Tag Archive for Defensiveness

Verbal And Paraverbal Cues

At times verbal and paraverbal cues betray the liar and these are cues tied directly to the words in which they speak. Although they fall outside the realm of body language at large, they do complete this chapter with regards to cues associated with deception which is why they have been included. These cues are, as always, related to the stress of fibbing so can be confused with nervousness of any other source. Some however are the direct consequences of lying such as the telling of an implausible story or using more negative comments or statements, which has been shown to increase during lying.

Here are the cues to deception as they relate to our verbal dialogue: Vocal tension, hectic speech, faltering speech, improper structure or grammar, implausible story, inconsistent story, superfluous details, describing feelings rather than events such as “I felt this way when I did this” or “I must have felt this way because of this” etc, adding qualifying statement such as “This is what I am about to say” then saying it, word or phrase repetition, using less contractions saying “I did not” instead of “I didn’t”, using the persons name in sentences instead of saying “he” or “she”, for example “Bill went to the store” rather than “He went to the store”, the use of clichés, blocking access to information, evasive responses or desire to change the subject, speech is less compelling, less personal and with less or too much detail, expressing self doubt, negative complaints or statements, defensiveness or aggressiveness, changes in pitch (high low or monotone), shaky or soft voice, stuttering, false starts, silent pauses, filled pauses, delayed response, appearing to be thinking, admitted lack of memory, tentative construction of sentences, clearing the throat and spontaneous corrections.

Competitive Head-To-Head Position

When people face-off against one another, they tend to sit head-on across the table.

When people face-off against one another, they tend to sit head-on across the table.

Legal television dramas popularize this head-to-head seating position. Here each party faces directly across from the other person usually with their allies to their left and right solidifying their flanks. Another words for this position is the “closed” seating arrangement because it isolates people with the use of the desk. In the “open” arrangement a desk is pushed up against a wall and presents no barrier to visitors since they can access every part of a person when meeting with them. Closed positions convey formality, distance and authority, defensiveness and even divisiveness whereas open orientations convey interest and comfort.

Even when competition isn’t directly encouraged, research finds that the closed position still becomes an issue because the table provides a clear boundary between each party. Despite this, studies show that it is a very common way to sit in for casual conversations and at restaurants. The reason expressed is because it easily permits the exchange of information, affords good eye contact by filling the other persons view, and turns each person into the centre of attention. Thus, while it can be a constructive casual position amongst friends and family, it doesn’t serve well with new associates or where there is a desire to break down existing boundaries.

Interestingly when larger groups meet in the competitive arrangement with many people facing one another across a rectangular table, it is most often the person to the front of the speaker directly across the table that talks next, and rarely the person to their side. This has been termed the “Steinzor effect” and was named after the researcher Dr. Bernard Steinzor in 1950 who first discovered the occurrence. The head-to-head position creates discourse and necessitates the person at their face to respond, moreso than any other at the table. This only adds to the negative data that stem from head-to-head orientations and why we should avoid it when we wish to accomplish something other than fight.

Research conducted in the mid 1970’s by psychologist Richard Zweigenhaft of Guildord College in North Carolina found that faculty that used their office desks as a barrier by placing it in between them and their students were rated less positively in general and where rated especially poorly as it related to student interaction. The study found that faculty that did this were also older and had a greater academic rank. Thus, it was likely their subconscious tendency was to protect and maintain their rank between themselves and their students. Therefore, when meeting with new clients or where competition is likely but undesirable, avoid sitting in the head-to-head position if possible and remove whatever barriers separate you and whomever it is you wish to build a relationship with. However, if the desire is to reprimand an employee or anyone else and the goal to set clear boundaries, the table-in-between-position can emphasis division, thereby enhancing the message further. It will be up to you to decide exactly what orientation will suite you best and this will be wholly dependant on the goal you wish to attain while meeting.

Summary – Chapter 9

In this chapter we covered defensive and aggressive body language. We found that double arm hug or arm crossing, partial arm crossing, arm gripping, fists and arm clenching, stiff or curved arms, or even cufflinks can be used to signal defensiveness. We learned that objects are used to shield the insecure by affording fewer angles of attack which is the case when we lean against a wall or bar top, hold a drink near our face or against our chest, or hide behind a podium whilst presenting. We discovered that headphones can be great tools for women who don’t want to be bothered, how pens, books, or newspapers indicate division between people and how conversations can be ended or avoided simply by raising a book. We found that other cues such as head bows, looking up to the side or through the forehead, avoiding eye contact, seeking escape routes with darting eyes, or reduce body size among others, show defensiveness.

On the other hand, we cut through defensiveness to study aggression which can include the in-your-face posture characterized by the hands on hips, feet together at attention, leaning forward with the head and chin up or out and exposed. We also saw that an aggressive person might get red in the face, cross or drop their arms to the side and clench their fists, finger point, become tense overall, clamp their jaw, tighten their lips, frown and lower their eyebrows. We learned that a stare lasting ten seconds or longer invokes anxiety and discomfort in subordinates in the ‘unblinking eyes’, and that overstepping boundaries can lead to conflict.

Fist And Arms Clenched

Fist clenching can be subtle and show hidden insecurity and hostility.

Fist clenching can be subtle and show hidden insecurity and hostility.

Holding the fists clenched and holding a full arm cross shows hostility, defensiveness and also readiness to attack. It can also be accompanied by a red face, clenched teeth, lowered eyebrows, a forward thrust of the lips or an angry expression. These accompanying signals show that physical aggression is imminent and likely, and ignoring them can be a huge mistake. Part of the reason we have aggression signals at all is to avoid risky physical confrontations. Our minds are hardwired to avoid possibly deadly or damaging situations. The signals are our way to warn others, or be warned by others, that we are nearing our threshold. All people are capable of lashing out with force if provided with the proper stimulus, any mother will agree.

In business and other context were violence is strictly forbidden we see an abbreviation of the hostile cues listed above. Here we see a more subtly form with the fists clenched tightly and the arms folded across the chest, usually while seated. Other times the dominant hand will make a fist with the other hand clasping the wrist. This is a mental way for the person to figuratively ‘hold themselves back.’ When we lack the right to express ourselves to our satisfaction, we hold back our negativity. Social norms and customs prevent us from expressing our true emotions whenever we desire.

Fist clenching happens very naturally and subconsciously; a slip of the hand so to speak. Women can even be seen doing this while being verbally berated by a partner. President Nixon was videotaped intensely balling his fist such that his knuckles turned white during a press conference called to discuss what was supposed to be a temporary incursion into Cambodia. The rest of his body was confident and his voice was smooth, yet his hands gave his restraint and dishonesty away. Of course, holding a tight fist does not necessarily mean they intent to strike out, rather it shows just the opposite – that their minds are dealing with a dilemma, of which social norms prevent physical resolutions. So very rarely are we allowed to fully express our emotions. In fact, one of the most important lessons we learn early in life is self control and this is exactly what happens when the fist is balled, clenched, but resists striking. We learn very early on that it’s not acceptable to throw fits and tantrums so we do the next best thing – we get very close to striking, but stop at the last second.

Whenever you are privy to clenching body language your first inclination should be to diffusing the situation. You might start by slowing down speech or stopping it altogether to allow the situation to simmer rather than continue boiling. You should then use open body language with palm up gestures to show honesty. Next, add submissive postures, head down, shoulders slumped and a reduction in body size. Your goal is to show that you are not interested in confrontation. You might even consider succeeding to their point of view, even just temporarily to allow them to take a saner headspace. In many cases it will be impossible to recover from this position successfully depending on what level of negativity is present. It’s always best to reduce tension early on before it gets out of control.