I am regular reader of the articles on Dr. Travis Bradberry. He is a prolific writer on the subject of Emotional Intelligence. Most of his articles come out regularly through LinkedIn. Look him up!
Here is one of his articles entitled Body Language Blunders That Can Make You Look Bad. It’s worth reading. Let’s examine each of the points he addresses in this article. Let’s do it, though, through the lens of how these points may support, or not, effective conflict management. Let’s see how we can use them to create safer conditions for everyone.
- Exaggerated Gestures: Here it’s wise to remember that, depending on the circumstances, an exaggerated gesture might be mistaken for aggressive or overly dramatic intent. Where one is striving to calm conflict, precise body language choices are most useful. For instance, remember to communicate with someone with palms open, with the palms open toward them. It can contribute to calming some people. All of your gestures should convey respect. It’s not enough just to think it, and say it. You’ve got to, literally, show it.
- Crossed Arms: This is seldom useful in moments of conflict, as they can too easily suggest a non-collaborative, oppositional tone. Depending on the circumstances, crossing the arms can also be an unwise tactical posture, since threaded arms can take longer to unthread if needed to respond to a physical threat.
- Inconsistency: If your words and facial expressions, or your words and tone of voice, do not match, people won’t trust you. They won’t know what to believe. If this is the case, they will leave with what your facial expression or tone of voice expresses, and not your words. Make sure that your words, tone of voice, facial expressions, and all other body language expressions match in tone.
- Turning Yourself Away from Others: This can very quickly convey disrespect. Disrespect is the premier way to escalate any human being. Turning yourself away from someone is also tactically unwise. Allow no one to get behind you.
- Slouching: This is another body language symbol that can too easily convey disrespect. Slouching says (in body language), “I’m not interested in you.” Stand up straight to talk to people, but also be cautious of assuming an overly large, power-overish, position with people. Slouching is also an effective way to invite bullying. Stand up straight, own your space, and respect the space of others.
- Avoiding Eye Contact: Eye contact in a moment of potential conflict is significant. Too much of it, and you can exacerbate an already escalated person. Too little of it, and you can give off signals that others can bully you. Natural eye contact is what is useful.
- Watching the Clock: This is another sign that can be received by others as dismissiveness or disrespect. Refrain from doing this, and focus on the task at hand.
- Exaggerated Nodding: This can too easily be interpreted as one not taking another person seriously. During a moment of conflict, we may have to strengthen boundaries, setting limits to keep everyone safe. We can’t get caught up in trying to nod someone into compliance, cooperation, or collaboration.
- Fidgeting: Anxiety manifests physically. Manage it in yourself in moments of conflict. Otherwise, it can be perceived that you are not in control of yourself. Depending on the circumstances, it can contribute to others taking advantage of a real or perceived weakness.
- Scowling: A genuine smile always helps to create a non-escalating environment and to de-escalate when necessary. Public Safety, Law Enforcement, and Security personnel often need to really improve on this. It is not helpful at all to assume a facial expression that is overly serious or gruff. You can change someone’s mood just by the look on your face. Stop taking get yourself so seriously. Smile!
- Handshake: An appropriate handshake can set the tone for a more respectful conversation. Too strong, and one may be perceived as attempting to dominate – or even disrespect – another. Too weak, and you set yourself up to be dominated by another.
- Getting Too Close: You can move up to another’s personal space without getting in his/her face. Respect the personal space of others. Enter it without their permission, and escalation is almost always inevitable (and your personal safety is also potentially compromised). Own your own personal space. It is yours. Manage it. Distance is often your best friend.
Use these pointers to keep yourself and others safe.