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 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.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 http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


The 360 Degree Trap

December 11, 2011

I am a big believer in 360 Degree assessments for leaders. Reason: the tool is one of the best ways to reveal to a leader what other people think of him or her. If administered correctly, the evaluation can be insightful and form the basis of a well-focused development plan.

Unfortunately, there are some traps that can cause the 360 Degree Assessment to be harmful rather than helpful. In this article, I focus on one major flaw with 360 Degree Assessments and offer some antidotes to this problem.

Most organizations use 360 as a measure of the effectiveness of leaders, and that information is directly related to compensation and advancement. This is logical because a 360 Degree Assessment represents how skilled the leader is at working with people at all levels. Isn’t that what a performance measurement system is supposed to do? Actually, no. Performance measurement should focus on results and behaviors to get the results, not on how well liked a leader is with people at all levels.

The 360 Degree Assessment can result in leadership mediocrity. Once managers realize their performance will be measured with a 360 process, they quickly learn it is vital to have all subordinates like them. That means leaders will focus on being popular with the troops, which is not always the best strategy for excellent leadership.

For example, I witnessed a Business Unit Manager who took his entire team off site for a day-long celebration of their progress. A lot of money was spent, and a good time was had by all, complete with a “hand jive” group dance that pumped a lot of energy. Six months later the entire team was unemployed, including the manager. He ignored the business realities and focused on keeping employees happy until there was no business left.

Great leaders recognize that sometimes they are not going to be well liked. They always seek to be respected, but that means sometimes enduring a period where they are unpopular. As Colin Powell once said, “Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.” If the 360 Degree Assessment is directly linked to compensation and advancement, the exercise encourages leaders to make popular decisions over doing the right thing.

I recall one instance where I was combining several manufacturing departments into a divisional structure. Most of the departments had a mandatory safety shoe rule because the employees were moving heavy materials. One department decided they would not require safety shoes because most of their operation was “light” manufacturing. I was troubled by the inconsistent policy and was trying to drive a safety shoe mandate for all departments. I met with considerable resistance from this one department.

One day an operator in that department had an incident with a cart that ran over his foot. The injury was not serious, but it could have easily been a broken foot. I called a meeting and said it was now a requirement to wear safety shoes in the department. For months after that, I was a very unpopular leader with that population. The decision was respected, and it was clearly followed, but these people were extremely unhappy. My 360 rating coming from that area was impacted that year, and it had a negative influence on my overall performance appraisal.

The remedy is to make the leadership evaluation be a holistic process that takes into account many things, one of which is a 360 Degree Assessment. There needs to be an understanding that a temporarily low score from subordinates is not necessarily a black mark. The interpretation of data needs to take into account conditions on the ground that are causing the low marks. You might think that if employees had true respect for their leader, they would rate her highly even if they were unhappy with her at the moment. If you believe that, you and I disagree on human nature.

If handled well, the 360 Degree process works extremely well. Unfortunately, many organizations do not apply the necessary caveats because they don’t take the time and energy to understand the situations driving the data. Measuring human performance of managers is a very complex process, if your objectives are to encourage the right behaviors in the future and grow leadership capabilities. Do not mechanically couple the results of 360 Degree Assessments to compensation and advancement programs. It can lead to mediocre leaders.