Body Language 55 Evasion

November 23, 2019

When we were kids, and our mother asked us if we ate the chocolate chips, we would squirm and look away.

Our mother would say, “Look at me when you answer.” Of course, Mother could tell by the chocolate stains all over our lips that we had done it. We did not want to “get in trouble,” so we tried to evade rather than answer the question with a bold face lie.

Let’s start the discussion with a realization that not all evasive actions are the result of something sinister going on. There are plenty of times when it is improper, illegal, or unkind to answer a question directly.

Being evasive is not always a bad thing. It is highly situational and also highly personal having to do with the trust level between individuals.

For example, the question may come up relative to a rumor of a personal nature that needs to be kept private. It might be the result of a leak about a merger, where a direct answer would result in possible incarceration.

The rest of this article deals with a situation where an individual tries to get out of a tight spot by avoiding a direct answer to a question. Usually this condition is easy to detect, if you know the gestures and are alert to them. We used these moves as children, but in reality, they are practiced all of our lives.

The adult version of evasion goes on daily in organizational life and in many situations regarding public officials. If they are asked a direct question that they do not want to answer, the evasion is completely obvious by looking at their shifty eyes.

A perfect example of this body language was recently provided by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when he was asked on September 22, 2019 on camera by Martha Raddatz about a July 25th phone call between President Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine.

Martha asked the Secretary of State, “What do you know about those conversations?” Pompeo evaded, while lowering his chin, looking down, and shifting his eyes from side to side, “So…you just gave me a report about an I.C., about a Whistle Blower complaint, none of which I have not seen.” He did not reveal during that interview that he was actually on the phone call. That fact came out a couple weeks later.

Secretary Pompeo undoubtedly had a reason for not sharing everything at that particular moment on national TV. The point is that his body language made it obvious to people watching that he was evading or holding back something.

You also can see the evasive look in the eyes of CEOs who do not want to answer an embarrassing complaint brought up by an employee in a Town Hall meeting. You can witness it when a school board president tries to duck a question about some reported missing funds.

It is really a common human reaction when we get caught with our hand in the cookie jar to attempt to deflect attention in the hope that we can avoid having to admit the awful truth. Yet, in being evasive, we clearly lower trust and make it more difficult for people to believe us when we do ‘fess up to something.

In fact, the evasive gesture is so common that many of us just let it slide by and do not recognize we are getting at best a partial truth. You need to be alert to catch it because it goes by so quickly.

Look for this gesture when an individual is asked a direct question and hesitates before answering it. Particularly, watch the eyes to see if they are shifting back and forth or looking sideways. Also, watch the chin to see if it is lowered slightly.

When you see these two gestures along with a long hesitation in answering a direct question, it is likely the person is being evasive. Once you suspect that, you can probe carefully to find out what the person is trying to cover up.

Rather than take an accusatory stance by saying something like, “Okay, what are you trying to hide here?” give the person some leeway, but try to share the rationale and make the probe a positive thing. For example, you might say, “It is vital that we know what was going on with Jake if we are to be successful at helping him, so I would appreciate you being candid about what happened.”

This is a time to use your Emotional Intelligence to manage the specific situation well to obtain a positive outcome. The objective should be to come away from the conversation with an enhanced level of trust between you and the other person.

The specific approach will vary widely based on numerous factors, such as the incoming level of trust between you and the other person, the reason for trying to evade, the number of other people involved and their relationships. It is not the intent of this article to cover every possible scenario and give advice. The idea is to recognize the body language associated with evasion and be alert for it.

If the person does open up with more information, you can then reinforce the behavior with some kind words like, “Thanks for leveling with me on this, Mike. I know it was not easy for you to do it.” If an assurance of confidentiality about this issue in the future is appropriate, then state that as well.

In many cases it is possible to transform an evasive action into a trust-building exchange if you handle it well, depending on the circumstances and the relationship between you and the other person.

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


A Virtual Birth

February 24, 2013

PopeIt is a story as old as mankind itself. You plant a seed in a moment of passion, and initially nothing visible occurs. Hidden microscopic changes have been made that will play out over the subsequent nine months. Slowly, over time, you are able to detect changes, growth, anticipation.

At first the signs are slight and hard to see, but later on, the changes are obvious to everyone. The gestation period takes roughly 280 days, and as sure as the sun rises in the east, a major event occurs. All of this is no surprise. We know what to expect, and nature works like clockwork.

Well, strangely enough, it happened to me, but I really was not expecting it, since I am male. There was a degree of divine intervention, as I will explain. Lest you think I am some kind of freak of nature, let me explain that the “explosion” I experienced after 284 days from planting the seed was virtual. It was a result of an article I published on May 5, 2012.

The article was entitled “Situational Emotional Intelligence.” The gist of the article was that each one of us experiences Emotional Intelligence in unique ways. We are all different, and it stands to reason that no two people will react the same way to external stimuli. Further, I tried to make a case that each of us will react differently to situations depending on the exact context of each situation. Emotional Intelligence is “situational.” The concept was interesting, but not very profound.

One of the illustrative examples I used in the blog was Rev. Edward Salmon, a corporate contract negotiator who became a Jesuit priest and the head of a Catholic high school in my city. His response to everyday emotional situations as he worked in the two different contexts was dramatically different, as you might imagine.

At the time, I received several favorable comments on the article, which is my typical pattern. I monitor the traffic to my blog daily in an attempt to find out how to improve my offerings for the future. It is very interesting, because sometimes I will think an article is extremely insightful, and the returns will be business as usual. Other times I will put out what I consider a more routine article, and the analytics will light up as a result.

I have noticed that two conditions give rise to the most traffic. Either I have made some kind of a contribution that is really helping people, or I have written something that has annoyed a lot of folks. You learn to take the good with the bad. The blogosphere not a place for people who cannot take criticism.

The article on “Situational Emotional Intelligence” had produced the typical response, and I was happy with the numbers. Over the next few months, my traffic began to grow from the normal average of about 80 hits per day to more like an average of 120 hits per day. One might think of this as me just getting heavier with the years (which I admit is actually happening), but my analogy with the gestation period is not complete without a significant amount of belt loosening.

As I am writing this article, it is February 13, 2013. Today is exactly 284 days from the planting of that seed last May. When I opened up my blog at 6 a.m. to check on the stats from yesterday, I expected to see roughly 20 hits, which would be a normal return for that hour of the day. Instead, I saw over 200 hits had been recorded overnight. This shows up as a viral explosion on my returns chart: kind of like a birth.

Immediately I went back through the analytics to find out why my current article was driving so much traffic. I discovered that the bulk of the hits were not from my current article at all, but were for that article I published 284 days ago – exactly the amount of time for the human gestation period. What was going on? Then it hit me.

There was a world event that happened on Feb.11th that would seem to have little connection to my article on Emotional Intelligence. On that day, Pope Benedict announced he will step down for health reasons. I was still trying to fit the puzzle together in my mind when I went back and looked at my keywords. One of them was “Catholic.” Ahh, that single keyword was the trigger for a large spike in my blog traffic today. It may have been automated search bots rather than individuals, but the spike in traffic is still notable.

I wanted to share this story because it illustrates that you never know what future events will trigger a wave of responses based on the entire field of your content. Everything we say or do has some potential to sway future events in ways we can never predict. I think that makes life really interesting.

I will leave it up to you as to whether the gestation period of 284 days was simple random chance or if there was some guidance from a stronger hand. The only disappointing thing is that apparently I have not lost much weight as a result of the birth.


Situational Emotional Intelligence

May 5, 2012

Emotional Intelligence (also called EQ) is your ability to understand emotions and your skill at using that insight to manage yourself and your relations with other people. A high EQ is a prerequisite for good leadership because Emotional Intelligence governs the ability to work well with people. Many people view EQ as a static quantity within each person, similar to IQ. In reality, EQ is a dynamic quantity that changes and grows as we gain life experiences.

I participated in an online discussion while teaching a graduate course recently that highlighted the dynamic aspects of EQ. I was asking students to rate their current level of EQ. One person got back that he was strong in EQ, but because of his military background, that skill was not as developed as it might have been. He believes EQ is less important in the military because of the command and control nature of the service. People expect to be ordered around and do not take umbrage at the drill sergeant for yelling. That same behavior in the corporate world would cause instant revolt.

EQ is really situational; it morphs depending on the current circumstances and prevailing culture. That is actually good news, because it means we have some control over our level of EQ and are not stuck with our current level forever.

Suppose a man who had spent most of his adult life as a mediator for contract negotiations in the corporate world decided to change and become a Jesuit priest. Would his perspective on the emotions of other people change with that transformation? In Rochester, New York, Rev. Edward Salmon made that exact conversion. Salmon admits that in many ways running a local Catholic High School is similar to corporate work, but the whole framework of challenging the youth to be all they can be takes a much deeper skill of listening and sensitivity.

As we go through life, our skill at using Emotional Intelligence becomes developed and changes with each new situation. For example, the EQ skills required to convince an ornery teenager to do his homework are not the same as those required to coach a 99-year-old blind man to remain optimistic when confined to a nursing home. Some of the psychological thoughts would be similar, and the values might be roughly the same, like following the Golden Rule, but the emotional framework in the two environments is vastly different. A different set of tools is required to succeed in each of these situations.

I suspect the skill of EQ and how to apply it would be different in unique cultures around the world. For example, one’s behaviors toward other people in the USA might be totally different than that person would show if he or she was brought up in Japan. The cultural differences would drive unique opportunities and challenges.

We know that there is a big difference between how men and women experience Emotional Intelligence. In “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” John Gray describes the gender paradigm differences that cause men and women to deal with emotions in totally different ways. For example, women will consult with other women to analyze and resolve problems, while men would rather retreat to their “cave” to deal with difficulties.

It is widely believed that the Corpus Callosum in the female brain is larger than the same organ in a male. The Corpus Callosum is the “highway” in the brain that connects the right side (limbic, or emotional system) to the left side (rational brain). That allows women to process emotions into logical thought much faster and easier than men.

Your background, skill set, and even gender, along with the environment you experience will determine how you employ Emotional Intelligence in a way that is unique to you. That application of EQ will morph as you go through life in ways that nobody else on the planet can experience.