The Power of a Gesture

The Power of a Gesture

Unless you are into neuroscience you don’t hear much about nonverbal communication. We have spent over thirty years training people how to use words and tone to craft a message to reduce conflict and generate compliance from difficult people under difficult situations. We even have a section dedicated to other nonverbal signals and how the selective use of your hands, where and how you stand as you deliver your message, but what of a specific gesture to carry the day?

Virtually all the best remembered examples begin as cautionary tales gleaned from our past mistakes. Most of us are not neuroscientists and maybe we don’t want to be but can the science of delivery be taught without years of serious education; in a word, yes. Many gestures we dislike are the product of irritating memories than come back to roost in the present when we need them the least. In a police uniform I entered the home of a family deep in the midst of disagreement. The problem, before I arrived, was minor and likely easily resolved by a few carefully spoken sentences laced with empathy for their individual points of view would have sufficed. Offering each a short opportunity to vent and regain focus before I start speaking was also an easy option. I even had the words to calm and redirect their behavior in my head. Not a difficult challenge as it was the third of this type of altercation of the week.

The officer with whom I am partnered with that evening and I entered the home with permission, what I consider over 50% of the battlefield objective already in hand, I began to speak. The words came easily with a practiced voice, but with a single gesture I watched the encounter deteriorate into a twenty minute recovery of my credibility. So simple a mistake as all I wanted was for an agitated and pacing husband to take a seat, any seat. I chose not with my voice but my index finger pointing to the closest to him and the farthest from household objects I thought could be used as a weapon if things went bad. Big mistake.

When he saw me point he went nuclear. He began shouting he wasn’t a dog that I could point and he obey in his own home. He continued to exclaim it was his house, his home, his castle and he was King here and not I, and I don’t tell him where to sit in his castle. I would have been happy to agree if I could have gotten back into the conversation.

Now we assess the prospect of a violation of the SAFER module and if we believe a physical action might be necessary to regain control of the encounter. As I did not feel I was at risk of a threat manifesting physically I just let him vent for another few seconds and changed the gesture from a point to both hands open with the palms facing upward (a compounded mistake here would have been to use a gesture with my palm or both palms facing him as a recognized signal to calm down or stop). I used a proven Verbal Judo deflector phrase – with the no harm to me and great benefit to him as I apologized for my error pointing to a chair and explaining that it was hard to carry on a discussion with him as he paced around the room. Changing again the gesture to an open hand with the palm up I leveled my arm I the direction of the same chair, and to my immediate gratification he took the three or four steps necessary and sat down upon what he now considered his living room throne.

Note to self – pointing bad! Asking good.

For the next several encounters I made careful observations of how people gestured and what gestures calmed or really ticked people off. Clearly in every encounter there is context for the problem and the rhetorical solution the other person sees as the way to solve it. Make a second note: Angry people don’t reason well and our voice takes a back seat to nonverbal signals in any volatile encounter. Our hands are good for a lot more than staying warm in our pockets during winter months and we need them to cast an effective delivery. We communicate a message long before we say our first word in the way we approach a scene, if we stand aggressively or confidently, our facial features (Maxim – All words flow from the face) which dictate our tone with or without our knowledge and approval, and even how we are dressed that day can have a definitive impact on how our delivery is received.

As for the index finger pointing, maybe we dislike it because it reminds us of being singled out, or perhaps from childhood by a parent while admonishing us for poor behavior. A finger is not a fist but the message is still received and we don’t like it. From a police officer approaching our car during a traffic stop with his or her hand on their gun butt even if it is still holstered to a supervisor with hands on hips as they ask to speak with us in private. The message is delivered and it will be negative if there is anything to fear in the encounter, regardless of the severity or potential consequence. Gestures create a picture and we must harmonize voice and other nonverbal if we are to be successful while others fail.
— Lee Fjelstad

Reference: Nonverbal Signals – SAFER – Verbal Deflectors

Is our ability to apologize part of our personality?

Is our ability to apologize part of our personality?

I placed a blog regarding a way to apologize with dignity during the Holiday Season. It was apparently a bigger hit than I expected so it led me to reexamine if the strength to apologize is an attribute of our character, something we do because we are led to believe it is necessary to mend an injury or rebuild a bridge, or do we do so merely to measure up to what we believe is the right thing to do?

If personality is a contributing factor, and I believe it to be so, then are some of us more inclined to apologize for a perceived wrong, or only when incontrovertible truth envelopes us in a cloud of discomfort from the glaring eyes of our peers? Science may be arriving at some answers and they seem to be of no great surprise.

It’s hard to even get out of bed each day if your self-esteem cannot rise to a greater elevation than the floor. Our sense of purpose can vary but it does give us the strength to survive the day ahead. There have been mornings I awoke with a happy outlook at the day’s prospects and others where I was still steeped in the anger from yesterday’s events. A tactical approach to my day became an absolute imperative if I was to effectively handle an apology if my mood was sour as a still-green apple.

I created a simple set of rules of for an effective apology to carry me through my discomfort. I knew I could survive an apology if I could grasp the positive resulting from it. Oddly, I was never interested in forgiveness. Guilt and sadness become an anchor to forward momentum I could ill afford. If my apology would bring peace of mind to another for an action of mine, whether real or perceived, I could move beyond the slight and get it behind me.

In my youth, my best friend was also an introvert. One day he simple blurted out we were missing the proverbial boat. Introverts didn’t get what they want not because they lacked popularity but because they didn’t ask for anything. They collected crumbs. Introverts didn’t get the best equipment on the athletic field, if they got onto it at all, and they didn’t date the cheerleaders. I agreed it made for a good point. An additional valid point being my introverted nature was due to my low self-esteem. A dichotomy since I knew I was intelligent, I was well-read (introverts have plenty of time to read as they are not invited to the in-crowd events), and my teachers were constantly informing my parents I was not living up to my potential academically. So I was the problem.

When I asked myself why I was the problem it became rather revealing. It was because you cannot stand on the sidelines if what you really want is to get into the game. The game is where the light is found but light shines on blunders. The answer was I had to become willing to make mistakes. I needed to be able to handle the ridicule or good-natured poking from peers that were once adversaries in my mind.

I convinced myself I could survive mistakes, errors in judgment, and the down side of comradely because others were also bound to make mistakes as well. I found from dropping a ball on an easy catch to the general clumsiness of asking for a date with the wrong timing or wording was not fatal if I could see myself as a work in progress. I would not always be clumsy or a failure if I just kept trying. As my skills grew, my confidence grew. With confidence came what we call self-esteem. When criticism came I had to decide if the proper response was to be a verbal apology or a look of, “it happened to you earlier so stuff your attitude and what is the next play?” If you remove the dividing line between arrogance and sincerity, you get effectiveness as a result.

The research study out of Edmonton at Grant MacEwan University, Andrew Howell found no surprises as participants to his questionnaire revealed those with high self-esteem and compassion are better able to recognize a wrongdoing, confess to it (even if no one had yet found out), and address it. Narcissists don’t feel as if they need to apologize (again, BIG surprise), and lower self-esteem is fraught with difficulty as they were less inclined to offer an apology after a conflict, even if they emotionally felt badly, if they could not connect it to a specific event. It was also revealed general shame was different from actual remorse and the apology might stem from feeling sorry for themselves. As we ban “Woe is me,” from our state of mind we grow stronger in both character and in compassion for others with what we can call empathy.
– Lee Fjelstad

Reference: Habit of Mind; Empathy; The Art of an Apology

Are we victims of how people think?

Are we victims of how people think?

The short answer is yes, and on several levels. The more pressing question, are we a victim before the facts are revealed? If we follow the thinking of perception is more powerful than reality in shaping our future actions, I may finally have some definitive research which makes my point. A study recently completed by Princeton University psychologists Daniel Ames and Susan Fiske used a study group to evaluate how we believe damage should be assessed for harm done. In brief, they found the participants assigned a greater level of harm based upon whether participants believed the act committed was intentional or accidental which seems to follow the doctrine of fair play. But the findings would also lead us to believe wither we see the person(s) harmed as victims. Those viewed as victims were believed to deserve a much larger compensation for their discomfort.

We also apparently assign a sliding scale to our moral compass as we rationalize the act in accordance to the harm we perceive has occurred. Do we take empathy too far? Do we make people out to be victims where they aren’t even by an individual’s own admission.

If someone is rude to you is it a measure of their action or your sensitivity to the action? More so is it a measure of bystander sensitivity as they judge from the sidelines? What I consider rude might be casually tossed aside by another, given equal understanding of the context of the situation.

Without surprise the study also leads us to measure the event after we discover the degree of damage or injury suffered. The greater the perceived damage the greater the punishment we would like to see enacted as compensation for injury. Do we see through our biases with the same clarity if the bias is weak or strong on a particular action, or with a group, or race, gender, orientation, education, or creed?

We must concede our biases shape our opinions and how we feel about a particular circumstance, and personally I prefer to be spoken to with a tone that isn’t offensive. The question is what do I consider over the top on a scale of acceptable to outrageous?

My years in the military and my upbringing tempered me to still be able to function professionally regardless of the ferocity of my interaction or dislike of the other person. My father seemed to have a singular tone of voice when giving instructions for a task or correcting any perceived wrongdoing, and I believed for years he conspired with my military commanders to maintain the trend with which I had become accustomed. But knowing the words carried no malice, I listened and I was able to carry out instructions properly, even when I felt a deep seated resentment at “how” the message was delivered, I did not feel victimized.

The secondary point here is to create a self-examination of how we filter words and tones or the vengeful motivation poor speech might engender. Do we dislike how something was said to us to such a degree we purposely or accidently sabotage our work effort to teach others a lesson?

If punishment is assigned based upon damage done, does our mood at the time of the event cause us to perceive a greater slight than maybe existed? If we know others view words spoken to us in the heat of conflict were outrageous do we now feel victimization to a greater degree? Our ego can certainly be bruised because we do not appreciate words said and tone as felt but does it truly cause us harm? As we speak to others when we are tense or stressed do we speak with a tone or with words which are destined to create the atmosphere of victimization while others overhear. We are as we feel; furthermore we become what we are allowed to become as we act out
— Lee Fjelstad

Reference the Acronym L.E.A.P.S.; Verbal Deflectors, Habit of Mind – Mushin

What to do when you’re a bully by accident ?

What to do when you’re a bully by accident
Reprinted from December 20th, 2010

Parenting with the best of intentions can still be challenging during the holidays. The rush of shopping in crowds and traffic, demanding work schedules to get things off our to-do lists and planning for the arrival of family can take a toll.

I have always been told that life has balance. In some belief systems the idea exists for every ounce of pleasure comes an ounce of pain. Although no one likes pain, we do seem to find our share. With holiday stress comes feelings of guilt for what we cannot provide and from a lack of the most precious commodity – time.

With a shortage of time brings a shortage of patience. I have been inpatient with ex-wives (coincidence?) and I have been impatient with peers, other drivers on the highway, and shoppers in a feeding frenzy of gift buying, and even friends.

And yet, somehow and for reasons I cannot truly explain, I have almost unlimited patience for children. I have no biological offspring of my own and yet seem surrounded by them when I least expect. When I look into their eyes I see what the holiday is truly about. Their joy and excitement becomes mine. Perhaps I live vicariously through their glee at discovery or for their passion for play. From the simple building of a snowman to the twinkling of lights on a tree, I see hope. I see the future.

And, I see the pain when adults accidentally hurt them with a harsh tone or words, and I see the remorse and hurt in the eyes of the parent when they realize that words spoken in anger cannot be recalled. We can apologize but the moment of joy is gone. Their little faces show only disappointment.

Take a breath. Live in the moment with them. Yes, little ones can be demanding, and because of how their young minds work, they will burst out with what they want to do or to see under the tree. They can interrupt conversations, ask you questions at inconvenient times, but they are excited. Time spent with them, not money, is a precious gift. The more children feel and understand they can talk with adults the easier talking will be as they grow to adulthood. And, if there was more talking in the world there would be less hitting.

Maybe if we included little ones in our holiday activities and try less to make it just for them we can find balance. Children can truly mess up a kitchen when they help cook. They can set a dining table in exactly the wrong order for silverware and, so what. Should we really care at this moment? They have helped and the actual level of their contribution toward perfection is insignificant compared to the value of their effort, and perhaps they can see a side of us we should show more often – they are needed and wanted and not merely tolerated.
– It all comes back to the concept of balance.

A moment for a thought before speaking in anger: Will you hurt less if others hurt more?

This holiday season, take a breath before you speak. Good will toward all, children in particular. It’s a start.
— Lee Fjelstad

The Art of the Apology: Five rules for a return to civility

None of us are immune to a slip of the tongue, and the changes grow greater during the over stimulation and stress of the holidays.

Here’s a quick tip for you.

The Art of the Apology: Five rules for a return to civility

1. Be sincere, and sound like it. We may have the right to be angry; we just do not have the right to be rude. Control your tone of voice. Be positive, not condescending.
2. Be timely. Do it quickly (ASAP). The longer we wait the larger the crow we must eat and swallow.
3. Be public with it, if necessary. If others heard the outburst then they need to hear your regret, too.
4. Be specific. Apologize for exactly what you have damaged: a lack of patience; a wrongful accusation; for your tone; for their feelings.
5. Set the expectation for better behavior. A recognized weakness is the foundation to building strength. It creates accountability, which is necessary or change.

The holidays are about celebration. We celebrate family and friends because there was something in our character people believed to be good and worthy of their belief in us. Let us be worthy again and in the future.
— Lee Fjelstad

Choose the right words at the right time

Choose the right words at the right time

We must learn to read people like a scholar would read a book. With a book we are given the character traits and motivations buy the author who want us to see into the mind of their creation. But by listening strategically we can key in on specific aspects of how people think as they reveal their values and opinions, and their thoughts – if we can keep them talking to us. People are dynamic in imagination; perception varies wildly and what they think can change depending on the circumstances they find themselves in at the moment including what might call situational ethics. We can also rely on a certain constant because as situations change and how people react to them varies, a person’s character rarely changes.

I learned from a highly trained police investigator that the secret to getting a suspect’s confession was found in breaking down their story, listening for inconsistencies as they retell their particular alibi. Patterns form, revealing the truth in stages, almost like peeling away the several skin layers of an onion. Successful interviewers listen carefully for how words are used, changes in tone, watching body language and for when breathing and respiration rate changes. Our own body can literally turn itself into a human lie detector for others with skills, revealing what we would prefer to keep hidden. For our purposes we want to reverse the way we use our listening skills so we gain insight to the message between the words, preferably without prying, which can appear rude. After all, we are seeking clarity of meaning and not trying to trip up criminals.

Skill is in choosing the right words at the right time and with the right face to handle the encounter. Professionals use words to achieve their professional purpose. Too many words cloud the listener’s mind. Use too few and you appear to trivialize the matter. As a person’s perception changes so will how he or she react or respond to emotional stimulus. Verbally deflecting a comment or criticism can be an effective way to keep a dialogue on track when people become emotionally combative. We begin by listening for a change in pace and pitch which usually signal a change in thinking or an imminent decision. Listen for tone because it’s the indicator of attitude toward you or the problem. We bridge segues with verbal deflectors and by paraphrasing.

We teach how to use phrases to deflect verbal abuse or criticism and get people back on the solid ground necessary to gain their compliance and cooperation. The very same Verbal Judo deflectors can be used to project empathy and build the connection we need to get people to open up to us and speak more at ease. People reveal secrets easier when they trust. Remember the connective phrases are not the purpose in themselves but they are crucial to building the bridge you form to get you to the trust we call encounter credibility.
– Lee Fjelstad

We are paid for results

We are paid for results.

I can respect effort if not success. I appreciate diligence and tenacity even if the task is insurmountable. Herculean effort is to be commended on one front but we are often paid for results, not our good intentions. There is an interesting saying about the path paved with intentions. Ironically, our intentions might be both honorable and altruistic yet people rarely judge us on what we thought about doing, or even what we tried to do and fell short. We are judged and therefore remembered for our deeds. Again, there is a pesky saying about actions speaking louder than words. With this noted, it is still words that inspire; words that motivate people to band together to move mountains, or at least carve out a road through them.

There is a ton of information written on becoming successful in virtually any endeavor you might choose to pursue. It might be interesting to note all such successes are rarely achieved alone. We might self-start any project or mission only to find cooperation and collaboration are deeply in the mix of the trail to a final result. We can break a project into sections, create a time line and gather resources, we can maneuver timing and even rely upon a certain amount of serendipity (what others might refer to as luck), but we still need to communicate effectively what we want, from whom we want it, and a methodology for achieving it.

The ability to explain complex ideas in simplistic terms is an imperative for communicating effectively. Ideas might sound simple to you but it is likely you have gone over the process so often in your mind it seems child proof but may still be a wall of hieroglyphics to another. To garner support we need to be able to explain what is in it for others to contribute. We need to persuade others to follow our lead. In short, a good communicator LEAPS over objections and confusion to get the job done.
— Lee Fjelstad

Reference the Acronym L.E.A.P.S.

Are we polite to others because of political correctness, pragmatism, or genuine thought?

Are we polite to others because of political correctness, pragmatism, or genuine thought?

I work hard at being respectful. It isn’t that being respectful itself is difficult, anyone possessing even mediocre manners can do it but real sincere respect is difficult. Life is dynamic and fluid so our biases set the standard demarcation lines in the sand of what we consider appropriate for behavior. We carry our biases into our dealings with others and therefore judge them to a standard which may not be their own. It’s not the, “What works for me may not work for you,” theory.

The bottom line is most of us grow annoyed with relative ease. In traffic, at work, while in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Post Office, and even at home – alone. Annoyance is often the result of a contribution by another and most of us have the patience of a boiling tea kettle.

I find that empathy helps. I don’t have to like a person to be respectful of their opinions, their reasoning, or their actions. I can choose not to be around them unless life and circumstance gets in the way. Sadly, this can happen with alarming regularity. When it does I try to keep it all in perspective.

A driver cuts me off in traffic, severely. Words begin to form not typically heard in sophisticated social circles. Moments later, I come to the acceptance I have probably done this very action to another at some point in the past, likely not even knowing it unless the offended party pounded the horn and screamed obscenities as he or she rushed passed me in traffic. The examples are endless. Our only real choice is to endure with dignity and allow others the same courtesy. If offended by a person beyond reasonable limits and knowing this event chain is certain to continue into the future we must act. The entire Verbal Judo program was created with this very principle in mind. Verbal Judo can save us embarrassment and a need to apologize for our own boorish behavior so typically exhibited during the rush of negative emotions.

Anger becomes “dAnger” if we act rashly. As George Thompson’s maxim comes to view upon the horizon, “Natural language is disastrous!” Natural language can only be used if we can project true sincerity into the encounter, and that’s hard to do when we are upset. Sincerity is the key to coming off genuine. When dealing with those who commit actions we can ignore we take the high road and “Think for others as they would think for themselves” later. For the times and people that mortify us with their thinking and their actions then we must still act prudently and use the artificial language and not “the words rising most readily to our lips.”

For those of you who hold the capacity of instantaneous forgiveness and the ability to just let it go by you, keep up the incredible heart to do so again, and again. Ironically the rest of us will need to rely upon our acting skills.
– Lee Fjelstad

Reference: Tactical 8-step meet and Greet, the Five Step, and Verbal Deflectors.

Are confrontations considered rudeness?

Are confrontations considered rudeness?

Working from the premise of different cultures and different eras have altered what we consider rude as a standard, we can likely agree if it constitutes an insult we consider it rude. There certainly times when even in full throttle patience gear I have found situations of “Customer Service” to be clearly oxymoronic. In turn, I am without doubt there have been multiple occasions where my behavior was considered out of line with standards, even when I had crowd support during the event.

Oddly, I am also in disagreement with the thinking of, “The customer is always right” because I am a customer and know fully well I can be completely clueless on a product or what service I am entitled to as a customer. But, I recognize rudeness when I see how and when it impacts feelings. I have been in the past accused of not having feelings but I categorically deny the accusation because irritation is a feeling and I suffered it just the other day. So, where is the line of behavior when you are wronged in an exchange, refuse to ignore the situation or the offending person, and want clarification or satisfaction?

Exploring the supposition that it is not if but when we will be confronted with the issue of rudeness, how do we categorize our own actions after the fact? Perhaps we begin by understanding the difference between a reaction and a response to our offended sensibility. Usually circumstances govern the conditions, meaning we usually be working off our last nerve as the encounter begins a negative spiral downward. Reactions come from our base instinct, fight or flight, and the reptilian core of our brain. You know, the part of our brain we use a lot because it governs our emotional stability or the lack thereof. By reacting we mirror the words, tones, facial features, and other nonverbal communicators as we suffer outrage at even minor offenses. Emotion spikes adrenaline and cortisol levels and disables the cognitive parts of the frontal cortex. This is all really cool jargon for we get mad. Expectations lead to disappointment which turns to frustration, then anger, and finally thoughts of self-importance and finally vengeance, and later, possibly regret. Action; reaction; over-reaction.

The key to recovering on the spot is to break the cycle. Develop a way to cut through the negativity before the spiral gathers too much momentum. Understanding irony is useful. A sense of humor, a really good one, is also useful. Stop taking yourself too seriously is my key. I wake up sometimes during an encounter realizing everyone hasn’t gotten the memo that I am important and need to be catered to and coddled. When I was married I had the watchful eye of my spouse who would look at me and simply say, “Get over it.”

When confronted with annoyance, rather than fall victim to the rush of negative emotion which will lead to one of those, “Greatest speeches we will live to regret” – take a breath. A deep breath. In fact, when really annoyed, take two – they’re cheap as they often save both time and money in the long run. Oxygenating your system can put fresh life into your thinking so problem solving skills can surface and take over. Move quickly from the “This is outrageous!” thought to the “How can we work this out and what are our options?” voice. If we take a quick peek at the Meditation section of the Verbal Judo program we find the maxim: We must think for others as they would think for themselves in 48-72 hours, after the influences of anger, frustration, selfishness, certainty, uncertainty or just general foolishness have worn off. We often push people into the box with our behavior, trapping them into a mental defensive posture rather than a creative one.

After all, it is we that need something from them, so the faster and better we help them resolve our problem the faster we get back on our way to doing something better.
– Lee Fjelstad

Reference the Acronym L.E.A.P.S.

The Dynamics of Communicating Effectively (Part 2)

The dynamics of communicating effectively (Part 2)

Our control over our voice and posture send a message of confidence or anxiety; our smile and use of eye contact can relay sincerity or indifference. It is primal on one level and becomes rather sophisticated on another as we work a room, or an individual, to gain their cooperation or collaboration on an idea. The more comfortable the other becomes by meeting expectations the more at ease he or she becomes to new ideas and to the prospect of change.

One evening during a chess game with George we also noted how even our own minds could be altered by how we dress for a given event. Again, expectations and perception rule. I might fly in casual attire when in coach but I tended to wear a jacket and tie when flying first class on an airplane. I found myself following the trend of the attire of those I might sit near during the flight. The choice of dress even affects our posture and our manners. I noticed often in first class people are more respectful of personal space than in coach. In wearing a uniform I notice how our soldiers act toward others during flights and in airports as they travel. I was a soldier so I again understand perfectly the need to wear the uniform well and the standard of expectation which rightfully comes with the responsibility.

I think the most profound of these examples came in police work. Thompson and I related to officers as they dressed for their shift. Three totally separate mind sets clash or work in harmony, inextricably locked to the image each part of the uniform represents. The first occurs when the Velcro straps encase them in a bullet-proof vest and the clear understanding of the danger of the work. A second frame of mind occurs when the uniform shirt is buttoned and the badge is in full view; a reminder they have sworn to protect and to serve the public trust. The last mind set as they holster a gun, the ever-present symbol that a handgun has but one purpose, and so it comes with an awesome responsibility when placed in harmony with public trust.

I remember a saying about how to live where once section noted we should dance as if no one is looking; maybe it will bring the freedom where happiness abides but perhaps happiness and professional performance are not always the same and credibility equals success.
Lee Fjelstad