Way back in the 1960’s there was a rock group led by Frank Zappa called The Mothers of Invention. Their sound was a kind of punk rock that had little structure or melody, but they were popular for a time due to their grotesque appearance and sound.
I recall one song they did called “Plastic People.” The recurring line in the song was “Plastic people. Oh baby now you’re such a drag.”
Probably many readers of this blog were not even alive in the 1960s, so the title has no context for them. With body language, you do sometimes run into plastic people who may choose to not show much emotion through their facial or body configurations.
Also, you may find some people who are expert at putting on an expression that effectively masks their true emotions. I believe that when people try to hide our true feelings, there is a kind of incongruence to their body language that is a tip off that the person is hiding something.
There are numerous physical and psychological conditions that may prevent a person from showing his or her true feelings in body language. It is not the purpose of this article to enumerate all the combinations that can lead to a person show very little emotion.
I do want to share some ideas on how you might attempt to draw out a person, but recognize that in many situations, the best approach is to just leave the person alone. The correct approach will depend on the person and the current situation.
You probably know someone in your circle of friends who is expert at giving almost no body language information about what is going on in his or her brain. It can be very disconcerting. What can you do in a case like that? Start with listening and observing.
You might try a direct approach and say something like, “I am finding it hard to read your feelings at the moment.” That would potentially annoy the other person if he or she is just attempting to be private.
Another approach is to engage the person in some dialog by asking Socratic Questions. You would need to do this carefully in order to avoid talking down to the person or some other form of insulting dialog that might be interpreted as openly prying.
The need to keep one’s emotions private may be for a number of different reasons, but I suspect a common one is insecurity. The person may have opened up in the past only to get hurt rather badly. So, from that point on, this person would guard his or her emotions rather closely and not give out a lot of information.
Short of trying to psychoanalyze the root cause of this situation, you are better off just letting the person be circumspect. Let the other person decide whether or when he or she wants to make a change.
Another thing you could try is to just be kind and gentle with the person.
If you notice that the person is able to be more human around certain people, dig into why that might be. It could be that your approach is too direct or even threatening.
We all have a tendency to warm up to some people more than others. You may remind the person of another individual who has tangled with him or her in the past. If so, that can be a cause of the withdrawal.
When dealing with a person who is consciously trying to be a plastic person, you need to use patience and emotional intelligence. Do not try to fix the situation quickly, but pay attention to any signals given out that may provide some insight.
This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”
You don’t often see a double point in a professional setting, but when you do it can mean many different things.
The usual meaning is that “It must have been someone else; it wasn’t me.”
In the picture, this man has his arms crossed. If both fingers are pointed in the same direction toward a specific person, it is a sign of “The culprit was definitely him (or you).”
Sometimes a person will double point at herself. In that case, the connotation is a person taking responsibility for something that happened.
The message received is that “I have the full resposability for this mess.”
Alternatively, the gesture can be one of wanting the full credit for something good that happened. The accompanying statement might be, “Guess who is responsible for winning the Farnsworth Account.”
When the gesture is directed outwardly, as in the accompanying picture, the double point in normally with the index finger. In the case of identifying one’s self, the pointing can be either with the fingers, or it is commonly seen with the thumbs doing the pointing.
A single pointing gesture in body language normally is seen as a hostile gesture. Body language experts advise to refrain from pointing when addressing an individual.
The reason is that it subtly (or not) puts the other person on the defensive. It is like you are coming at the other person with a weapon.
The preferred hand configuration when wanting to emphasize a point you are making is open palm with the palm facing up. That is a more open and inviting gesture that encourages conversation. It is not considered threatening by most people.
With the double point, what you have is the same connotation as a single point except the gesture is on steroids.
When it is done to indicate something positive, it can be a highly welcome sign. If the situation is negative, you are really putting the other person on notice.
Of course, all of these signals will be tempered by the accompanying facial expression. You could double point at a person while saying something quite negative but have the whole meaning reversed with a facial expression indicating that you are joking.
Regardless of the circumstances, when you use the double point gesture, your intended meaning can be easily misconstrued. If you mean something in jest, but the other person takes it literally, then there is often a trust withdrawal.
Be alert for these dangers and use the double point sparingly and with caution. Always double back in some way to check that the meaning received was the one you intended to send. That verification step is good advice for interpreting all body language 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.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.
Trust is also directional; I trust you at some level and you trust me as well, but not at the exact same level. In all our daily transactions with others, the trust fluctuates based on what happens, what is said, body language, texts, and even what other people are saying.
It is a very complex and dynamic system.
I believe that if the trust in one direction is very different from the reciprocal trust for a long period of time, that relationship will not endure unless it is forced to endure, or unless something happens to resolve the disparity.
Picture the situation between a parent and a child who has a habit of lying to keep out of trouble. The parent has low trust in the child because there is overwhelming evidence that the child does not have integrity.
The child may trust the parent at some level even if the relationship is a stormy one. The relationship is usually forced to endure because the child is too young to strike out on his own. Unfortunately with each low trust exchange, a kind of resentment builds up that may take years to resolve, if ever.
At work, we have a trust level with each person based on everything that has happened thus far in the relationship. My trust in you will be different from your trust in me, and it will fluctuate depending on what happens to us during the day. This is normal and not particularly damaging unless the rift becomes a major issue, or the pattern is a prolonged one.
Rebuilding trust is a situational thing, and not every situation calls for the formality offered below. These steps constitute a solid path toward reconciliation for a breach of trust between two people who have previously had a strong relationship that has been severely compromised.
The idea is to move swiftly and create an atmosphere of finding 1) the truth, 2) understanding of motives, and 3) a pathway to healing.
Nine tips to rebuild lost trust
1. Act Swiftly
Major trust withdrawals can be devastating, and the trauma needs to be treated as quickly as possible. Just as a severe bodily injury requires immediate emergency care, so does the bleeding of emotional capital need to be stopped after a major letdown.
The situation is not going to heal by itself, so both parties need to set aside normal routines in order to focus significant energy on regaining equilibrium.
2. Verify care
Both people should spend some time remembering what the relationship felt like before the problem. In most cases there is a true caring for the other person, even if it is eclipsed by the hurt and anger of the moment.
It may be a stretch for some people to mentally set aside the issue, but it would be helpful to do that, if just as an exercise.
If the problem had never happened, would these people care about each other? If one person cannot recognize at least the potential for future care, then the remedial process is blocked until that happens.
3. Establish a desire to do something about it
If reparations are to be made, both people must cooperate. If there was high value in the relationship before the breach, then it should be possible to visualize a return to the same level or higher level of trust.
It may seem out of reach if the problem was a major let down or ongoing issue, but it is critical that both parties really want the hurt to be resolved.
4. Admit fault and accept responsibility
The person who made the breach needs to admit what happened to the other person. If there is total denial of what occurred, then no progress can be made.
Try to do this without trying to justify the action. Focus on what happened, even if it was an innocent gaffe.
Often there is an element of fault on the part of both parties, but even if one person is the only one who did anything wrong, an understanding of fault is needed in this step.
Sometimes neither party did anything particularly wrong, but the circumstances led to trust being lost. In addition, the problem may be an act of omission rather than something that was done.
5. Ask for forgiveness
It sounds so simple, but many people find it impossible to verbalize the request for forgiveness, yet a pardon is exactly what has to happen to enable the healing process.
The problem is that saying “I forgive you” is easy to say but might be hard to do when emotions are raw.
The loss of trust may be so severe that the injured party may not believe the person who is asking for forgiveness.
True and full forgiveness is not likely to happen until behavior has changed and the final healing process has occurred. It takes time to rebuild trust.
6. Determine the cause
This is a kind of investigative phase where it is important to know what happened in order to make progress. It is a challenge to remain calm and be as objective with the facts as possible.
Normally the main emotion is one of pain, but anger can accompany the pain. Both people need to describe what happened, because the view from one side will be significantly different from the opposite view.
Go beyond describing what happened, and discuss how you felt about what happened. Do not cut this discussion off until both parties have exhausted their descriptions of what occurred and how they felt about it.
Sometimes it helps in this stage to do some reverse role playing where each person tries to verbalize the situation from the perspective of the other.
7. Develop a positive path forward
The next step is the mutual problem solving process. Often two individuals try to do this without the preparatory work done above, which is more difficult.
The thing to ask in this phase is “what would have to happen to restore your trust in me to at least the level where it was before.” Here, some creativity can really help.
You are looking for a win-win solution where each party feels some real improvement has been made.
Do not stop looking for solutions just because they are difficult to find. If you have gotten this far, there is going to be some set of things that can begin the healing process. Develop a path forward together. Realize that it may be difficult to reach a compromise easily. One person may harbor a grudge for a long time, so keep looking for a win-win solution. What new behaviors are you both going to exhibit with each other to start fresh.
8. Agree to take action
There needs to be a formal agreement to take corrective action. Usually this agreement requires modified behaviors on the part of both people. Be as specific as possible about what you and the other person are going to do differently. The only way to verify progress is to have a clear understanding of what will be different.
9. Check back on progress
Keep verifying that the new behaviors are working and modify them, if needed, to make positive steps every day. As the progress continues, it will start getting easier, and the momentum will increase.
Make sure to smell the roses along the way. It is important to celebrate progress as it occurs, because that reinforcement will encourage continued progress. If there is a another set-back, it is time to cycle back on the steps above and not give up on the relationship just because the healing process is a long one.
This process needs to be taken with a grain of salt and modified to fit the particular situation at hand. Every rift between people is unique, and the ideas here are directional, depending on the situation, rather than literal to be followed without reason.
Modify the process to fit your particular application and do not follow a get well plan blindly. If a step seems like overkill or is just not practical, then you can skip it, but for serious breaches, the majority of steps will help.
In many cases, it is possible to restore trust to a higher level than existed before the breach. This method is highly dependent on the sincerity with which each person really does want the benefits of a high trust relationship with the other person.
Achieving higher trust than before is really good news, because it allows a significant trust withdrawal to become an opportunity instead of a disaster.
I liken the degree of trust between individuals in an organization to a bank account. There is a current balance of trust that is the result of hundreds of transactions (deposits and withdrawals) that occur between individuals on a daily basis. In my analogy, it is easy to make small deposits in the account. For example, doing what you said you were going to do is a small deposit in trust. Praising another person is another way to make a small deposit.
Large deposits are more difficult to make because they often require a special circumstance. For example, if I go into your burning house to save your dog, that is a huge trust deposit because I risked my life to retrieve something of value to you.
Making withdrawals, either large or small, is just as easy as the deposits. I call it “The Ratchet Effect,” when someone who had built up a large balance in the trust account wipes it out with a single major withdrawal. In this article I will share some observations on how trust withdrawals spread like the ripples in a still pond when you drop a stone in it.
A withdrawal is usually between individuals, although it is possible to make a withdrawal with several individuals with a single action. Let me use an example of a withdrawal to illustrate my point.
Suppose you are a manager of a group, and there is a need to appoint a new supervisor to work under you. You have asked several group members to interview candidate supervisors and make a recommendation. They spend a week interviewing five potential candidates: two internal to the organization, and three outside resources. The team comes back with a firm recommendation that Sally, one of the internal candidates, is by far the best match for the job. This puts you in a no win situation because your boss is demanding you appoint Mark, his son-in-law, from outside the organization. You make an announcement that Mark will fill the vacant slot, and the entire workforce is very upset.
They believe your willingness to have them interview candidates was just window dressing, and you knew all along who would be selected. In reality, until your boss spoke up yesterday, you also would have selected Sally for the promotion. Your boss demanded that you not tell anyone why you selected Mark or you would lose your position. What happens is a loss of trust for you on the part of most individuals on the team, but that is not the end of the damage in this case.
Without the ability for you to explain that the choice was out of your hands, but you did not know that until late in the process, the problem becomes bigger. The upset individuals will freely express their lack of trust in you. There will also be an undertow of resentment on the part of Sally, which may cause behaviors that lower her future potential. The ripple effect will carry over as Mark tries to gain credibility as the new supervisor. People will undermine every effort he makes regardless of his skill or sincerity. Your boss is going to be suspect, even though you do not tell people directly that Mark was his choice, not yours. Blatant nepotism is easy to spot, and people will figure out the connection quickly through online searches. You will be blamed for allowing it to occur.
Now the rumor mill picks up the chant, and the damage begins to spread throughout the organization and beyond. Incidentally, your sin usually grows in severity as the rumors persist. You may never know the extent of the compromise to your reputation from a single situation. It is vital to watch the body language of people with whom you interface to identify when something is wrong but they are not telling you overtly. You will sense a certain coolness and loss of eye contact. You may observe more side conversations than usual.
When you see signs of a change in attitude toward you, it is important to stop and ask questions until you get to the bottom of the issue. Usually you can get at least one person to open up in private about what others are saying. In this example, your hands were tied in terms of what you can say, but there is still the ability to observe people and ask questions. Then you can take some prudent mitigating actions as early as possible to preserve as much trust as you can. By taking humble corrective actions near the time of an infraction, you can prevent the ripples from spreading.