Isn’t it all a bit…

Isn’t just looking at body language a bit pointless?

I had a discussion over this with a friend a while ago.  We were discussing body language, micro-expressions, she asked “Don’t you think it is all a bit pointless, if you are spending so much time looking at the body language, how are you meant to do anything else?”

How right she is.  Not about it being pointless, but more about the effort of will that is required to focus on so many things happening at the same time.

When we are making an assessment of someone for credibility there are five channels of communication that we need to focus on.  Focussing on five very different areas for the minutia of information and then comparing that with the signals you are getting from the other four channels, it could give you a headache.  Making sure that the questions that you are asking are pertinent and then listening to the response while also thinking the next question up.  Is the response appropriately worded, at the right speed and pitch, is the language distancing?  At the same time what is the posture like, what are the emblems being shown and do the expressions match the details of what is being said?

But if we restrict ourself to just body language, as many practitioners do, we are missing a lot of information.  It would be like looking at a tapestry down a toilet roll tube.  You would only see a tiny part of the image and wouldn’t get the whole picture.

Assessing someone is like driving a car.  You have to control acceleration, gears, clutch, braking, monitoring the instruments, steer and keep an eye on everything that is going on outside the car.  When we first learn to drive, all of these things take a huge amount of concentration, but as we become a lot more accomplished, some things become second nature.  It can be the same with the assessment process.

Some people have an advantage where they have a natural talent, just like some formula one drivers have a natural ability in driving in comparison to your average road driver.

There are ways that you can make this easier on yourself.  Work in pairs or teams with one person asking the questions and listening to the answers, and the other person focussing on the non-verbal elements.

But remember,  before all you must try to establish a base line – the normal operating level of the person.  Without the baseline it makes it difficult to spot the deviations from normal that give us something to focus on.  Baseline does not just happen, and should have some time devoted to it.  Establishing normal operating levels but also what a genuine emotional response looks like.  Take your time and become familiar with normal.

This is something that is nearly always missing in job interviews.  A couple of minutes chatting about inconsequential things can make a huge amount of difference in finding out what is really going on with someone.

 

The Fear

Fear is one of the base seven emotions and as such is shared and demonstrated in the same way by practically every person on the planet.  I say practically as there are some rare medical conditions that result in a person being completely fearless.  I will discuss this at a later point.

Fear is an essential part of our emotional make up.  It is there to engage us into action when something threatens our well-being as a form of self preservation and to warn others there is something that could be considered a threat.  Surely this is a good thing?  But fear is associated with the Flight, Fight or Freeze response and can have consequences of its own.  Not to mention the issues that can be raised by prolonged exposure to fearful situations, the most common of which is stress.

Stress itself is not an emotion in its own right, rather it is an emotional state that can have a number of emotions associated to it.  Lots of people cite that stress is bad.  This is not strictly true.  Some stress can be quite positive, driving us forward, and given motivation to our actions.  Extended stress without respite however, this can be problematic.

Imagine someone applying for a job.  It is the sort of job that they always wanted, they would really enjoy doing it.  It is for a company they would fight tooth and nail to get in to.  Stress has already begun.   As the date for interview gets closer the stress increases.  Is this fear?  Not really.  If we look at the idea of an emotion they are usually of rapid onset and of short duration.  Perhaps what is being felt in the build up to interview is better described as apprehension.  An emotional state that falls under the fear family.

Fear is about self-preservation.  It’s origins are in the Limbic system of the brain, responsible for the hard coded emotional responses.  This part of the brain can start a physical reaction before the cognitive side of our brain, the Neo-Cortex even gets involved.  There is no reason to fear, it is an automatic reaction to a perceived threat: surging adrenaline, increasing heart and respiration rate sending blood rushing to the limbs ready to fight or flee from danger.

Notice also that I say “perceived threat”.  There doesn’t actually have to be a threat only something that appears to be a threat.  Mistaking a shadow in a darkened house for a prowler is a perceived threat, once the cognitive part of our brain gets involved and re-assesses the situation it may then be confirmed as no longer a threat.

Stress can be a very damaging situation if it is not handled correctly.  There are situations where we have no control over the stress we may receive.  This is possibly the worse kind of stress.  Lack of control or the ability to change the situation can increase the stress this causes the stress to escalate.

Eventually stress reaches the breaking point.  The body and mind can’t take any more.  Once this point has been reached it is very difficult to turn around.  Thinking about the situation can bring on panic attacks.  Essentially, the body goes into a full fear response.  The body is reacting to a perceived threat of more stress than it can handle, that is contrary to its well-being.

Once an emotional script has been written it is very difficult, sometimes impossible to change that script and an alternative has to be created by the use of supportive therapy.

Understanding the reasons for fear can give us an insight into the reactions that some people have.  Fear can be one of the most difficult emotions to handle and control because of its very nature as a preserver of life.