Archive for January, 2015

Quick and Dirty Body Language Reading Tutorial

Skeptic. Doubtful woman looking at youIf you hope to avoid unsafe people, it helps to be able to read the non verbal cues.  The interviewer tells you, “I have a collaborative management style.”   Your date says, “We are so similar it’s scary!”  Your coworker assures you, “You can trust me to support you.” It sounds great. Is it true?

When we think of communication we usually think of language; written and spoken, possibly illustrated with pictures, facial expressions or gestures. When we listen to words, we focus conscious attention on an estimated 7% of of the communication.

Almost all of the information we communicate s is not verbal. Most of us pick up this information without being consciously aware of it, and nonverbal communication may be far more reliable than spoken words. It is easy to lie verbally. It is not so easy to get the body to go along with the story. But how to read what the body says?

You could watch The Mentalist for some tips, but then, you look peculiar when you peer into someone’s face to see if their pupils contracted or their lip twitched. You can learn to read eye movements which indicate whether another person is remembering or fabricating, but you run the risk of misunderstanding these cues if you are the least bit dyslexic, and once you figure out that you are talking with a left handed person, you’ve missed half of what was said and he’s written you off as flaky and inattentive.

If you do not read social cues, (and some of us don’t,) you might want to learn how, bit by bit, The Mentalist way. For others of us who do not play professional poker and just want to know if there’s something fishy about the hiring manager, or the guy we met on ConsciousSingles.com, that much skill and detail are not really necessary. You probably already read nonverbal language fairly accurately all the time. You’re just not conscious of it.

The short cut for becoming aware of non verbal cues is your feelings. How do you feel? Do you feel queasy in the job interview? Or, do you get a peaceful easy feeling with the guy you met online?  Do you get vague feelings of unease when your coworker enters the room, or is it more like a sharp pain?  The feeling gives you an executive summary of the entire interaction.

Appreciate the validation of feelings which support the words you are hearing.  Be alert to the feelings which are incongruent with the verbal conversation.  There’s always a chance that heavy feeling is something you had for lunch, but once you rule out the food,  attend to feelings of dread, anxiety, suspicion, or any sense of disempowerment.

If those feelings don’t motivate you to get outta Dodge, then ask searching questions, read the fine print a couple of times, and sleep on the decision.

Non Verbal Abuse

If you want to insult or criticize a friend, family member or co worker without having to confront them or account for yourself, then abusive body language is a skill you should learn.

Say you want to argue with a coworker but you don’t have the courage to confront him and risk being wrong or unpopular.  You can easy dismiss whatever he says as incredibly stupid without saying a word.  It’s quite simply done by casting your eyes heavenward and sighing.  If you are male, you can lean back in your chair to emphasize your point.  Nine times out of ten you will get away with it.  The tenth time, your expression may be met with an impatient, “What?!?!”  At that point, as a coward, you shrug innocently.

If you don’t feel like going to the trouble of counseling a subordinate, you can use such techniques to make that employee feel very uncomfortable.  As this person talks you can use the eye roll and sigh, or better yet, you can look out the window and tune completely out.  Just don’t listen.  This expresses your desire that this employee doesn’t even exist.   Since this method deals with wishful thinking rather than reality, it isn’t very effective.  The employee will probably not take the hint and tender her resignation immediately.  But at least you can avoid the difficult and embarrassing conversation with the employee about her performance that would probably end with her challenging your evaluation.

Let’s say two of your acquaintances are disagreeing.  You want to be on one side of the argument without having to say so and then risk the bad opinion of the person with whom you disagree.  It’s simple.  As the one you agree with makes a point, you slowly grin a wolfish grin.  Without saying a word you have said gotcha!  If you are called on your rude behavior you can claim you remembered a joke.

Grinning while hearing of someone’s misfortunes is also a way to really put down one of your friends.  Hey, wait a minute!  What kind of sick person wants to put down one of their friends?

You might want to think about that.

If you are reading this, chances are you cannot identify with these behaviors.  They are abusive and obnoxious.  If this sort of body language has been directed at you, perhaps you wondered if you were overreacting.  No.   You were not.

There’s a Wolf in that Sheepskin!

SheepWouldn’t it be nice if difficult people were labeled clearly with helpful hazard warnings so you could simply avoid involvement?  But they are not, and in fact, covertly aggressive, controlling, and narcissistic people are deceptively charming at first.  It can take being stung repeatedly to realize that the abusive behavior was not a mistake.  The damage is done before you know you have been targeted.

Early detection of a toxic partner, boss or comrade is not really that difficult.  I have tangled with bullies and worked with their targets enough to know that controlling people invariably tip their hand and, subtly but surely, show their true nature early on in a relationship.  Mixed in with the charm, are fleeting antisocial behaviors which we tend to dismiss as anomalies.

Instead of dismissing odd, out of character behaviors, consider them red flags; warnings to watch a person’s behavior more closely, paying more attention to actions than to words.  A feeling of confusion is the early warning sign that you have perceived inconsistent behavior.  If you feel confused around someone you do not know well, that person’s behavior bears watching.

Toxic people are usually short on empathy and you may see occasional evidence of this.  When a new person in your life fails to respond to your remarks or does not listen to your end of the conversation, they are likely to have a bit more narcissism than the norm.  This doesn’t make for rewarding relationships.

Watch for facial expressions that are not appropriate to the conversation, such as smiling while hearing about another’s misfortune, rolling the eyes dismissively, or turning red in the face and looking angry in an ordinary conversation.  These can indicate hostile feelings.

Attend to any confusing behavior or inappropriate reaction.  When a hiring manager snaps at you during the interview, your new friend is critical, or a date claims he’s interested but shows up late without phoning, don’t write it off as odd.  Question why you are seeing unfriendly behavior in a situation which should be friendly.

Disrespect indicates a lack of empathy.  If a hiring manager wants a decision on the spot in the first interview or a blind date pushes to come to your house, your needs are not being respected.  Disrespect can also take the form of criticism from people who have no business criticizing you. And really, most people have no business criticizing you.  Making assumptions about you can also be disrespectful, such as presuming to know what you think or acting as if you have a closer relationship than you do.

To more quickly evaluate someone you have just met, ask appropriate questions about their relationships to elicit information about whether they empathize with others.  Watch for expression and attitude as much as what is said as you ask how your date gets along with his mom, or how the employees felt about the reorganization.

Follow up on your suspicions.  Always feel justified in running background checks on anyone you date.  If you interview for a job, see if you know someone who has had experience with, or heard gossip about, the company or the reputation of the manager you would work with.

See whether the confusing behavior is really an anomaly before dismissing it.