Body Language 25 Ears and Hearing

April 27, 2019

Interpreting the body language associated with ears is challenging activity. For the most part, ears are receivers of information rather than providers. Ears rarely move; they are just stuck on the side of the head to enable listening. However, if you know how to observe them, ears can send some strong signals about what is going on with a person.

You can wiggle your ears by contracting the muscles on the back of your head. Other than that, ears do not move much. One exception was my father, who could actually wiggle his ears without moving his facial muscles. I could never figure out how he did that.

If you observe someone who is wiggling his ears while listening or speaking, he may have an uncontrollable tick or other nervous disorder. How else, other than movement, might we gain insight from observing the ears? The answer is color.

Normally the ears are the same color as the cheeks, but there are several situations that can cause the ears to blush or become red. Let’s examine some of these conditions.

Anger

When a person becomes enraged, the blood naturally flows to the ears and they will become much redder than the surrounding body parts. Of course, to read this type of body language, one must be able to see the tops of the ears. Women or men with hair covering up the tips of their ears have the ability to hide this condition under most circumstances.

Arousal

The ears become reddened when a person is aroused. Anything from a mild desire to raw passion will affect the color of the ears. I have not seen a study to indicate that the exact shade of the ear correlates with the level of passion. I would be interested in knowing this if anyone knows of such a study.

Embarrassment

The ears may also become red if a person is feeling embarrassed. However, usually when this occurs, the rest of the face will turn red as well.

Stress

Extreme stress can also cause the ears to become red for some people.

Temperature

Just as very cold temperatures can cause the ears to appear slightly blue, very hot conditions or intense exercise can create red ears. In this case you would know the reason because the face would be red and the forehead would be showing perspiration. Other conditions causing ears to become red rarely cause the sweat glands to secrete as well.

Sound Modulation

When a person cups his hand behind his ear, it is a call for more volume. Likewise, hands over the ears means too much volume, or it might be an indication the person is just not wanting to hear what is being said.

When communicating with another person audibly, make sure your volume is adequate for the other person to really hear the input. It is best to be in the same room with a person you want to communicate with, because that allows the other person the ability to view your entire body language and even read your lips as you speak.

The relation of complete hearing to trust is simple.  With incomplete information, people will make assumptions (sometimes incorrect) about your meaning.  They may believe that accurate communication has happened when it has not.

If a person has a hearing condition, such as tinnitus (ringing or hum in the ears), you need to take that into account to provide enough volume for the person to really hear you. Sometimes hearing loss is so subtle that the person is unaware of a problem. The antidote for this is to get a periodic hearing test.

Make sure there is not another source of sound closer to the listener than you. For example, if I am standing next to a molding machine you need to raise your voice or I am not going to hear your input. This situation is intuitively obvious, but it is often a source of poor communication at work and in the home.

If you have a particular person who often does not receive the full message, he or she may have a hearing condition or you may be communicating in a way that does not allow the person to hear you accurately. It could be that audio input is not the preferred channel of communication for the person. Check it out and modify your speaking pattern accordingly.

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


Trust versus CYA

October 19, 2013

Conflict3We are all familiar with the phenomenon of playing CYA at work. There is the potential for something negative happening in the future and we take care to document the problem and give our recommended solution to it.

We put the information in an e-mail that we send out to a manager involved in making decisions. The idea is that if the dreaded situation comes up at a later date, we can produce the e-mail and say, “I told them that this would happen and even suggested the fix, but nobody listened to me.”

This is just one form of CYA activity, and I offer it as an example to illustrate why this form on one-upmanship hurts an organization because it lowers trust. It is one thing to say what “they should do” about a potential problem. Words are cheap, and one can speculate that we should spend $100K to provide additional reinforcement to the foundation of our building in case of a future earthquake.

Putting that information in a note to the manager puts her in a difficult spot. Clearly we do not have $100K lying around with no purpose so we can just shell out the cash. The risk of an earthquake may be pretty low, but it can always happen.

The reason the CYA note lowers trust is because the manager realizes if she does not take the suggested action and there is an earthquake that results in several workers being killed, then she is going to be blamed, but if she does reinforce the walls and there is no earthquake, the money will be spent only for insurance.

The manager is in a no-win situation, and that lowers trust in both directions. The manager has less trust in the worker because he is trying to entrap or usurp the leader’s judgment. The worker has lower trust in the manager because there is perceived need to document the suggested remedy for future reference.

I have been in a situation where workers wanted me to purchase an entire new facility for close to $1Million because they believed the current one might someday fail. My response was to have the facility thoroughly inspected to determine if there was a real risk and how high that might be.

The engineers came back that the risk was real, but I could test for the robustness of the facility each year, and that would detect if things were deteriorating beyond a safe level. Having that inspection was better than nothing, but it was not totally foolproof, so the workers wanted to just scrap the old facility and purchase a new one.

That expense was difficult to justify because the product being made was near the end of its life, so a new facility would never pay off.

Caught between a rock and hard place, I asked the workers to understand that the minute risk was made manageable with the yearly inspection and they need not worry, but if anything ever happened in that facility, I knew I would be held accountable, so I tried to find another way to reduce the risk.

The engineers said that if we slowed down the equipment it would probably never fail or if it did, the failure would be detectable so nobody would get hurt. I decided to run the operation at a reduced speed as a compromise position, but the workers were not happy with it.

The series of discussions, notes, and meetings did serve to lower the trust that the workers had in me. Their point was that if I truly cared for them as people, I would spend the $950K to upgrade the facility even though there was no economic payback for it. It turned out that we shut down the complex less than a year later because the volume of demand for the product decreased, but the reduction in trust was something I had to live with.

The antidote for this phenomenon is to listen to the whistleblower and not ignore the request.

That was my approach in this case, but it was not an easy pathway to a decision. Trying to figure out what to do in a marginal case like this is what keeps managers up all night. Finding the right balance between trust in the system and protection from all forms of potential problems can be a very tricky area for managers.

Spending money to prevent any potential for disaster is a never-ending proposition. It is like buying insurance policies. You can never be fully protected from all hazards, but you can go broke trying. The best approach is to involve the impacted people in all aspects of the business, including protection from possible but highly unlikely scenarios.

If the workers realize that any tradeoffs made in the operation have a direct impact on them as well as the business, they can become part of the decision making process. This usually increases the level of trust for two reasons 1) it improves transparency, and 2) it lets people be part of the process so they are aware their managers care about them.