Body Language 30 False Signals

June 1, 2019

Throughout this series on body language, I have stressed that the ability to read signals accurately is both an art and a science. You can be educated to pick up the various clues, but there can be a false signal or one that is easy to misinterpret.

You need to be alert that interpreting body language is not 100% accurate. The best way to guard against incorrect interpretations is to look for clusters where different BL signals are all pointing toward one thing. Lacking a cluster, it becomes a game of probabilities.

What we have not covered yet is when an individual intentionally tries to put you off the scent by sending weak or even conflicting signals. If a set of information appears to be incongruent with what your gut is telling you, be suspicious and do some additional detective work.

For example, in a negotiation situation, if your opponent is pacing back and forth while talking and also rubbing his hands while exhibiting a high blinking rate, you would normally assume the individual was nervous and therefore somewhat vulnerable.

What if actually the person was well schooled in body language and wanted to appear nervous in order to lure you into a trap or to extract some information you would not normally share. Actually, he was supremely confident in his ultimate victory but wanted you to think he was insecure.

That kind of play acting can sometimes be observed at car dealers. Skilled horse traders are not shy about sending an opposite signal to gain an advantage. You need to be aware of the ploy.

Actually, when you catch a dealer using a common negotiating ploy and call him out on it, the results can be quite amusing. For example, you might say, “Oh, you’re not going to play the “good guy – bad guy” game with me, are you? I never fall for that tired old ploy.” Now, all of a sudden, you have the upper hand.

There are other situations where the body language you observe in another person might not be indicative of what that person is feeling toward you. A typical example is when you are talking with someone and she is very short with you. She appears to be angry or upset, yet you cannot think of anything between you that might be upsetting her.

It could be that she just had a falling out with one of her superiors and is still feeling the sting when she is interfacing with you. It is common for body language from one conversation to spill or bleed over into a subsequent conversation with a different person.

Another common situation is when you want to chat with a person about something serious, but the other person is acting hurried or distracted in some way. The body language you observe may have little to do with you and much more to do with the source of the distraction.

If she needs to get the budget revision completed in the next 30 minutes, she is not going to emote a lot of patience if you want to analyze a verbal altercation that happened in the break room yesterday.

You can accurately decode that she does not want to talk with you, but it has little to do with you and everything to do with her other responsibilities.

If a person frequently acts in ways that are different from what might be expected, it can become a trust withdrawal. You need to bring up the matter in a constructive and respectful way to find out what is going on.

In all these cases, if what you observe does not make sense based upon what you know, chances are you don’t know the full story. Back off and wait for a better time to approach the other person. At the very least offer some way for the other person to share the disconnect. Say something like, “It looks like you are in a bind here, maybe it would be better if we chat about my situation at a better time.”

False body language signals are at least annoying and are potentially damaging for a relationship. When you encounter them, try to get to the bottom of what is causing the person to act out.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on 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.TheTrust 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, or 585.392.7763

Fewer, Shorter Meetings

September 28, 2011

The ruling paradigm on meetings is that they should be scheduled for one hour. If a manager sends a note to her administrative assistant to schedule a meeting sometime this week, the assistant will instinctively assume the duration is one hour.

We come by this paradigm through convention, and it is an opportunity to challenge the status quo. Suppose the administrative person scheduled the meeting for 40 minutes. What would be the outcome? In most organizations it would mean that everyone invited to the meeting saved at least 20 minutes. As a side benefit, the 40 minutes spent at the meeting would be far more productive because the standard paradigm has been broken.

Start by challenging the need for a meeting at all. This is especially true for “standing meetings” (by this I mean the kind that happen automatically each week, not the kind where there are no chairs in the room – BTW, no chairs is a great way to encourage shorter meetings). Since standing meetings often do not have a specific agenda, they frequently degrade into “group grope” sessions.

There are numerous things that can be done to improve the time utilization at meetings, Here are nine of my favorite techniques;

  1. Suggest that the person leading the meeting be extremely mindful of the duration. After all, what we have at work is our time.
  2. Have a meeting agenda and stick to it unless the group makes a conscious decision to adjust priorities.
  3. Shock people into a realization of what is actually happening:  Set up the meeting to start at 2:17 pm and end at 2:49 pm. That would be a 33 minute meeting (if my math is correct).
  4. Put a premium on how the time is spent in meetings. Make sure the agenda is specific as to how much time will be devoted to each topic and stick to that schedule. Have a PITA assigned to keep things on track (PITA stands for Pain In The Rear).
  5. Acknowledge the need for important side issues, but do not let them derail the meeting.  Handle them efficiently or find another venue to deal with them.
  6. Start and end each meeting on time.  Become known as a stickler for this. You can be courteous and bring stragglers up to speed on what has already been accomplished, but you are really enabling them to continue the practice. It is not polite to others to arrive late for meetings. It is also not polite to attendees for the leader to extend beyond the advertised finish time.
  7. Have a set of expected behaviors for your meetings and post them. Hold each other accountable for abiding by these rules.  Here is a favorite rule of mine. It is expected that when someone feels we are spinning our wheels or not making the best use of time, he or she will give the “time out” signal to the person running the meeting (finger tips of one hand touching the palm of the other hand).  Nobody will be punished in any way for making this sign. It simply calls the question as to whether we are spending our time wisely right now.
  8. Have some time set aside in each meeting to reinforce good behavior and feel good about things that are going well. If we spend 100% of our time dealing with the bad stuff that needs to be fixed, we will never smell the roses.
  9. Obtain and use a meeting cost calculator. You can find free programs on the WEB.  Just plug in the average salary and the number of people, and the calculator lets you know how much money is being spent.  With this information visible on the screen, wordy managers find it beneficial to shut up sooner.

All these rules are common sense. It is too bad they are not common practice, because they help preserve our most critical resource: our time.

The 30-second e-mail

December 1, 2010

You know how it feels. You are grazing your bloated inbox, and you see the name, Sam Jones. You cringe. Having waded through his prior tomes, you know that opening this e-mail will tie you up for at least 15 minutes trying to get the message. Sam writes really l-o-n-g notes and rarely uses paragraph breaks. He does not capitalize the start of sentences, so his writing is hard to decode. You pause, and pass the note because there is just not enough time to deal with the hassle.

Don’t be a Sam Jones! Follow these seven simple rules, and people will appreciate your e-mail communications.

1. Make it easy on the reader. Have a well formatted and short note that deals with a single topic in compressed format. Don’t ramble!

2. Don’t go “over the horizon.” Try to have the majority of your notes fit into the first window of a note. Reason: when the reader can see the start of your signature block on the bottom of the opening window, he knows that is all there is to the note. That is a psychological lift that puts the reader in a better frame of mind to absorb your meaning. When the text goes beyond the first page (over the horizon), the reader has no way to know how long your note is. This is a psychological burden that frustrates the reader subconsciously.

3. Aim for 15 to 30 seconds. Try to have the e-mail compressed enough that it can be internalized in a half minute at the maximum. It will be remembered much more than one that takes 5 minutes to read.

4. Use bullet points. Short, punchy bullets are easier to read than long complex sentences.

5. Highlight expected actions. Delineate action items in a way that is not offensive. Do not use all caps. Sometimes bold text works, but I find it best to have a separate line like this:

       Action: Please get me your draft report by Friday.

6. Be polite. Start with a friendly greeting and end with respect but not long or trite quotations.

7. Sometimes the Subject can be the whole note. In this case use EOM (End Of Message) to designate there is no note to open at all. It looks like this:

       Subject: The Binford celebration is Wednesday 3 pm. EOM

If you follow these simple seven rules, people will pay more attention to your e-mails, and you will improve the hit rate of your communications. Not all notes can follow all of these rules, but if the majority of yours do, you will be greatly appreciated.