Signals May Be Just That

This week I learned a valuable lesson about body language and signals.  They may mean nothing at all.

I was involved as the person being judged.  When I sit, especially for long periods of time, I find it quite comfortable to lean back with my arms crossed.  I mean absolutely nothing by it.  I finally had someone tell me they felt I was not engaged and standoffish.  I found this to be odd, because I was asking questions and trying to gain clarity during the entire meeting.  The person then let me know that my body language made them feel uncomfortable.  That is when it clicked.  I let them know it had nothing to do with them.  It was a comfort thing for me, especially in a cold room.

Just by chance a couple of days later, I was taking a course on facilitation.  Again, long days in a chair and I sat leaned back with my arms crossed a lot out of comfort.  When the instructor started talking about body language and reading the room she used me as an example.  She pointed out I was sitting leaned back and with my arms crossed.  She mention most people might think I am not happy about what is going on or engaged BUT that wasn’t the case.  She could tell I was engaged because of my head nods, the questions I asked, and my participation.

The instructor’s point was body language is just a signal to keep an eye one.  You should take everything into consideration and if you have a question about it don’t assume the negative.  In private, ask if everything is alright and how things are going.  You might find something outside of work is causing the distraction or you just might find out there is nothing wrong at all.

Posted on October 31, 2011, in Culture, Engagment, People and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Matt,
    Body Language & Facial Expressions do mean something…as the facilitator trainer suggested they are engagement signals…ones we should be observant and aware of. The fact a person (in this case you) was nodding and asking questions are part of the engagement equation as well. To your point in the beginning of your post..your posture indicated you may have been cold….which is a signal.

  2. Matt,

    Interesting points, I think for me the key issue is that it is easy for us to be misunderstood,

    It is always best (but difficult) not to jump to conclusions


  3. Another area that has to be watch is voice inflection and tone. As a facilitator of improvement events, I find I have to watch this very closely in order not to sound condescending or frustrated when the participants want to do something which would be counterproductive in the long run.

    I try to work on this but I have to remind my wife occassionally to listen to WHAT I have said, not necessarily HOW I have said it, to get the real meaning.

    • Tone of voice can be another good example. We should pay attention to all signals but use them to paint a complete picture. Don’t just look at a single signal and take that to have all the meaning.

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