Tag Archive for Subordinates

Turtling – It’s When The Head Goes Into It’s Shell

Turtling is a limbic response to confrontation.  The head sinks, shoulders shrug, and the body takes on a smaller form to avoid being seen as a threat.

Turtling is a limbic response to confrontation. The head sinks, shoulders shrug, and the body takes on a smaller form to avoid being seen as a threat.

The posture happens as the head seems to sink inside the shoulders, however, what is really happening is that the shoulders are slowly being raised so the neck disappears taking the head with it. It is as if the head is being swallowed by the shoulders. We see this posture when people are uncomfortable, have low confidence about themselves or a topic, have insecurities, feel weak or powerless, ashamed, or are carrying any other negative emotion. It is usually found when someone is centered out on their poor performance. The origins of the head turtle is to protect it from harm. For example, when people hear a very loud bang, they will quickly pull their heads inward and down, and tuck their chins. However, when it is done out of shame, it happens more slowly and deliberately so as to draw even less attention.

It usually happens when people want to appear less significant so they are ignored rather than called on. In business the head duck will occur when subordinates meet with superiors as they try to stand out less and look less significant or when employees wish to be overlooked during status reports at a boardroom meeting. It might also happen in class when the professor is calling on students who don’t have the answers, or when athletes have to walk back in shame to their dressing rooms after losing an important match.

Hand Steepling

She knows something you don't.

She knows something you don’t.

The hand steeple happens by propping up the fingers of on hand, with the finger of the other hand, to form a bridge. In this posture fingers are not interlocked and the palms do not touch. The word steepling comes from their similarity to the pointed roof of a church steeple. Rocking, might accompany the steeple where the hands move back and forth by adding and reducing pressure between them. The steeple can be placed low on a lap, or seen hovering slightly above the lap. Other times the steeple is in full view of others with the elbows propped up on the table. The steepler can hold the posture so high that they have to look through the steeple to see others. Hand steeples frequently occur by themselves as standalone cues, and don’t require additional body language in a cluster to have predictable meaning.

The steepler is someone that is confident, sometime overconfident, genuine, authoritative, and particularly evaluative of others around him. Confidence, in this case, is held in the power and control they possess and also in knowing things that other people do not, so steepling says “I have access to hidden information (and life experience) and this is the source of my power and control over you.” Steeplers are found carrying the gesture when around subordinates, or whenever they seem to have the upper hand. Donald Trump performed the steeple frequently on his television show The Apprentice, in preparation, of all things, to fire his next apprentice! His steepling was an obvious cue to the power he had over his subordinates. This gesture is effective if you already possess power or want others to think you do, but it is ineffective in team building, since it comes off as arrogant. It does have subconscious manipulative properties though, such as bluffing in poker but in most cases, this gesture is only as effective as that which can be backed up with real confidence and true access to valuable hidden information.

Superiors will also be seen using this gesture in meetings and when giving orders and the higher the steeple is held, the greater the arrogance it depicts. In extreme forms, the person carrying the gesture can be seen “looking right through their hands” between the triangle formed by the pent up fingers and the thumbs. A more subtle version is the hidden steeple of which the sender could be trying to hide or shelter their opinion from view by keeping the steepled fingers below the table. The lower steeple is more often used by women and when someone is listening rather than speaking. Hidden steepling refers to hidden confidence or a desire to limit arrogance in attempt to appear more open and accepting. The underlying meaning of the steeple is still present however, yet women should show more overt confidence by actively mirroring or initiating steepling on their own to gain an advantage in office situation, rather than letting their confidence fall to the way side. In all confident steepling the hands remain stand-alone, or the elbows serve to prop the hands up from a table. When the hands are steepled, but holding support to the head, it does not signal confidence, but rather boredom, self consciousness, or awkwardness.

BodyLanguageProjectCom - Hand Steepling 3The steeple can occur in body language clusters as well, but what is important is not what happens after the steepling, as in the chin stroke and eye glass language, but rather what happens preceding the steepling. Therefore, by watching for positive open postures such as palms up and arms un-crossed or closed postures such as arms crossed, touching the nose or face and avoiding eye contact, we can tell if the person is trying to be honest or manipulative with his or her apparent power. In other words, steepling is a finish posture serving to punctuate a body language clue cluster rather than the other way around. Steepling can also ebb and flow along with confidence to what is being said which can be useful in negotiations or in arguments. If something is said to drop confidence the steepling might be broken in favour of interlocked hands as if praying but then quickly return when a person feels that their position has improved. Interlocked fingers is a signal of low confidence and the fingers might even be seen wringing themselves. Lawyers quickly learn to control this nonverbal cue in favour of constant steepling rather than any other gesture.

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.

The Unblinking Eyes



Research shows us that a steady stare of more than ten seconds creates anxiety and discomfort especially in subordinates. When done on more dominant individuals it can lead to feelings of aggression and in extreme cases, even physical altercations.

Holding eye contact for slightly longer than normal can send a powerful message. When looking at strangers, it’s a common courtesy to look away when the eyes meet, at least after a few milliseconds have elapsed. Staring is only permitted while looking at inanimate objects (and celebrities). By holding an extended or even unblinking gaze toward strangers, we are telling them that we think of them no more important than objects, a phenomenon celebrities know only too well. Naturally, eye contact and staring means one thing to men, and something else entirely to women. When the sexes stare at each other, it’s usually due to competitiveness or envy, as in, sizing up the competition and other times out of pure curiousity. When the sexes stare at each other, it’s usually driven by sexual interest, however, women are far less prone to staring in any case.

We covered proper eye gaze patterns in an earlier chapter and saw that the intimate gaze happens when the eyes travel around the face and body of someone we care about. Staring, on the other hand, is unmoving. The eyes are piercing and intense, unblinking, and seem to want to penetrate the eyes of another. An aggressive stare is even more intense and happens by narrowing the eyelids creating a deep focus. Second to the unblinking eyes is the “slow blink”. This one can be imagined, but must really be seen to understand its true intensity. While a slow blink done with a tilt of the head can appear alluring when done by an attractive woman, it does nothing to arouse positive emotions when done head on. The slow blink is intensified by tilted the head forward revealing the crown, and especially intense when the head is tilted backwards while looking down at an opponent “through” the bridge of the nose. The final cue in the slow blink cue cluster is pursed lips and the cue cluster, as a whole, signals disapproval and contempt.

You’ve probably never made conscious the universal “stare test” but it goes something like this. First you use proper eye language cast around a busy room, perhaps a grocery store, horizontally focusing on whatever is of interest. By accident, you make eye contact with someone and to show that you are no threat, you quickly shift your eyes to the left or right and continue a normal eye pattern. If no “eye flash” happens, as we saw earlier, we understand them to be a stranger. To make sure you haven’t been targeted by eye assault, you return your gaze after a few moments to see if that person is still fixated on you. If they are, you drop eye contact again, but then quickly look back. If eye contact is met again, this will set you on alert, and so you begin a very minor fight or flight response by keeping your distance. At a subconscious level you have identified a possibly dangerous individual.

This isn't going well - she looks right through him.

This isn’t going well – she looks right through him.

We call the appropriate eye contact that doesn’t violate someone’s privacy the “moral looking time.” This is the length of time gaze is permitted before creating anxiety through offensiveness and in strangers is usually only one or two seconds. To be sure that you aren’t still being assaulted by someone else you will usually repeatedly look in the direction of the person who caught your eyes several times, and at random intervals. This is because we all subconsciously realize that the other person is measuring the same threat in us, as we are in them. If their eyes are continuously met with yours, you will show aggressive or “rude” facial expressions as a warning to cease eye contact. Women do this type of expression best and we call them “dirty looks.” They are meant to indicate a desire to be left alone, and that conversation and approaching is not welcome. Other times, women will know that staring is taking place but will purposely avoid eye contact. Just because a dirty look hasn’t been given, does not mean she hasn’t noticed, and does not mean that staring is welcomed. When eye contact is avoided, and gaze pattern rules aren’t properly engaged, the intent of this message is the same, give women space and don’t stare!