In this chapter we looked at attentive and evaluative body language. Here we defined attentive in terms of active participation in a conversation or presentation and evaluative in terms of thought or processing of information to reach a decision. We saw that undivided attention is obvious when a rate of eighty percent eye contact, or nearly so, is achieved while being listened to, and whilst speaking occurs at a rate of sixty percent with any significant deviation representing a loss of attention. We saw that fidgeting or repetitive behaviours such as tapping the toes, swinging the feet or drumming the fingers can signal boredom. We covered other boredom indicators like the body sagging or slouching in a seat, leaning against the wall or dropping the head.
We then moved onto agreement indicators and found that slow nodding shows general agreement, but that quick nodding can show impatience or a desire to interject and also that the brain is hardwired to think positively either when nodding or viewing nodding by others. Next we learned that when the hand holds the chin it shows varying levels of negative thoughts by how much weight it supports. The more the weight held by the hand, we saw, the more boredom present.
We then looked at other evaluative body language such as chin stroking, signifying that the decision making process had begun but that a conclusion had not yet been reached, what glasses mean, peering over the glasses means judgment, hand steepling which shows confidence and hidden superiority, and neck rubbing, which is a restraint posture indicating negative feelings. Lastly, we covered additional evaluative body language such as stroking the side of the nose, flared nostrils, pinching the bridge of the nose, looking upwards, or looking around the room, but cautioned that some of these same gestures can be indicators of other thoughts. For example, we learned that looking up might also mean that someone is in disbelief and is ‘sending a prayer to God.’ We found that flared nostrils can also mean an internal judgment is forming, agitated or even aggression. We concluded that when we witness evaluative gestures we should prepare to mount a better case, or prepare for a possible negative outcome.
Chewing or sucking on the frames of the glasses signifies deep thought.
As an artifact, glasses can be used to convey nonverbal meaning. Chewing or sucking on the frames of the glasses signifies deep thought. Pens placed in the mouth have the same effect. As we saw with chin stroking, what immediate follows evaluative gestures tells us what sort of decision has been made, be it positive or negative. If arms and legs become crossed, or the body leans back, it means that the person has reached a negative conclusion. The glasses can be shaken from side to side signaling a rejection of an idea which is a tempered way to finger shake – the finger shake by itself indicates a much more powerful message. Boredom can also be signaled with glasses such as folding and unfolding them repeatedly, bending them at the center can indicate agitation, and touching the tips signal tension or stress. Putting the glasses back on means the person wants to see more of the facts, setting them aside can mean that the meeting is over and throwing them aside altogether or dropping them abruptly means a full rejection of the meeting. Quickly anticipating a negative decision can be of assistance to thwart an overt conclusion in effort to leave the door open, even if just a crack. However, obviously, your work is cut out for you to sway someone who is so close to a final decision. You will need to work in overdrive to bring them back from the brink.
Moving the glasses up on the forehead can signal honesty while peering over the glasses is a classic evaluative gesture that signals scrutiny and judgment. The image it invokes in people is that of the discerning librarian or catholic school teacher bearing down on naughty students. The presence of glasses is not paramount to the gesture, but does help make it more salient. With or without glasses it happens by tilting the head downward with the eyes peering onto the subject across the bridge of the nose. With glasses, the gesture includes pulling them forward with the hand and simultaneously peering over them. If the head is cocked to the side it says “Really? You can’t be serious.” The cue cluster also includes arms folded or on the hips, legs crossed, squinted eyes and pursed lips, scowling and or an index finger that wags from side to side (meaning naughty).
Studies show that we also rate wearers of glasses as being more studious, intelligent, sincere and conservative, although having particularly thick glasses negates those positive attributes. We think thick glasses are for those with low social skills who are overly-intelligent (geeks or nerds). While not all of these gestures are perfectly predictive glasses, just like pencils, pieces of paper, folders or books, they are an extension of the hand so carry the same message but in an exaggerated way.
Trying not to pay attention.
It’s not a stretch to say that reading attentive and evaluative body language is a useful skill for everyone at one time or another. For teachers, attentive and evaluative body language cues are useful to read student interest and their level of active thought, for sellers it provides a gauge to the efficacy of a pitch, and to acquaintances at a social even, the level of engagement.
A presenter at a conference might want to measure his story telling skills and so might look for cues to “undivided attention”. He might therefore be interested in shortening presentation points that create fidgeting and shuffling. The salesman, on the other hand, also wants to avoid boredom, but needs to watch for evaluative gestures such as chin stroking, flared nostrils, pinching the bridge of the nose and rubbing the back of the neck to see how close he is to closing the sale and what level of decision making is at hand in his target. Does a chin stroking mean he’s already made up his mind and is mulling things over, or is he just satisfying and itch?
Naturally, as the stakes rise, so too does the importance in reading evaluative and attentive body language accurately, so it is important to keep these cues at hand. In this chapter, “attentive” refers to the level of interest expressed during an interaction whereas “evaluative” delineates indicators that a decision is in the process of being made. This chapter, while brief, covers a significant subset of the body language that happens as people are in thought, give undivided attention or lack thereof and show that they are preparing to reach a decision. We also hit on the hidden meaning of glasses, hand steepling, neck rubbing and a subset of additional evaluative gestures we might encounter in our daily lives.
You wouldn’t mess with this chick. Head back spells confidence and authority.
This head position prompts phrases such as “She looked down her nose at him in disapproval.” It is the classic eye-glass wearing domineering teacher or librarian look when a student has done something she does not approve of, so she stares him down. The gesture can be done by looking over the glasses or simply by looking down the bridge of the nose. The posture elicits a prey response in others because it puts them in an aggressive relationship with the predator peering down on them. Tilting the head back is a way to adjust the height levels between people because by doing so it raises the level of the eyes by a few inches. Looking down the nose is indicative of someone that is condescending or pushy and is an authoritarian posture but is also a gravity defying body language so shows confidence and positivity. It’s where the phrase “Keep your chin up” come from when we wish others to frame their outlook in a more constructive light. Conversely the chin down shows negativity and destructive thoughts such as judgement.
While the cue can be done without glasses, peering over them by slightly pulling them down as if to get a better view is even stronger. A friend of mine who is a photographer explained to me that he felt turned off by a client that habitually held this posture. For whatever reason, it was her natural tendency to tilt her head back and look down the bridge of her nose at the camera. Since the nose and chin move together they both signal the same sort of high confidence dominant signal. At the time he didn’t know why but was quick to have the model drop this posture because it didn’t feel right to him. I explained to him that he likely felt put off by the posture because it made her appear dominant and authoritative when he was likely looking for a coy pose instead. I was right after all. His reply “Why would anyone want to look at a domineering model peering down on her subjects?” He then explained that he wasn’t doing a stock photo for a fluff editorial, rather “She wanted to look attractive for her boyfriend!” We both found this amusing; he would have received an interesting surprise!
A childlike response to fearful stimuli is to block the eyes from seeing. Adults will use more subtle forms of eye blocking such as squinting.
A second related nonverbal behavior to the extended blinker is “eye-blocking” which is a term given to eyes that squint, shield or are covered by the hands or other objects. People cover their eyes when they feel threatened or don’t like what they see. My wife has a habit of covering her eyes (and blocking her ears) when horror movie previews suddenly appear on the television screen! Pupil size also related back to arousal and aggression. When we see things we like, our pupils dilate to allow the maximum amount of light in, but when we see something we don’t like, they immediately constrict. The same effect occurs when eyelids are constricted or squinted as they serve to reduce light hitting the eye. This brings objects into tighter focus allowing us to more clearly defend ourselves against an attack. Eye squinting related to tight focus is why we see people with less than perfect vision squinting to read when they are without their glasses. Incidentally, the same effect can be done by making a small hole in a piece of paper and reading through it, the effect will be to bring it back into focus by assisting the eye. Eye blocking can manifest itself in other ways too, sometimes just by accident. Restaurants that see it fit to place large center pieces in the middle of tables can present an interesting experiment. Does your company remove the item to get a better look at you so they can “take you all in” or to they keep it there to stifle the flow of conversations? I have a habit of discarding the center island especially if it’s useless and tall (or an ad to sell me expensive drinks!). I’ll even place it on a neighbouring table if convenient or on the seat next to me. I want to see my company, but do they want to see you?
Eye squinting or covering can be related back to a baseline to produce predictive powers. For example, while questioning someone about theft or vandalism, or any other event that brings back images that someone wishes not to recall, note when eyes become constricted. This will tell you which aspects of your recount makes them most uncomfortable. When vital information is struck, eye blocking in one form or another will surface. From there, it will be up to you to deduce the exact reason for eye blocking. Squinting can also flash as a microexpression in accompaniment of inconsistent body language to reveal true feelings. For example, smiling and waving to an acquaintance at a distance while squinting, shows that there is a poor connection and perhaps a subsurface distaste for them. Squinting can also be done while reading material that is disagreeable and will arise instantaneously without awareness. This is obviously a very useful ‘tell’ when negotiating contracts or devising plans. Other times eyebrows will lower instead of eye squinting, but the meaning is the same. Conversely, raised or arched eyebrows show positive feelings and high confidence.