distance. The idea here is to tell the other person to back off or face a possible sock in the jaw. The gesture may be accompanied by a shaking of the fist as the wicked witch did in “The Wizard of Oz.” As she shook her fist she cackled, “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too.”

In a work setting, you can avoid this kind of acrimony by having acceptable behaviors identified in advance. If the whole team has agreed to treat each other respectfully, then the threats or warnings will be fewer.

Hate

When the gesture is coupled by a stiff arm, it is more serious and an indication of extreme prejudice against a person, group, or ideal. Another dead give away for this attitude is the facial expression. If the person looks angry, then chances are he is expressing some form of hatred.

The news showed an example of that at a White Supremacists Hate Rally at University of Virginia in 2017. Many of the marchers had their fist in the air as they chanted “Jews will not replace us.”

I once witnessed a large group of union workers with their fists in the air to express frustration and lack of trust with the management group. This public display of extreme disapproval was a major setback for the organization. It took months of effort to rebuild the respect of these workers.

The lesson here is to intervene with corrective measures before the frustration boils up to the point where people are shaking their fists in the air. Once people start using this gesture, it is a long and expensive road back to stability.

There are numerous examples of organizations that have pushed workers too far experience the push back of rebellion. The antidote is to build and maintain a culture of trust so that people feel heard and appreciated all along. That way the resentment never builds up to the boiling point.

Resolve or unyielding

When coupled with a clenched jaw and slight scowl, the fist in the air signifies an unyielding posture to what is going on. I am reminded me of the lyrics to a song, “I Won’t Back Down,” by the late Tom Petty:

I’ll stand my ground
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground
And I won’t back down.

You can see that there is a wide spectrum of possible meanings to a fist in the air gesture. You must be alert to the circumstances and the facial expressions to pick out an accurate meaning.

If you sense frustration building up, take special care to mitigate the damage before people start shaking their fists or you will be in for a long recovery. If you have managed to build trust by reducing the fear in your organization, you are less likely to need to take remedial actions.

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


Leadership Barometer 29 Admitting Mistakes

December 16, 2019

One of the most powerful opportunities for any leader to build trust is to publicly admit mistakes.

The source of that power is that it is so rare for leaders to stand up in front of a group and say something like this:

“I called you here today to admit that I made a serious blunder yesterday. It was not intentional, as I will explain. Nevertheless, I failed to do the best thing for our group. I sincerely apologize for this and call on all of us to help mend the damage quickly. Without being defensive, let me just explain what happened…”

If you were in the audience listening to this leader, how would you react? Chances are your trust for the leader would be enhanced, simply by the straightforward approach and honesty of the statements.

Of course, it does depend on the nature of the mistake. Here are a few situations where an admission of a mistake would not produce higher trust:

• If the blunder was out of sheer stupidity.
• If this was the third time the leader had done essentially the same thing.
• If the leader is prone to making mistakes due to shooting before aiming.
• If the leader simply failed to get information that he should have had.
• If the leader was appeasing higher-ups inappropriately.

Assuming none of the above conditions is present and the mistake is an honest one, admitting it publicly is often the best strategy. There is an interesting twist to this approach that has often baffled me.

Let’s suppose that I have gathered 100 leaders into a room and asked them to answer the following question: “If you had made a mistake, which of the following two actions would have the greater chance of increasing the level of respect people have for you?

(A) You call people together, admit your mistake, apologize, and ask people to help you correct the problem.

(B) You try to avoid the issue, blame the problem on someone else, downplay the significance, pretend it did not happen, or otherwise attempt to weasel out of responsibility.

Given those two choices, I am confident that at least 99 out of the 100 leaders would say action (A) has a much greater probability of increasing respect.

The reason I am confident is that I have run that experiment dozens of times when working with leaders in groups. The irony is that when an error is subsequently made, roughly 80% of the same leaders choose action more consistent with choice (B).

The real conundrum is that if you were to tap the leader on the shoulder at that time and ask him why he chose (B) over (A), he would most likely say, “I did not want to admit my mistake because I was afraid people would lose respect for me.”

This situation illustrates that, in the classroom, all leaders know how to improve respect and trust, but many of them tend to forget that knowledge when there is an opportunity to apply it in the field. It seems illogical.

Perhaps in the heat of the moment, leaders lose their perspective to the degree that they will knowingly do things that take them in the opposite direction from where they want to go.

I believe it is because they are ashamed of making a mistake, but when you admit an error, it has an incredibly positive impact on trust because it is unexpected. Perhaps this is one of the differences between IQ and Emotional Intelligence.

Early in my career, I made a mistake on a trip to Japan and left some confidential information where it might have been viewed by those who could have used it against my company. Upon returning home, I went immediately to my boss and said, “I have to share that I did a dumb thing while I was in Japan last week.” He said, “What did you do”?

I told him the story of what happened and that my lapse could have caused some jeopardy for us. His response was, “Well you know, you are right, Bob. That’s not the smartest thing you ever did.” He said, “The smartest thing you ever did was to tell me about it.”

From that point on, I knew that he trusted me completely over the next 25 years. It was because I blew myself in when I didn’t have to. He would never have known what happened if I did not tell him.

Intellectually, many leaders know the best route to improve trust is to admit a mistake, but emotionally they are not mature or confident enough to take the risk.

When you admit an error, it has a positive impact on trust because it is unexpected. As Warren Bennis in Old Dogs: New Tricks noted, “All the successful leaders I’ve met learned to embrace error and to learn from it.”

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.


Leadership Barometer 25 Drive Out Fear

November 18, 2019

Number eight of Deming’s Famous 14 Points was “Drive Out Fear.” In just three words, the long-deceased quality genius put his finger on the most important concept in building and maintaining trust.

I have a favorite quote that I use on my website: “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.” It seems a little backward to describe the lack of something to be the cause of something else, but I really do believe that is the case. When there is low fear in a culture, trust will grow spontaneously, like the mold on last week’s bread, only in this case the mold is good.

If we turn the logic around, there are a number of positive leader behaviors that do cause trust to grow.  If you think about it, these behaviors are easy to name.  Consider the following (incomplete) list:

  1. Do what you say (walk your talk)
  2. Act in a consistent manner
  3. Treat people with respect
  4. Honor your commitments
  5. Be honest
  6. Be transparent
  7. Admit mistakes

We know all these things, and we could list hundreds of behaviors that contribute to building trust on a daily basis. They all work, and yet the power of each one is significantly blunted if the general environment is one of fear.

If you are a leader, of course you need to model the seven behaviors above, along with the others I did not name, but doing that alone will not get you to the promised land.

You need to create a culture of low fear, and you will see the impact of the other behaviors is like they are all on steroids. So the question becomes, how does a leader create a culture of low fear?  The answer is simple, but most leaders have a difficult time doing it, which is the reason trust is so low in most organizations.

You lower fear when you make people glad when they bring up a contrary opinion to what you thought was right. Of course, people need to bring up the disconnect in a respectful manner as opposed to an obnoxious way.  When you make people glad they brought up their concern and reward them for doing that rather than punishing them, it lowers fear within your group.

You make it safe for people to tell you things that you perhaps did not want to hear. I call the behavior “reinforcing candor,” and I believe leaders who have the ability to exhibit this behavior consistently will build the highest trust organizations.

Since high trust is linked to outstanding performance, morale, and low turnover, the benefits of learning how to reinforce candor are immense. This set of behaviors become the super sauce of excellent leadership.  Learn how to reinforce candor; for sure you will become an elite leader.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.


Leadership Barometer 13 Negotiate Well

August 27, 2019

I’m sure you realize that we all negotiate every day of our lives.  From the moment the Doctor slapped you on the bottom and you started to cry, you started to negotiate.

Some people envision that to negotiate means to sit across a small table at a car dealer.  Of course, that is, but the principles of negotiation are in play in pretty much everything you do.

This is especially true for leaders. The most important test of a leader is how well he or she does at influencing other people to do what needs to be done. In this brief article I will describe my fix on how you can tell the level of your negotiating skill. It is one of my favorite measures for the quality of leadership.

Negotiate Well

Most leaders exist in a kind of sandwich. They report to someone at a higher level and also supervise other people at lower levels in the organization. Great leaders are experts at negotiating the needs of both groups.

They interpret the needs of the organization from above to the people below in a way that makes most of them understand and appreciate the policies of the larger group.

Simultaneously great leaders advocate well for the needs of individuals reporting to them to levels above in the organization. It is this give and take role that requires constant attention and skill at negotiating well.

Effective negotiating is a science. You can take graduate level courses on this topic or there are numerous books and seminars outlining the various stratagems. You can study the tactics and countermeasures for months and still not be very skilled at negotiating well.

A key attitude for successful negotiations is to recognize that the best ones are where the parties seek out solutions that work for both of them.  Too many leaders seek ways to win in negotiations at the expense of the other party.  That implies that the other party loses.

The best negotiators keep working to find solutions that work to the advantage of both sides.  It is always possible to find ways to have both parties better off.

The most important ingredient for effective negotiating within an organization is credibility. Leaders who are believable to their people and to upper management have more success at negotiating needs in both directions effectively.

So, how does a leader become credible? Here are some tips that can help. (I apologize in advance for the clichés in this list. I decided that using the vernacular is the best way to convey this information succinctly.)

1. Be consistent – people need to know what you stand for, and you need to communicate your own values clearly.
2. Show respect for opinions contrary to yours – other opinions are as valid as yours, and you can frequently find a common middle ground for win-win solutions. This avoids unnecessary acrimony.
3. Shoot straight –speak your truth plainly and without a lot of spin. Get a reputation for telling the unvarnished truth, but do it with compassion. Do not try to snow people – people at all levels have the ability to smell BS very quickly.
4. Listen more than you talk – keep that ratio as much as possible because you are not the fountain of all knowledge. You just might learn something important.
5. Be open and transparent – share as much information as you can as early as possible.
6. Get your facts right – don’t get emotional and bring in a lot of half truths to the argument.
7. Don’t be fooled by the vocal minority – make sure you test to find out if what you are hearing is really shared broadly. Often there are one or two individuals who like to speak for the whole group, and yet they do not share the sentiments of everyone.
8. Don’t panic – there are “Chicken Littles” who go around shouting “The sky is falling” every day. It gets tiresome, and people tune you out eventually.
9. Ask a lot of questions – Socratic and hypothetical questions are more effective methods of negotiating points than making absolute statements of your position.
10. Build Trust: Admit when you are wrong – sometimes you will be.
11. Know when to back off –pressing a losing point to the point of exhaustion is not a good strategy.
12. Give other people the most credit – often the smart thing to do is not claim victory, even if you are victorious.
13. Keep your powder dry for future encounters – there is rarely a final battle in organizations, so don’t burn bridges behind you.
14. Smile – be gracious and courteous always. If you act like a friend, it is hard for people to view you as an enemy.

These are some of the rules to build credibility. If you are familiar with these and practice them regularly, you are probably very effective at negotiating within your organization.

Once you are highly credible, the tactics and countermeasures of conventional negotiating are much more effective.

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 bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.


Leadership Barometer 2 Level of Trust

June 11, 2019

There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly.

You can spend a lot of time and money taking surveys to tell you the quality of your leadership. There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership.

These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Level of Trust

Good leaders create a legacy of trust within their organization. I have written elsewhere on the numerous hallmarks of an organization with trust as opposed to one that has no trust. But is there a quick and dirty kind of litmus test for trust? Think about how you would know if an organization has high trust.

You can do extensive surveys on the climate or call in an expensive consultant to study every nook and cranny of the organization, but that is not necessary.

All you need to do is walk into a meeting that is going on and observe what you see for about 5 minutes. You can get a very accurate view of the level of trust in what Malcolm Gladwell calls a “thin slice” of a few minutes watching a group.

1. Overall Body Language

Look at how the people sit. Are they leaning back with arms crossed and rigid necks, or are they basically leaning either in or toward the other people next to them?

2. Facial Expressions

Observe the look on the faces of people in the meeting. Can you see pain and agony, like they do not want to be there but are forced to endure the agony till the boss adjourns?

3. Tone of Voice

Listen to how people address each other. Is there a biting sarcasm that seeks to gain personal advantage by making other people in the room look small or do the people show genuine respect and even affection for each other?

4. Respect for the Leader

See how individuals interact with the leader. Is it obvious that everyone is trying to help the leader or are they trying to trip her up or catch her in a mistake? Do the participants show a genuine respect for the leader?

5. Lack of Fear

Is there a willingness to speak up if there is something not sitting right – for anyone, or is there a cold atmosphere of fear where people know they will get clobbered if they contradict the leader?

6. High Initiative

If there is work to be done are there eager volunteers or does everyone sit quiet like non-bidders at an auction?

7. Attitude

Is the spirit of the meeting one of doom and gloom or is the group feeling like masters of their own fate, even when times are rough?

These are just seven signs you can observe in only a few minutes that will tell you the level of trust within the group. That trust level is an accurate reflection of the caliber of the leader.

I used to tell people that I could tell the climate of an organization within 30 seconds of watching a meeting. You can actually see it in the body language of the participants. Would you agree with this assessment?

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 bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.


When You are Thanked, Don’t Say “No Problem”

April 9, 2019

I wrote the core of this article several years ago, and it was so popular that I am dusting it off with some additional information and ideas to enhance the analysis. The article is about the habit of replying “No problem” when someone says “Thank you.”

Pay attention, and you will hear this phrase used very often, especially when people do a service for you. The practice sends a wrong signal, and represents a missed opportunity. Here’s a true story to illustrate why the phrase should be avoided.

My wife and I were out to dinner a while ago and ran into a very personable young waiter named Kyle. This young man was still in college, and he was working to earn money and looking for his future. I really liked this waiter because he made great eye contact, and he was polite but not intrusive.

He had one annoying habit that was a distraction from the otherwise stellar impression that he created, but he was unaware of the habit. Every time he would do something, like refresh my water, I would say, “Thank you,” and he would reply, “No problem.”

For a while I just let it pass and did not think about it, but eventually I recognized that his response was a habit that was undermining his good impression.

The statement “No problem” is really not a bad thing to say, but it does represent a missed opportunity to build rapport and trust with the other person. Reason: the statement does not represent a proactive positive response to gratitude. Instead, it reflects a kind of throw-away line that I, the customer, am not that important to him. The effect is very subtle, so the negative impression is not severe, but a more upbeat response, or at least some variety of responses, would work much better.

A simple “You’re welcome” would be better than “No problem,” but there could be hundreds of more creative and memorable statements the young man could have used that would further entrench the good impression we had of him. Remember, he has plenty of time to prepare creative comebacks because he pours water for people every day.

For example, in response to “thank you” after he poured the water, he might have said, “We double-filter all of our water before we serve it to our guests.” He could have blown me away with a statement like, “We never serve water that is warmer than 47 degrees. Depending on the customer, some levity might be fun:  “It is for your protection, sir.  In this restaurant, an empty water glass makes the sprinklers go off.”

Another tack might be to demonstrate respect by responding, “I am honored,” or “It’s my pleasure to be of service.” One reader (Timothy Burchfield) commented on my prior article that his employer, Horst Schulze of The Ritz-Carlton, insists that team members use the phrase “My Pleasure.”  I love the Ritz Carlton vision: “The Ritz-Carlton inspires life’s most meaningful journeys,” and their motto: “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.”  It has the true ring of respect.

The response of “no problem” also effectively closes the exchange and stops conversation. It may be possible to continue the exchange by asking an open ended question when presented with “Thank you.” For example, suppose the waiter had said, “This is special spring water; isn’t it the best tasting water you’ve had for a long time?” That would be a great way to not only differentiate the waiter but also the establishment.

The young waiter had to realize that he was serving expensive food to people who could afford it, so every night he was making impressions on people who could potentially influence his life. He was missing some valuable opportunities. I took the time to compliment Kyle on his demeanor and give him some coaching on his habitual response to gratitude. He got the message and was truly thankful for it because he had never given the matter any thought. It was just something he was used to saying.

You may have the same habit or know someone else who does. The response to a “Thank you” should be thought of as a great opportunity to differentiate yourself from the pack, whether you are in a customer service occupation or not. Don’t waste the opportunity with a throw-away line like, “No problem.”

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Leading Effective Organizational Change. 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


Body Language 22 The Forehead

April 6, 2019

The forehead is an interesting area of body language. This area of the body is not as expressive as the eyes or mouth, and yet knowing how to interpret certain signals can be very helpful when you are trying to piece together a cluster of gestures into a strong signal.

A wrinkled forehead is always seen in conjunction with raised eyebrows. If you try to wrinkle your forehead without raising your eyebrows, you will see it is difficult or impossible to do. The normal interpretation of wrinkled forehead is surprise or skepticism. It is physically possible to wrinkle only one side of the forehead, but it takes so much effort that you rarely see that gesture. However, just as it is possible to lift one eyebrow more than the other, so too is it possible to have more wrinkles on one side of the face.

To catch the proper interpretation of a raised forehead, look at the mouth. If the mouth is wide open in the shape of an “O” then you can be sure the forehead is signaling surprise. If the lips are pursed or clenched, then the forehead is projecting skepticism or anger.

Hitting the forehead with open palm usually is a sign of exasperation, normally with one’s self. The gesture means “how stupid of me,” or “how could I have missed that before?” This gesture is the subtle form of banging your head against the wall to knock some sense into it.

The forehead is often the first visible area of the body that sweats when a person is overwrought, worried, or otherwise overheated. In negotiations, I used to watch my opponent for tiny beads of sweat on the forehead. It was one indication the other party was under stress and ready to make a concession.

Some hair styles for both women and men obscure the forehead from view. If a person’s bangs hang down to the tops of the eyebrows, you are not going to read forehead signals. You can infer a raised forehead when the bottom of the bangs is lowered into the region of the pupils.

Touching the forehead with the tips of the fingers can have two different meanings depending on the position of the hand. If the hand is straight and the index finger touches the forehead, it is a greeting sign, like a salute. If the first three fingers touch the forehead at the same time, It means the person is in deep thought. This gesture is often accompanied by closed eyes in an attempt to shut out distracting sights.

Rubbing of the forehead or temples is a sign of a person in deep thought. Generally the person’s thumb will be planted on one side of the forehead and the other fingers will slide back and forth in a linear or circular pattern. This person wants to be left alone to work on his or her problem.

The forehead is but one of the countless signals in body language. The important skill is to be able to piece together a mosaic of the many different parts of the face and body to come up with an accurate way to figure out the true meaning. The more you can practice this skill the more adept you will be at being able to read others accurately.

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