Body Language 21 The Mouth

March 30, 2019

Body language gestures of the mouth are usually straightforward, but there are some tricky nuances to consider. First we will consider the most recognizable gesture: the smile. Actually, there are many different types of smiles to identify.

Smiles

Duchenne Smile – This is a highly recognizable smile, but only a small portion of the population can model it well. The smile actually starts with the eyes. You can see a twinkle in the eye and a slight but natural squint that produces crow’s feet at the corners. The cheeks are elevated and the entire face, including the mouth takes the shape of an oval.

The corners of the mouth are raised through the Zygomatic Major Muscle. Those people who can accomplish a Duchenne Smile have a huge advantage, because trying to force the face to this configuration often looks phony as described below.

Non-Duchenne Smile – this is where the mouth forms a shape by raising the corners of the mouth through the Zygomatic Major muscle but without the effect of “smiling eyes.” The smile is confined to the mouth region only, so it does not have the holistic appearance of a true Duchenne Smile and often is interpreted as being duplicitous or at least insincere.

The Botox Smile – This smile looks pasted on and is perfunctory for service people who wish to look pleasant but it comes across as insincere. It is also known as the “Pan Am” smile after flight attendants who were instructed to flash a pasted-on smile at each customer. This smile is also seen on the faces of beauty pageant contestants while they are being judged. My friend Jeanne Robertson has a whole comedy routine about how she learned to smile continuously while competing in the Miss America Pageant.

Tight Lipped Smile – As the name implies, this smile is characterized by not showing any teeth. Depending on the circumstance, this smile can convey approval or precaution. According to Bill Acheson in “Advanced Body Language,” one cardinal rule when meeting a person for the first time is to smile naturally but make it broad enough that you show your teeth. He explains that the custom is a carry over from when the condition of a person’s teeth was an indication of health and status.

Pulled Smile – also know as the “smug smile” this is where the mouth is pulled to a smile configuration, but on one side only. Generally, this configuration suggests some form of agenda going on, and it is not a smile that invites high trust in the individual. The extreme form of a pulled smile was demonstrated by McKayla Maroney in the 2012 Olympics when she was awarded the silver medal in the vault. She contorted her face pulling her mouth entirely to one side to indicate she was “not impressed” with the performance of the other gymnasts or the judges. This contorted smile was made into a meme that became a PR issue.

Laughing Smile – Occasionally you will see a person make a smile with his or her mouth wide open. This is known in some circles as the “Marilyn Monroe” smile. It is as if there was a laugh that was frozen in time. This smile also tends to lower trust, because it is seen as less than authentic.

Frowns

Classic Frown – We are all familiar with a frown brought on by the person feeling negative about something. The lips are pulled downward and often the head and gaze go down as well. This is the look you see on football players’ faces when they have lost a close game. Another place to see a classic frown is at a funeral. This is also the habitual expression on the face of Donald Trump when he is trying to negotiate something.

Clenched Teeth – This type of frown has the additional element of clenched teeth, which causes the jaw muscle to pop out. I once had a boss who did this whenever he was really upset. It was a telltale sign to watch out if his jaws popped out and became red.

Puffed Cheeks – Occasionally you may encounter a person who frowns but then fills up his cheeks with air. This is an indication of exasperation; it is like the person is getting ready to blow up.

Other Mouth Gestures

Puckering up – This gesture can have different meanings based on the context. It may mean that the person is deep in thought. It could mean you are getting the kiss off by the individual. If done softly and delicately it may be an actual signal of blowing a kiss.

Twitching – Some people will have an involuntary twitch. Most common is the twitch of the upper lip. If you see this gesture in a person, it may be habitual and be of little significance in terms of body language. Watch to see if the twitch comes just after a particular person addresses him or when something that may be sensitive comes up. If a person twitches during stressful conversation, it is a great clue to use when observing his level of stress in the future. I knew a university dean who would twitch whenever he was stressed. He was aware that he was sending signals, but he could not stop it.

Covering the Mouth – The classical interpretation of this gesture is that the person is lying or telling a half truth and covers his mouth to avoid detection. That may be true in some circumstances, but covering the mouth can also be a reaction to being embarrassed; it may also be out of fear of halitosis the discovery of bad teeth. The best advice when you see a person covering his or her mouth is to gather more data to see if there is some pattern.

Wiping the Mouth – This may be a function of the saliva getting into the corners of the mouth. Some people struggle with that problem and need to wipe their mouth many times when speaking in public.

Biting the Lip – This gesture is usually related to insecurity, and it is normally the lower lip that is involved. As with all body language, it is important to notice the pattern of making this gesture. If it is at a logical point where the person may be feeling insecure, then the interpretation is likely correct. There could be another cause, so be alert for other signals. Bill Clinton was famous for using this gesture in his more infamous moments.

The gestures in this article were some of the more common mouth configurations you are likely to encounter. There are other, more subtle gestures you may see as well. The best advice is to keep track of a person’s habitual behavior, and then you can use that baseline pattern to assess what is happing with the individual.

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


Body Language 4 Facial Expressions

December 1, 2018

The topic of facial expressions is endlessly fascinating. Keeping in mind that all body language is culture specific; still many of the facial expressions are the same no matter what culture is employing them. For example, a child in pain is going to have the same facial expression regardless of where in the world he or she originated.

There are many generalities in facial expressions. For this series, I will key off the Western Cultures to make specific points. Where specific gestures mean different things, I will give some examples to clarify.

There are literally tens of thousands of different facial expressions we use to convey our emotions. It would be impossible to cover them all in one article, but I will lay out some details of the specific parts of the face in my articles over the next several weeks. In this article, I deal with the entire face as a unit.

As Bill Acheson points out in his series “Advanced Body Language,” (www.seminarsonDVD.com) most body language occurs at the subconscious level. We are giving off signals with all facets of body language every moment of the day. The part of body language that we control consciously is facial expressions. You can be having a bad day and still try to wear a pleasant expression. Or you can be quite happy but appear to be angry if you wish. The problem is that when you try to force an expression that is not congruent with the remainder of your body language, it appears phony.

Take the example of the person in the picture above. He has a smile on his face, but his posture is not consistent with someone who is happy. His arms are crossed and he has a slouch. His eyes are squinting. The smile is not convincing and looks pasted on. While he is trying to look happy, the incongruent body language reveals another agenda. We are not really sure what the message is, but it sure isn’t a congenial look of happiness.

We can convey all kinds of emotions just by our facial expressions. For example, as you are reading this, can you convey the following emotions accurately?

Anger
Fear
Love
Happiness
Pain
Surprise
Disgust
Contempt

I think you will agree that it is rather easy to convey these emotions through facial expression. In his program, Bill Acheson shares some research that there is one emotion that men can convey with far greater accuracy than women. That emotion is guilt. His explanation is that for men, guilt is a two-person event “There’s things these guys have done that they thought was funny as Hell till they got found out.” For a woman, guilt is something that is experienced internally, so it is not easy for a female to show an expression of guilt.

One interesting exercise in reading facial expressions is provided by the Greater Good at Berkley Group. They have an online quiz that shows 20 facial expressions and you get to select from four possible explanations. The quiz is located at http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/ei_quiz/ You will find some of the expressions are easy to follow, but others are quite subtle.

Another example is to try to come up with a word that goes along with the following facial expressions.

 

For comparison to your list, here are the words I would use to describe these expressions in the order given. I do not expect us to agree on all of the interpretations, but I suspect many of them will be similar.

 

 

 

 

1. Pleased
2. Excited
3. Bummed
4. Coy
5. Upset
6. Calm
7. Exasperated
8. Incredulous
9. Scathing
10. Shocked
11. Pondering
12. Surprised
13. Withdrawn
14. Disgusted
15. Fatigued
16. Worried

Exercise for you today

Observe the facial expressions of your family and coworkers at a deeper level than normal today. Notice that you do this at a subconscious level every moment of the day. If you can make the practice more of a conscious activity, you will gain skill in this technique at a rapid rate.

Also notice how you react when one part of a facial expression seems to be at odds with the overall message. For example, if the general impression is a pleasant expression but the eyebrows are furrowed, then you would be less likely to trust your instincts about the person’s true emotion.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/Bodylanguage 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


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.