Body Language 38 Sour Face

July 26, 2019

There is a facial expression that we all know well. I call it the “sourface.” The look comes from a natural reaction to tasting something that is sour, like a lemon, or milk that has gone bad. We pucker up our mouth, wrinkle our nose, and close our eyes to indicate discomfort.

Children use this expression when they put sour candy in their mouth. It is an instinctual expression that comes naturally, and it is generally not culture specific.

Physically, when we have something unpleasant in our mouth, we would like to block the taste as much as possible. Taste is a function of breathing along with a chemical reaction on the taste buds. To block the taste, we instinctively try to stop the ability to breathe by crinkling our nose and closing the back of our nostrils.

The eyes close tightly as well, due to the extreme discomfort of tasting something sour. One might think the eyes would widen due to the surprise, but that is never the case. We pucker up our mouth, nose, and eyes at the same time.

In the professional world, we use a similar expression to indicate extreme displeasure. When someone says or does something that is totally offensive to the point of being intolerable, the same facial expression often can be observed. It is like we are saying “dealing with that offensive remark is nearly as impossible as eating a lemon without wincing.” In this case, the tasteless comment is not literal, but the figurative bodily reaction is the same.

When others make a sour face

If you see the expression used in a professional environment, take note of it. In the eyes of that person, what was just said or done went way beyond being wrong or bad: it went all the way to abhorrent.

Stop the conversation and try to understand why the person had such a strong reaction. It may have been revulsion at a tasteless joke someone just told. It may be because they witnessed someone playing favorites to a painful level. It could be that the person believes a decision will likely have catastrophic negative impacts on the culture.

Usually this expression is not a group activity. You will not see everyone on a team use this expression at the same time. It is a manifestation of rejection by the person most offended. The other people are left to deal with the fallout until things get back to normal.

A person who overuses the sourface expression will have a negative impact on any group. People get fed up with the overt attempt to reject most statements. If there a member of your team who uses the sourface gesture a lot, investigate what is behind it.

This individual may be easily offended or have a specific trust problem with one or more members of the team. Alternatively, he or she may not be in sync with the goals or values of the organization. When you see someone using the sourface, use it as a signal that something needs to be discussed with the individual or the team.

When you make a sour face

If you are a leader, remember that it is easy to put your thumb on the scale of group opinion. The sourface may be just an expression you use to signal your personal disapproval, but you are really trying to sway the opinion of the group. Do not use the expression unless it is your intention to communicate a totally intolerable situation.

The sourface is a helpful tool to highlight tent-pole issues that should be dealt with before further damage is done. Use it sparingly, and note carefully the reactions from your group. Recognize that the expression might have a negative impact on trust because it is the equivalent of cutting someone off in mid-sentence.

Conclusion

The sourface is an extreme gesture of displeasure when used in a business setting either by a leader or by people in the organization. It should be used only when the situation warrants such an overt signal. More subtle and gentle or verbal means of expressing displeasure normally should be used.

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.


Leadership Barometer 8 Not Playing Games

July 23, 2019

Here is a quick way to assess the quality of a leader.

Build a real environment

Many people describe the actions and decisions of their leader as a kind of game.  There is an agenda going on in the head of the leader, but the true intent is often hidden from view.

This situation is common in all parts of our society from C-Level executives, to politicians, clergy, academics, lawyers, accountants, law enforcement, and really every corner of society.

Another symptom is that the story changes from day to day without any apparent provocation or believable explanation. People try to guess what the leader really wants, only to be embarrassed or disappointed when they make a wrong assumption.  It is a common break room discussion for people to speculate what the leader is trying to accomplish by the latest pronouncement.

The contrast with this pattern when there is an excellent leader at the helm could not be more clear.  Great leaders do not play games. They build a culture of trust, where people know the objectives, and all actions are in alignment with those objectives. Workers know what is going on in the mind of the leader and are expected to point out anything that would seem to deviate from the plan.

This condition leads to maximum engagement of everyone because there is no need for second guessing.

Do not assume people know

It is important for any leader to not assume people know the intent.  Since all actions are totally rational in the mind of the leaders, it is a simple leap to figure that other people can connect the dots as well.  You can tell when people are confused by their body language.

A puzzled look on the face is the easy way to spot the confusion. Great leaders are constantly trying to sniff out any possibility of misinterpretation, so they can take immediate corrective actions.

Poor leaders go ahead blindly, assuming that everyone will figure out why a certain action was taken. Sometimes they are astonished to discover significant confusion and wonder why motivation is so low.

That disconnect becomes the acid test of a good leader on this dimension. If there are rarely or never any need to go back and explain an action or statement, then this leader is communicating well and not playing head games with people. In that environment, trust will grow strong, and it will endure.

Put a high premium on direct information, and always verify that people understand not only what you are advocating but why you think that is the wise path. That verification allows people to challenge anything that seems to be out of the expected so that corrections can be made before damage is done.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.

 


Leadership Barometer 7 Connecting With People

July 16, 2019

One measure of the greatness of any leader is how well he or she connects with people at all levels.

Some leaders are great at managing relationships upward but lousy at engaging the people who work for them.

This measure is easy to use and is truly indicative of excellence.

Connects Well with People

A good way to evaluate the quality of a leader is to watch the way he or she connects with people both upward and downward. Great leaders are known for being real rather than phony. People describe the great ones as being “a nice person” or “approachable” or “like a friend.”

The idea is the leader does not act aloof and talk down to people. There is no pedestal separating the leader from people in the organization.

There are numerous ways a leader can demonstrate the genuine connection with people. For example, John Chambers, longtime CEO of Cisco worked from a 12X12 foot cubicle and answered his own phone. There was no executive washroom and no corporate plane. He was a master of connecting with people as he roamed the halls of Cisco passing out candy and ice cream.

A more current example is Rich Sheridan of Menlo Innovations. Rich’s latest book “Chief Joy Officer” gives chapter and verse of a culture where the CEO is truly connected to everyone in the organization. If you have not read his incredible story and the impact he is having, pick up a copy of his book.

Other leaders dress more like the workers in jeans. I know one CEO who is more comfortable in a tiedye t-shirt than a suit and tie.

Probably the most helpful way to be connected to people is to walk the deck often. There is a telltale sign that shows whether you are getting enough face time with people.

When you approach a group of workers on the shop or office floor, watch their body language. If they stiffen up and change their posture, you know that your visit is too much of a special event. If the group continues with the same body language, but just welcomes you into the conversation, then you are doing enough walking of the deck.

They used to call this habit MBWA – short for Management By Walking Around. It is, by far, the most enjoyable and easiest way to stay connected with people. I used to love walking up to an employee and asking “What’s the latest rumor.” The neat part is that the employee would tell me.

Likewise, the great leader knows how to stay connected with the people higher in the organization. In this case MBWA does not work too well because there is no real “shop floor” for upper management. Being accessible helps, so know the layout and drop by on occasion to check in, but do not be a pest – there is a fine line.

One suggestion is to experiment with the preferred modes of communication of your superiors. For example I can recall the best way to keep in touch with one of my managers was through voice mail. Another superior would rarely reply to voice mail or e-mail, so I would make sure to stop by to see her in person.

One tip that was helpful to me was to arrive very early in the morning – before any of the upper levels were present. Most executives arrive at work before the general population to prepare for the day and get some quiet work done before the masses arrive.

I would always be in my office working when my manager arrived. There were many occasions when something had to be done to help the manager very early in the morning. Since I was the only one around, I had the opportunity to do little favors for my superior to help her out. Over time, that practice does a lot to enhance trust.

Beating your superior to work consistently demonstrates a kind of dedication. Your manager has no way of knowing when you arrived. You could have gotten there just 5 minutes before her or already been hard at work for an hour.

I always enjoyed having my car make the first set of tracks in the snow of the parking lot. Over time, that built up a helpful reputation for me that paid off in terms of demonstrated dedication.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.


Body Language 36 Crossing Ankles

July 13, 2019

When young girls are posing for a class picture, they are taught that the proper sitting position is with ankles crossed and hands folded in their laps. Boys are taught to put both feet on the floor.

According to “Miss Manners,” as a cultural preference in the US, crossing ankles is the proper position for a seated woman. You rarely see that gesture actually used in a business setting.

Most women sit with their legs crossed where one leg is on top of the opposite knee. Men cross their legs by putting the ankle of one leg on the knee of the opposite leg in a “figure 4” position.

When a person crosses his or her ankles in a professional setting, it can be an indication of holding something back. The implication is the same whether the person is standing or sitting.

You can observe this gesture in many different contexts, but the underlying meaning is normally uncertainty. Here are some situations where you might see a person with crossed ankles. Later in this article I will share some tips on how to get people to uncross their ankles.

In job interviews

This situation is normally an uncomfortable time for all people. Even folks who are highly confident in their abilities will feel a bit ill at ease, because there is a lot at stake in an interview. Most often the person is sitting across a table or desk from the person conducting the interview.

It is too casual to sit with legs crossed in the normal manner during an interview, but sitting with both feet on the floor has a rigidity that many people want to avoid. Given these two extremes, it is common to see a person sitting with ankles crossed in a job interview.

In court or in a legal proceeding

These situations also are packed with tension for most people. Trying to find a comfortable sitting position when you are on the witness stand is a daunting task. Just recognize that the opposing lawyer is observing your body language in microscopic detail. If you cross your ankles, you can expect the cross examination to probe deeply to find out what you might be hiding or holding back.

At the doctor’s office

In this case, you want to picture the doctor as your friend and ally, yet there can be a lot of discomfort involved, especially if you are not telling the absolute truth about your personal habits. The doctor will pick up on your level of nervousness and make some judgments about how candid you are being. That may affect the level of trust you are able to achieve with your physician. If you have never been uncomfortable in the doctor’s office, I suspect you are an unusual case.

Buying a car or other major investment

In this case there is an assumed adversarial relationship between you and the sales person. You recognize that the sales person does this kind of negotiation every day, so this person is assumed to have a big advantage over the insecure person sitting across the table who buys a car only about once a decade. Your anxiety will often show by the way you are sitting.

Disciplining another person

Whether it is a disrespectful youth or a worker who has done something wrong, you will find yourself in a position of authority having to admonish another person from time to time. Recognizing there are right and wrong ways to have these crucial conversations, it is common for both parties in the discussion to be a bit nervous.

Working in a high stress environment

Telemarketers will often sit with ankles crossed as they try to make their points to a person on the line who often just wants the conversation to end. In addition, customer service people will sit that way as they try to resolve an issue for a person if they find it difficult to understand the customer’s problem. They want to help but realize that sometimes that is difficult to do.

How can you get a person who is sitting with ankles crossed to relax and uncross them? The methods to do this are highly cultural specific, but there are some general ideas that often can work. The first hint is to modulate your voice to be soothing and helpful. Use the “golden rule” and address the other person in a way that you would like to be addressed if the roles were reversed.

If you are sitting across a table or desk, you might move to another chair on the same side of the table as the other person, but only if the conversation is friendly and informal, otherwise it might be interpreted as an aggressive move. Also, if you hand something to the person, it causes him or her to move the upper body, which may cause the person to resettle the lower extremities.

If the person is crossing her ankles because that is how she was taught to sit in formal situations, these fixes may not work well, so don’t belabor them.

Be more alert to how people sit and you can often pick up signs of a person who is holding back. Knowing there may be an issue will allow you to ask some clarifying questions and perhaps clear the air.

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.


Leadership Barometer 6 Inclusive Culture vs Bunker Mentality

July 9, 2019

One obvious way leaders can demonstrate excellence is by continually building an inclusive culture. I will define that term here and also discuss the contrast with a bunker mentality or exclusive culture.

Builds an Inclusive Culture

Organizations where people at all levels are part of the action and are appreciated for the diversity of talent they bring to the organization are run by enlightened leaders.

You can observe the leader going out of her way to include as many people as possible in discussions about issues and decisions in the organization. People are not left in a vacuum when important information is available.

Bunker Mentality

Less talented leaders surround themselves with a clique of insiders who guide the fate of the rest of the organization. I visualize a kind of shell around the anointed people on the inner circle.

It is hard to communicate through the shell, and people who try to penetrate it are repelled and scorned. The controlling group has a noble intention of making fast decisions, but the price they pay in terms of disengagement of the bulk of people is usually devastating.

If you have a leader who operates from a small command and control type style, you can see the bunker mentality in most activities.  This exclusivity leads to lower empowerment throughout the organization.

It may feel like an efficient way to run things to have an inner circle, but it leaves so much useful muscle and energy off the table. The way to build trust and engagement is to be as open as possible.

Create a Winning Organization

To be a winning organization, all of the talents of everyone are required fully aligned behind the vision of the organization.  Good leaders know this and instinctively get people involved as much as possible.

Oh sure, there are occasions when it is necessary to operate behind closed doors while decisions are being cast. That is no reason for the normal daily routine to mimic the College of Cardinals who have to send a smoke signal out to the masses when their deliberations are over.

Most activities can be visible, transparent, and inclusive of the general population. In return, people will give their best to accomplish the goals of the organization.

 

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.


Body Language 35 Head Tilting

July 5, 2019

A slight tilting of the head is a really interesting bit of body language.

I will share my own interpretation first, and then I will describe some useful insight provided by body language expert, Bill Acheson, in his excellent DVD on “Advanced Body Language.”

I view a slight head tilt as a sign of high interest on the part of the person doing the tilting. I liken it to a situation many of us have experienced at a pet store.

A Puppy Trick

You walk in and see a pen with 6 puppies in it. They are all jumping up on the fence and yipping to have you pick them up.

Then you see the slight head tilt of one of those puppies who seems to be saying, “Pick me! You are the most important person in my world right now.”

If you are going home with a puppy that day, it will be the one with the tilted head. You may not even be conscious of how you made the selection, but it was unavoidable.

Translated to humans

I believe the same feeling can be generated in human beings. I once met a young man (22) who had the ability to model the gesture instinctively.

He was able to establish a feeling of trust within me toward him even before we shook hands. It was a powerful moment that I will always remember.

Very few people I have met in my life have the ability that young man had. When we finally did shake hands a second later, I did not say, “Nice to meet you.” Instead my first spoken words to him were, “Congratulations! You are going to be a very wealthy man.”

Acheson’s research showing gender differences

In Bill Acheson’s program, he stresses that head tilting is seen to be a sign of good listening, and it is perceived consciously more by woman than men.

He recounts some research he performed at University of Pittsburgh in the year 2000. He separated the men and women and showed each person two pictures of the same woman, one with her head erect and one with her head tilted.

Their research question was, “Which one is the better listener?” Seventy one percent of the females responded within three seconds that the tilted head person was the better listener. When asked why, they were able to identify, “because her head is tilted.” They saw it consciously.

Of the men, many of them puzzled over the two pictures for up to 12 seconds before making a response. Finally, about three quarters of them said, “Dude, that’s the same person, so they would listen the same.”

Other meanings of head tilting

Tilting the head can also be a means of showing mental activity. We can observe students with a slight tilt of the head when they are pondering a concept just explained in class.

Excellent teachers pick up on the body language and make sure to inquire if there is a question.

Tilting of the head can also indicate that a person is puzzling over something or working on a problem.

Pay attention to the way people hold their head when interfacing with you. When you see someone with a slight tilt while listening to you, note the mental reaction you have to that person. It is a really powerful signal.

One word of caution here. As is the case with all body language, if you are making the gesture, keep it genuine.

If you physically try to tilt your head, you are likely overdoing it, and the result will be not what you wanted. Insincere or put-on gestures often send the opposite message from what was intended.

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.


Leadership Barometer 5 How People Treat Each Other

July 2, 2019

Here is another quick measure of the skill of a leader.

How People Treat Each Other

You can tell the caliber of a leader instantly when you view how people in the organization treat each other.

A good leader insists on constructive and helpful behaviors that model high trust and even affection.

Some people believe the word affection is too strong for the working world. I disagree. Groups that work for a great leader learn to really appreciate each other for their good qualities.

Affection does not mean that everyone always gets along with no quarrels; that would be a phony environment.

Just like a family, people will eventually find some things that cause friction, but there is sincere affection behind any tension that shows trough as people work to resolve differences without doing emotional damage.

At home, people can irritate each other while still embracing a mutual love that transcends the petty annoyances. The same concept should apply at work.

Left to their own devices, people working in close proximity to each other have a remarkable ability to drive each other crazy. Great leaders teach their people the skill of disagreeing without being disagreeable. This vital skill is often overlooked in organizations.

Where leadership is weak, squabbles between people lead to childish behaviors that can cause permanent damage to relationships. It is easy to witness this in most organizations.

As Lou Holtz observed, “you can find a thousand things to not like about somebody but you need to look for the things that you do like, that support the team effort.” In an environment of support and affection is is easy to become a close knit team that is hard to beat.

Great leaders insist that their group generates a set of specific behaviors. It is important to be able to point at these things and call each other when the behaviors are not being modeled.

The leader always works to model the behaviors and actually verbalizes them frequently. It may sound like this, “Thanks for your comment Frank, I appreciate how your words supported Mary’s effort because that is a value and behavior we cherish in our group.”

Here is an example of a list of behaviors from a team I managed several decades ago.

Team Behaviors:

  • When in conflict, we will try to see from the other person’s perspective
  • We will not leave our meetings with “silent no’s”
  • We will act like adults
  • We will build an environment of trust

I am not suggesting that other groups adopt this set of behaviors. Rather, I am encouraging leaders to work with their group to identify some key behaviors they intend to follow and will hold each other accountable for following. The team must own the behaviors, and it is a leadership function to ensure that happens.

Watch for the signs of a group that, while there are differences, handle those disconnects in a mature and loving way. A group like that is being guided by an excellent leader.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.