Tag Archive for Undivided Attention

Summary – Chapter 10

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.

Undivided Attention

An interested listener is focused on the entire person, their gestures, voice tone and the information delivered.

An interested listener is focused on the entire person, their gestures, voice tone and the information delivered.

Meeting in crowded areas offers plenty of distractions, which in and of itself might lead one to belief that measuring attention would be difficult. However, the opposite is actually true; in other words, it’s easier to measure interest in busy places because the eye can be caught wondering. As we covered earlier in the chapter on eye language, we can verify interest based on where eyes are cast. The eyes tell where the body wants to be, and when the mind is fully engaged on the presentation, the focus will be on the speaker rather then what is going on around them.

Looking away rarely happens with someone who is completely engrossed in a conversation unless they do so to concentrate. We know from an earlier discussion, that faces are complicated making it difficult to process information. However absent of complex thought, we know that when someone looks away, it’s due to disinterest in the subject matter. Take for example, a very important news item appearing suddenly on television and the sequences of events that follow. First, we try to quiet a room so we have time to tune into the broadcast, next we locate the remote and turn the volume up loud enough so that even random noises don’t supersede the broadcast. Our eyes become fixated at the exclusion of anything else in the room and our ears become finely tuned to the voice of the broadcaster. When completely engaged, there is a fear of missing something important. This doesn’t just occur while watching television or movies, but can happen when in deep conversation, while reading something interesting or any other task for that matter. Any husband will tell you how easily it is to “tune” women out when watching sports!

An interested listener is focused on the entire person, their gestures, voice tone and the information delivered. For most, the picture they pick up about the speaker’s body language is subconscious, but it does help them form an overall impression of their honesty, integrity, emotionality and so forth. Therefore the focus doesn’t stop on the words alone, but on the entire message. An attentive listener is directed, having their bodies oriented toward the speaker, their arms open and apart willing to take information in, their legs will be crossed or open but aimed at the speaker, their head might be cocked to the side at forty five degrees showing interest, and any information they add will be appropriate to the given subject rather than off topic.

There will be times, when a fully attentive person will look away, down or about the room, but these ganders are few and brief, with the primary attention placed back on the speaker. It has been shown that up to eighty percent eye of contact is made while listening and about forty to sixty percent while speaking. Thus, we can measure the level of interest simply by making note of how often the person looks away. Someone that is bored will almost seem to look everywhere but at the speaker, or will appear to glaze over in an unblinking stare. Looking away is a subconscious indication that the other person is looking for an escape route – a way out of the conversation.

Introduction – Chapter 10

Trying not to pay attention.

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.

Avoiding The Eyes

Avoiding eye contact is usually bad news.

Avoiding eye contact is usually bad news.

The eyes can also signal that someone is closed-off. We turn our heads when we wish to avoid being singled out in a lecture hall or boardroom meeting. To represent a closed attitude we might pull our chins in and tuck our heads down. In theory this is to protect our vulnerable necks from attack so it also indicates and fearful state. When we wish to scold children we make sure they give us full eye contact in order to measures their reaction and to ensure they’ve given us their undivided attention. This trait is culturally specific however, as some parents require that children avoid eye contact precisely for the same reason other parents require it; to show respect for authority.

That being said, a lack of direct eye contact during a conversation is not always to be taken as a negative cue or rejection. Research has shown that concentrating on faces takes a lot of effort so we look away in order to properly analyze what is being said. Looking away is also a signal that we are comfortable with our company because we can safely look away with no risk of being attacked. In other words, looking away shows that we trust those around us. As such, looking away is a “comfort display.” The distinction between rude eye avoidance and a comfort display should be obvious. For example, dropping the eyes in order to focus on picking the dirt from beneath the nails to “preen”, removing lint from clothing while avoiding a topic, or glazing over expressionless in boredom is not the same as looking away during a conversation to focus more deeply.

While this type of eye avoidance is normal and acceptable in casual situations, do avoid it during job interviews as potential employers have noted they prefer candidates to focus on them rather than casting their gaze all over their office as if they own it. In a subordinate dominant situation freely moving eyes leave bad impressions and make potential employees appear disinterested which turn interviewers off.