Body Language 19 The Eyes

March 16, 2019

Of all the different types of body language, the eyes win the prize for conveying the most different meanings without speaking. This one aspect of body language alone could fill a whole book; in fact, there are many such books that deal with the language of the eyes only.

For this article, I will share some of the more powerful and well-documented eye gestures along with their meanings and some caveats to avoid misinterpreting eye gestures.

This article will highlight only the aspects of the eye itself and the eyelids (blinking). There are a huge number of additional meanings that we will add next week when we discuss the impact of eyebrows. For now, let’s concentrate on the eye itself and the eyelids.

Eye Contact

The first aspect of body language with the eyes is eye contact. When you lock eyes with another person, it is called eye contact. You are looking directly into the soul of the other person using the eye like a window.

The percentage of time you look directly at the other person determines the rapport you will develop in that conversation. That rapport becomes the basis of growing trust.

According to Bill Acheson of the University of Pittsburgh, “If you have less than 70% eye contact with me, I will not trust you.” On the other hand, staring at another person with nearly 100% eye contact creates a creepy feeling that also destroys trust. You need to break eye contact at least once a minute when talking to another individual, but it is important to keep the gaze to the facial region.

Gazing around the room will send a signal of disinterest, and scanning down the body will label you as a pervert. My own personal rule of thumb is to have between 50-80% eye contact with another individual in conversations that involve only the two of you.

Of course, if there are many people in the conversation, the eye contact for any specific individual will be much lower, as it is important to make eye contact with each person in the group.

There is another aspect with eye contact that can be very distracting if it is allowed to continue. The best way to describe it is with a personal example.

Early in my career, I was anxious to impress managers higher in the organization. I noticed in weekly staff meetings, my manager seemed to be looking at me a lot, even if I was not talking at the time.

Eventually I started to become self-conscious about his aggressive eye contact, so I would look away quickly whenever that manager looked directly at me. I can recall becoming highly uncomfortable when sitting across the table from this manager and ended up sitting on the same side of the table from him to reduce the problem.

Pupil Dilation

Dilation of the pupils is also a major clue to what the other person is thinking. Normal dilation has the pupil (dark spot in the center of the eye) taking up roughly 30% -40% of the diameter of the iris (colored circle).

In this discussion, we need to separate out the impact of light levels and medical conditions on dilation. The iris dilates naturally in low light situations to allow more light to reach the retina, which allows people to see better in the dark.

Likewise, in bright conditions the pupil will reduce in diameter to avoid overloading the retina. In addition to this normal metering of the pupil size due to ambient light, there are other factors that impact the size of the pupil.

One common situation is in response to some types of drugs on the system. The eye doctor puts drops in your eyes to dilate the pupils so that the retina can be observed more easily.

Many of the psychedelic drugs have the same impact on dilation. This condition is medically called mydriasis, and it is why police officers are trained to notice whether a person’s eyes are dilated.

It is also possible that a person can have a disease or other eye condition that results in dilated pupils. When this condition is present, the pupils are generally habitually dilated.

For purposes of interpreting body language through pupil dilation, we are interested in situations where normal dilation is observed, but then there is a noticeable opening of the pupils in response to some stimulus, like a pointed question or a threatening gesture.

Let’s suppose you are in a moderately lighted environment and have had no drugs. What conditions might cause your eyes to become dilated involuntarily? This is where the body language aspect becomes very interesting. A person’s pupils will dilate automatically in response to fear or desire.

The study of pupil size as an indicator of emotion is known as pupillometrics. Eckhard Hess, a University of Chicago biopsychologist, did several experiments in the 1970s to determine cause and effect.

He did extensive measurements of how attitude can be determined by pupil size. “The changes in emotions and mental activity revealed by changes in pupil size are clearly associated with changes in attitude.” In general, Hess measured that positive attitudes led to larger pupil size and negative attributes resulted in smaller pupil size.

Keep in mind that the dilation of your eyes is not possible for you to detect without looking in a mirror, yet it is an obvious signal that you make in the presence of others in response to a stimulus. This is just one of the reasons why it is nearly impossible to hide some feelings from people who understand body language.

Blinking Rate

Another obvious signal that is difficult for the person doing it to detect is blinking rate. Normally, adult humans blink at a rate between 15 to 20 times a minute. There are some situations where a person’s blink rate will be high most of the time. These would include wearing contact lenses and some diseases of the eye. Curiously, babies have a much longer rate and only blink a couple times a minute.

What is of interest in body language is whether there is a marked change in the blinking rate just after some situation or conversation. When a person is under stress, the blinking rate will start to increase without the person being aware of it.

If you observe someone going from a normal 15 per minute rate to 30 to 40 blinks a minute, that person is likely under a great deal of stress, but is often trying to hide that fact.

I learned that lesson years ago when negotiating with a Japanese executive over price for some product. He tried the famous “Silent Treatment” with me in order to get a concession. Since I was aware of his ploy, I just stared back at him and watched his blink rate. I saw it double then double again until he finally caved in. I doubt that he even knew I was reading the stress level that was going on as observed in his blink rate.

Next time you are negotiating for a new car, recognize that the sales person is trained to watch your blink rate. If you are clever, you can reverse the logic and determine when the sales person is feeling the heat. Because you know this trick, you will be less likely to give away your stress level inadvertently.

This article is just the start of our discussion about body language of the eyes. When we couple the above ideas with what the larger facial muscles (cheeks and especially eyebrows) are revealing, the available information in the region of the eyes will become exponentially more complex and interesting.

My article next weekend will dig into these gestures.

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


Work Ahead of the Power Curve

May 28, 2016

Do you ever find yourself scrambling near a deadline to get all the work done? I suspect we have all experienced a time crunch on a project, whether it was a term paper in school, a special project at work, or even a party to celebrate a holiday.

As we pull an all-nighter to finish our project just ahead of the deadline, what we are really doing is lowering our chances of a successful effort and suffering unnecessary stress.

The alternative is to arrange your life so that you can complete most of the work well ahead of the due date. My mentor used to refer to this as “working ahead of the power curve.” That may seem impossible to do, but hang in with me and I will make it more doable for you. Before we discuss the process, let’s explore the benefits.

There are many advantages of getting the majority of work done early. Here are seven obvious advantages:

1. You have more time to polish the work, so the final quality is significantly higher.

2. You can do dry runs of the material, so your work comes out more professional looking.

3. You can relax and not be uptight about working close to the deadline. That also improves the quality of the material along with reducing your stress level.

4. You get the reputation as an organized person who has his or her act together.

5. You can respond better to unanticipated emergency situations because your current plate of work is not overflowing.

6. You can spend some time looking at potential problems that might arise and have contingencies ready to go.

7. Since you know you are prepared, you are more confident and relaxed when the event arrives.

With the help of my mentor, I got the idea of doing this many years ago. It sounded impossible to me at the time because, like everyone else, I was always so backed up with dozens of projects.

Actually, it was not as difficult as I thought to get into the habit of tricking myself into believing the deadline was a week or two ahead of the actual due date.

Once I experienced the tremendous benefits of working ahead of the power curve, as described above, I have tried to work that way ever since. There are still some times when things get just overwhelming, but when that happens, I just get up earlier to keep things moving.

A professor of mine in college used to advise students to write papers like they were climbing a mountain. Get as far up the mountain on the first day as you can. Then the path to the top on subsequent days gets easier and more enjoyable.

Just write the bulk of the paper quickly and have it in draft form as early as possible, then you can go back and refine it at a more metered pace when you are relaxed. It is a lot easier that way.

I use this system with my weekly blog articles. I have an “inventory” of articles that stretch out for a few months in front of when they are actually published. When my inventory starts to get below four weeks, that is the signal to plunk out another 4-8 articles.

I do that quickly based on little notes I have made to myself along the way of interesting topics to discuss. Once the drafts are done, I can refine the writing as the time to actually publish them gets closer.

Using this method allows me to keep a stream of content going at all times. I can, and often do, accumulate similar articles into a book or a video program format. The result is a continual stream of fresh content coming out without a lot of stress or panic.

Try the formula of working ahead of the power curve in your life. If you can acquire the discipline to do it, you will find that the quality of your work will rise, while at the same time your stress level will go down. It is a life skill worth cultivating.

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, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. 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


An Antidote for Executive Stress

July 26, 2013

BankruptIf you are in an executive position, chances are you live in a very high stress world. Conditions and events in the world over the past decade have led to a much higher level of complexity and risk in everything we do. The pressure for performance and the razor thin margin between success and failure have resulted in health problems for numerous executives. It seems there is no way of avoiding the incredible pressure executives face daily.

What if there was a way you could get out from under the immense pressure and have the ability to relax, even though the challenges at work often seem insurmountable? Would that be helpful? I truly believe there is a pathway to this kind of existence. It is under your nose. Unfortunately, most executives do not see the wisdom or power in the method I am about to explain, so they go on with the same struggle, day after day, rarely gaining on the very problems that are making them sick.

The antidote is to carve out time to work with your organization to create an improved culture. This suggestion sounds impossible to most CEOs I interview, because they are more than fully consumed trying to survive. How could they possibly create enough slack time in the schedule to actually work on the culture? This attitude means these executives are literally stuck in the rut they hate with no viable way out. I call this phenomenon the “Executive Whack-a-mole Syndrome.” When top executives spend 100% of their time dealing with crises and problems, there is no time left to develop a culture where there are fewer problems.

Investing in the culture means spending time with people learning how to work better as a team. It means documenting your behaviors or how you intend to treat each other so it becomes possible to hold each other accountable. It means learning to listen more often and more effectively, so the communication problems are significantly reduced. Also, it means learning to trust each other, so more delegation is possible and the micromanagement is not necessary. The perceived need to micromanage creates a significant percentage of executive stress.

Improving the culture means having the executive be more willing to be transparent and admit mistakes. This practice makes him or her more of a human being: subject to being fallible, but willing to be vulnerable and human. This behavior enables stronger rather than weaker leadership. It also leads to an environment that is more relaxed and healthy. In this culture, the problems are diminished and replaced with sanity and the joy of achieving great goals together. If you know an executive who is playing the Executive Whack-a-mole Game, print this article out and leave it someplace where it will get read.

If you are an executive who has nearly reached the limit of endurance, you might want to try investing in the culture. You will find it to have a much higher ROI than any other activity you can envision. It could even save your life!


Trust and Workload

April 27, 2013

RubberbandsDo you have far too much work to do than any human being can achieve on a daily basis? Is this a habitual problem at your place of work? If so, then join the club of millions of workers who feel that way.

I view the workload issue like a rubber band. In good times, the rubber band is slack, and people have a comfortable workload that has peaks of stretch and some slack times. As the economy gets tighter, the rubber band of resources gets stretched tighter and tighter until it nearly snaps. In some cases it actually does snap, and people break down from the load and stress. We’ve seen that a lot recently.

The other phenomenon is that when you stretch anything beyond its elastic limit, then its ability to snap back to a normal relaxed state is lost. If you take a rubber band and hold it fully stretched long enough, then it will not go back to a fully relaxed state. We also see this happening as people have been held at the snapping point so long that they simply have forgotten how it feels to have a reasonable work load. There is no ability to increase capacity, yet in a time where there is a little slack, they cannot contract to enjoy it.

There is a flip side to this argument. I have witnessed people who are constantly complaining about the crushing load and that they simply cannot do everything they are told to do, but if you watch them, they really do have many opportunities to conserve time and change their situation for the better. I know many people who spend an average of 2-3 hours a day on the phone and in face to face bitch sessions with others. The primary topic is usually how there is simply not enough time to get their work done. Hmmm.

When talking with managers, they will tell me that they do not have enough resources to make ends meet. The habitual statement is “I simply need more people to do the work,” yet when I get these same managers together to talk about how they can make improvements, they readily tell me they are frustrated because too many people are goofing off and not applying themselves as they should. Hmmm again.

I believe the average company in the USA obtains less than 50% of the potential from their workforce on a regular basis. That figure is generous based on many studies I have read. There seems to be a disconnect between how people perceive being overloaded and the actual state of being overloaded. That is not true in every single case, of course. There are situations where the overload is genuine and completely inappropriate, but I believe those cases are the minority.

According to a recent study of 2000 people by Wrike (http://www.wrike.com/news/wrike-survey-overworking-has-become-habit-forming) roughly 60% of people feel they are overloaded, yet in reality there is plenty of slack time remaining, and with some basic reengineering of the functions and habits, there would be even more slack time.

The cure for this problem is a thing called engagement, and the road to achieve engagement is paved with trust. Without trust, workers will not reach anywhere near their potential because they will not really be engaged in the work. It has been demonstrated by numerous studies that the productivity of high trust groups is 200% to 500% higher than the productivity of low trust groups.* If you want to have people be able to tolerate the stretch of the rubber band that is so common these days, then work on developing a culture of higher trust.

*Here are two references of studies showing high trust groups are more productive.
Trust Across America http://www.trustacrossamerica.com/blog/?p=693
Covey, Stephen M.R. Smart Trust, Free Press, 2012, New York, NY


12 Ways to Improve Online Communication

April 19, 2013

Something wrong with my pcOverarching consideration: Use the right mode of communication – often e-mail or texting are not the right ways to communicate a particular message.

1. Do not treat online notes like a conversation. In normal conversation we use the feedback of body language to modify our message, pace, tone, and emphasis in order to stay out of trouble. In e-mail or in texting, we do not have this real-time feedback.

2. Keep messages short. A good e-mail or text should take only 15-30 seconds to read (texts as little as 2-3 seconds) and absorb. Less is more in online communication. Try to have the entire message fit onto the first screen. When a messages goes “over the horizon,” the reader does not know how long it is, which creates a psychological block.

3. Establish the right tone upfront. Online messages have a momentum. If you start on the wrong foot, you will have a difficult time connecting. The “Subject” line and the first three words of a note establish the tone.

4. Remember the permanent nature of e-mails. Using e-mail to praise helps people remember the kind words. Using e-mail to be critical is usually a bad idea because people will re-read the note many times.

5. Keep your objective in mind. Establish a clear objective of how you want the reader to react to your note. For sensitive notes, write the objective down. When proofreading your note, check to see if your intended reaction is likely to happen. If not, reword the note.

6. Do not write notes when you are not yourself. This sounds simple, but it is really much more difficult than meets the eye. Learn the techniques to avoid this problem.

7. Avoid “online grenade” battles. Do not take the bait. Simply do not respond to edgy note in kind. Change the venue to be more effective.

8. Be careful with use of pronouns in notes. Pronouns establish the tone. The most dangerous pronoun in an online note is “you.”

9. Avoid using “absolutes.” Avoid words such as: never, always, impossible, or cannot. Soften the absolutes if you want to be more credible online.

10. Avoid sarcasm. Humor at the expense of another person will come back to haunt you.

11. Learn techniques to keep your e-mail inbox clean (down to zero notes each day) so you are highly responsive when needed. Adopting proper distribution rules in your organization will cut e-mail traffic by more than 30% instantly.

12. Understand the rules for writing challenging notes so you always get the result you want rather than create a need for damage control.

Your organization has a sustainable competitive advantage if:

• You live and work in an environment unhampered by the problems of poor online communication. This takes some education and a customized set of rules for your unique environment, but the effort is well worth it.

• Employees are not consumed with trying to sort out important information from piles of garbage notes.

• Your coworkers are not focused on one-upmanship and internal turf wars.

• Leaders know how to use electronic communications to build rather than destroy trust.

For leaders and managers, once you learn the essentials of e-body language, a whole new world of communication emerges. You will be more adept at decoding incoming messages and have a better sense of how your messages are interpreted by others. You will understand the secret code that is written “between the lines” of all messages and enhance the quality of online communications in your sphere of influence.

Training in this skill area does not require months of struggling with hidden gremlins. While employees often push back on productivity improvement or OD training, they welcome this topic enthusiastically because it improves their quality of work life instantly. Four hours of training and a set of rules can change a lifetime of bad habits.


Working Ahead of the Power Curve

November 4, 2012

Ever find yourself scrambling near a deadline to get all the work done? I suspect we have all experienced a time crunch on a project, whether it was a term paper in school, a special project at work, or even a party to celebrate a holiday. As we pull an all-nighter to finish our project just ahead of the deadline, what we are really doing is lowering our chances of a successful effort.

The alternative is to arrange your life so that you can complete your work well ahead of the due date. My mentor used to refer to this as “working ahead of the power curve.” There are many advantages of getting the work done early. Here are seven obvious advantages:

1. You have more time to polish the work, so the quality is significantly higher.

2. You can do dry runs of the material, so your work comes out more professional looking.

3. You can relax and not be uptight about working close to the deadline. That also improves the quality of the material along with the quality of your life.

4. You get the reputation as an organized person who has his or her act together.

5. You can spend some time looking at potential problems that might arise and have contingencies ready to go.

6. Since you know you are prepared, you appear more confident and relaxed when the event arrives.

7. You are more creative because there is time to soak on ideas.

With the help of my mentor, I got the idea of doing this many years ago. It sounded impossible to me at the time because, like everyone else, I was always so backed up with dozens of projects. Actually, it was not as difficult as I thought to get into the habit of tricking myself into believing the deadline was a week or two ahead of the actual due date. Once I experienced the tremendous benefits of working ahead of the power curve, as described above, I have tried to work that way ever since.

There are still some times when things get just overwhelming, but when that happens, I just get up earlier to keep things moving.

Try the formula of working ahead of the power curve in your life. If you can acquire the discipline to do it, you will find that the quality of your work will rise, while at the same time your stress level will go down. It is a life skill well worth cultivating.


Load Rage

May 1, 2011

As organizations wrestle with global competition and economic cycles, the pressure on productivity is more acute each year. I do not see an end to the pressure to accomplish more work with less. There comes a point when leaders ask people to stretch beyond their elastic limit, and they burn out. As the constant requests for more work with fewer resources starts to take a physical toll on the health of workers at all levels, people become justifiably angry. I see evidence of what I call “load rage” in nearly every organization in which I work.

An interesting flip side of this problem is the observation made by many researchers that working human beings generally operate at only a fraction of their true capability. I have read estimates of organizations extracting on average something like 30-50% of the inherent capability in the workforce; some estimates are even lower. It would be impossible for anyone to continually operate at 100% of capacity because that would require the adrenal glands to secrete a constant stream or adrenaline that would kill the person. However, if the estimates of typical capacity used are accurate, there is still a lot of upside in people, so why the “load rage”?

The reason is that we base our perception of how hard we are working at any moment on a sliding scale. We base our feelings of load on how busy we are, not on what percentage of our capacity is being consumed. Many of our activities are simply traps that we invent because of habitual patterns in our daily work. We tolerate a multitude of inhibiting actions that steal seconds from our minutes and minutes from our hours. We excuse these diversions as not being very important, but in reality they are exceedingly relevant to our output and to our stress level. Let me cite a few examples.

Look at the inbox of your e-mail account. If you are like most people there are more than a few notes waiting for your attention. We have all kinds of reasons (really rationalizations) for not keeping our inbox totally cleaned out each day. I will share that at this moment I have 5 “read” notes and no “unread” notes in my inbox, and it is driving me crazy. I need to get that down to zero within the hour, but right now I am consumed writing this article. If we are honest, it is inescapable that having more than 2-3 notes waiting attention will cause a few milliseconds of search time when we want to do anything on e-mail. That time is lost forever, and it cannot be replaced. We all know people who have maxed out the inbox capability and have literally thousands of e-mails to chew through. These people are drowning in a sea of time wasters just like a young adult with 20 credit cards is drowning in a sea of debt. It is inevitable.

You know at least a few people in your circle of friends or working comrades who spend a hefty chunk of their day going around lamenting how there is not enough time to do the work. Admit it – we all do this to some extent. Have you ever heard anyone say, “Looks like I have plenty of time and not much to do.” OK, old geezers in the home have this problem and so do young children who are dependent on mommy to think up things to keep them occupied. For most of us in the adult or working world, our time is the most scarce and precious commodity we have, yet we habitually squander it in tiny ways that add up to major stress for us. I suspect that even the most proficient time-management guru finds it possible to waste over 30% of his or her time on things that do not matter.

One healthy antidote, especially at work, is to have a “stop doing” list. Most people have a “to do” list, but you rarely see someone crossing things off a “don’t do” list. Think how liberating and refreshing it would be if each of us found an extra hour or two each day by just consciously deciding to stop doing things that do not matter. Whole groups can do this exercise and gain incredible productivity. The technique is called “work out,” where groups consciously redesign processes to take work out of the system. If you examine how you use your time today, I guarantee that if you are brutally honest you can find at least 2 hours of time you are wasting on busy work with no real purpose. Wow, two hours would be a gift for anyone.

Another technique is to really load up your schedule. You think that you are overworked now, but just imagine if you added 5 major new activities that had to be done on top of your present activities. That would feel insane, but you would find ways to cope. Then if you cut back to your current load next week, what seemed like an untenable burden a few weeks ago would feel like a cake walk. I can recall a time in the Fall of 2004 when I was teaching 11 different courses at the same time. That was in addition to writing a book and developing a leadership consulting practice. I will admit that was a little over the top, but did I ever enjoy the load when I cut it back to only three courses at a time.

Another huge time burner is conflict. We spend more time than we realize trying to manage others so our world is as close to what we want as possible. When things are out of kilter, we can spend hours of time on the phone or e-mail negotiating with others in a political struggle to get them to think more like us. The typical thought pattern going through the mind during these times is “why can’t you be more like me.” The energy and time to have these discussions can really eat up the clock time during the day.

Dither is another issue for many of us. I already shared that while I am writing this paper, I am really procrastinating from opening up and dealing with the 5 notes in my inbox (oops – now 6) (now 7). I typically get between 100-150 e-mails a day. There are other things I must do today, but I am having fun writing this paper, so the “work” is getting pushed back. I will pay for this indulgence later, but at least I do recognize what I am doing here. The point is that most of the time that we lose is unconscious. We have all figured out how to justify the time wasters in our lives, and we still complain that there are not enough hours in the day.

There is no cure for this malaise. It is part of the human condition. I think it helps to remind ourselves that when we feel overloaded, particularly with work, it is really just a priority issue, and we honestly do have plenty of time to do everything with still some slack time to take a breath. If you do not agree, then I suspect you are in denial.

Now, I need to be excused to go clean out my inbox!