Nicholas Christakis: The Hidden Influence of Social Networks Reply

We’re all embedded in vast social networks of friends, family, co-workers and more. Nicholas Christakis tracks how a wide variety of traits — from happiness to obesity — can spread from person to person, showing how your location in the network might impact your life in ways you don’t even know.

91% of Executives Mismanage Their Time – At What Cost? Reply

wasted timeBy Chris Simmons

In March, Inc magazine ran a very interesting feature called “Time Troubles.” This article claimed that only 9% of executives are satisfied with their seemingly optimal time-management skills. The vast remainder of corporate leaders Inc assigned to one of four failed executive types: Crisis Managers, Cheerleaders, Online Junkies, and Schmoozers. While Inc did not say what percentage of executives fit into each category, it did reveal the major failings which resulted in said assignments:

  • Crisis Managers: Spent 67% more time on unanticipated, short-duration problems than the optimal group.
  • Cheerleaders: Mis-spent 45% more time on employee pep talks AND 39% less time with business clients.
  • Online Junkies: Wasted 36% more time on email and voice mail than more effective and efficient face-to-face communication.
  • Schmoozers: Squandered 17% more time with clients than necessary by stealing time that should have been invested in communicating with their workplace colleagues.

The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. As such, I thought the Inc item was a great starting point. We, collectively, pay a huge price for poor time management. It drives up personnel turn-over, miscommunication and bankruptcies while driving down morale, engagement, and profit margins. In keeping with this theme, the next question I would love to see Inc tackle is: “what is the cumulative cost of these time-management failures?”


If You Think Communicating Effectively Is Easy, Consider This….. Reply

Did you knowBy Chris Simmons

The 500 most-commonly used words in the English language have:

a). over 5,000 different meanings &

b). comprise over half of your word usage.

Maximize your ability to be understood by remembering the “Three Vs.”  Every spoken message has three key components: the verbals (i.e., words), the visuals (body language), and the vocals (voice speed, volume, and tone). When integrated,  the three compliment one another and increase the likelihood of being understood. As such, always use caution with email and texts, as they strip away key aspects of your message — significantly increasing the probability of miscommunication.

Unintended Consequences: How Communications Technology is Killing Our Children’s Future Reply

Young adultsBy Chris Simmons

Digital natives, the term used for Millennials and the follow-on generations, are at grave risk from the very technology they’ve so thoroughly embraced.

New research finds that this reliance on emails, texts, and similar impersonal tools has removed the non-verbal component  from how these generations communicate. However, as readers of this blog are aware, however, the bulk of every single human interaction is nonverbal.

Devoid of all the subtle nuances  that comprise effective communications, digital natives are left with nothing but emotionless words. Given decades of research demonstrating that at least 60% of every message is nonverbal, digital natives are at risk to experiencing lives of institutionalized miscommunication.

This news alone is startling, but more devastating is the second key finding of this latest study. Absent the emotional (i.e., nonverbal) component of their cyber interactions, the digitals‘ brains are being rewired to process communications in a reason-based fashion. Thus, communication is reduced to mathematical equations wherein “word+word+word=irrefutable fact.”

Sadly, the rest of the world does not think and act based exclusively on logic and reason. Emotion is, and always will be, at the heart of every decision made by non-digital natives. This puts natives in a significant disadvantage whenever they interact face-to-face. Inexperienced at reading body language and the other theatrics of language, their failure rate in analyzing and interpreting others’ actions or negotiating favorable outcomes is stunning.

Predictably, this discomfort and unfamiliarity with F2F communications leads some digitals to retreat back into their comfort zone of technology-based tools. This response, however, can send the digital into a communications death spiral and increasingly deep personal and professional isolation.

Fortunately, the digitals can be saved, but only if older generations intervene. Non-digital natives need to teach the younger generations about nonverbal communication, the emotional roots of being human, behavioral cues, statement analysis, and so forth. Its not to late to save them – but their personal and professional futures require our immediate assistance.

Human Faces Can Express at Least 21 Distinct Emotions 1

Happily surprised (Image courtesy of The Ohio State University).

Happily surprised
(Image courtesy of The Ohio State University).

By Alice Park, Time

Distinct facial muscles were used to express compound emotions

Leading scientific thinkers of their time, such as Aristotle, Rene Descartes, Guillaume Duchenne, and Charles Darwin, have long promoted the idea that there are a handful of basic emotions that people express. In recent decades, that group has crystalized into six core emotions: happiness, surprise, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust.

But there are clearly many shades of gray between those emotions. For example, there’s the happy-because-I’m-eating-ice cream and the happy-because-I-just-learned-I-got-a-surprise-marriage-proposal looks, each of which is slightly different.

That’s what intrigued Aleix Martinez, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Ohio State University. “Six seemed a small number given the rainbow of possibilities of feeling and expressing emotions,” he says.

MORE: Emotions May Not Be So Universal After All

Martinez wanted to know whether compound emotions, such as happy surprise, were expressed using the same muscle movements of both happiness and surprise, or whether the expression involved a unique set of muscles that represented some amalgam of the two.

What he and his colleagues found was that the human face makes 21 different emotional expressions – and each is different from the other. While some represented combinations of emotions, each differed in terms of which muscles were involved.

And surprisingly, these facial expression patterns were remarkably consistent across all 230 volunteers. For example, each showed happy surprise in the same way that was distinct from both happiness and from surprise, and different still from angry surprise.

MORE: To Really Read Emotions, Look at Body Language, Not Facial Expressions

Martinez broke down the facial expressions of 230 volunteers by applying his engineering strategies. He and his colleagues gave each of the students, staff, or faculty members who enrolled in the study different scenarios and asked them to show how they would react in each one. They were told, for example, that they had just learned they had been accepted to a graduate program, that someone had told them a disgusting, but still funny joke, or that they had just smelled something bad. The volunteers were allowed to practice their facial expressions in front of a mirror before Martinez took pictures of their reactions.

He then computer-analyzed each of the 5,000 images, breaking them down by which facial muscles the participants used. These were first defined in 1978 by psychologist Paul Ekman, who codified facial expressions in the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) by action units, or muscles or groups of muscles that went into making facial expressions – such as lip parts (for showing disgust), showing teeth (for expressing happiness), mouth stretch (for fear), or eyelid tightening (for anger).

Feature continues here: Human Faces



Interpreting the Different Messages of “Barrier” Positions Reply

Boss using his desk as a barrier as he addresses a subordinate standing in the submissive, fig-leaf pose.

Boss using his desk as a barrier as he addresses a subordinate standing in the submissive, fig-leaf pose.

By Chris Simmons

“Barrier” positions are displays of emotional distancing. Some are planned, overt signs of power intended to reinforce the stiffness of the boss-subordinate relationship. Meeting with your boss while she remains seated behind her executive desk would be such an example. [Note: This contrasts with a more visually-open boss who sits in a chair adjacent to her desk so she is kitty-corner and barrier free].

To display power and emotional distancing while seated, Americans – especially men, will sit in the “Figure-Four” pose.

President John F. Kennedy sitting in a “figure-four” stance; generally viewed as a distancing or “barrier” position.

President John F. Kennedy sitting in a “figure-four” stance; generally viewed as a distancing or “barrier” position.

Very different barrier positions are seen in reactive body gestures that demonstrate either a lack of power, disengagement from the speaker, or increased tension/hostility.

Known as the fig-leaf, the disempowerment pose occurs when an individual covers their groin with their clasped hands. Understandably, it is a major display of submission. Interestingly, you will also see this stance at funerals and memorial services. In this context, it displays emotional loss and a subconscious demonstration of man’s subjection to death. Note: you will also often see this stance in staged photos wherein the subject(s) didn’t know where to put their hands. 

The most commonly seen and misunderstood barrier position is crossed arms. It can indicate the person is cold, disengaging from the ongoing discussion, or becoming antagonized. To distinguish between the latter two stances, look for signs of tension. A puffed up chest, tense arms, or fingers clenched into fists or around the arms reveal anger. In contrast, a person who is simply disengaging will be relaxed, as they will likely be disinterested, skeptical, or otherwise uncaring regarding this particular issue/person.

Similarly, an agitated person who is seated may wrap his/her ankles around the legs of a chair, “locking” or anchoring themselves down. The use of this barrier signals physical restraint, as the individual is taking measures to keep from springing out of their seat.



“Angel Faced Killer” or Innocent Bystander? Analysis of Amanda Knox’s Interview With Diane Sawyer 1

Case Summary

Amanda Knox is the American woman tried for the murder of Meredith Kercher in Italy, along with co-defendants Raffaele Sollecito and Rudy Guede. The latter was convicted of the sexual assault and the murder in a separate trial. Knox and her boyfriend (Sollecito) were tried together, found guilty, and spent almost four years in prison before being acquitted at a second trial in October 2011.

She returned to the US while prosecutors appealed their case to the Italian Supreme Court. A third trial was ordered. Knox remained in the United States during these proceedings, which began in September 2013 and concluded in late January 2014. Authorities again found her guilty and sentenced Knox to 28 years in prison.


The key requirement for accurately interpreting the words and gestures of others is a baseline. All verbal and nonverbal messages do not necessarily mean the same thing. To be accurate, one must observe the other party long enough to create the “baseline” of their normal mannerisms. Any subsequent anomaly displayed would then warrant attention.

That said, certain gestures and speech patterns can be seen as “Red Flags” and categorized as consistent with truthful behavior or consistent with deceptive behavior. (Note: It would also be safe to use the phrases indicative of or suggestive of).

In this video, Knox displays a wide range of emotions and behaviors. She provides many answers and emotions consistent with a truthful person. Her eyes maintain a slow blink rate throughout the interview, generally indicative of truthful behavior. Additionally, her posture and arm/hand gestures often appear relaxed, indicating a lack of stress – suggestive of truthfulness. In several instances, she seems genuinely outraged.

However, there are also 11 “Red Flags” indicating possible deception. This timeline shows the precise locations of these anomalies and explains their possible relevance.

00:13 – Asymmetric smirk in response to Sawyer’s first question. See 13 Ways a Liar Can Say “No,” But Mean “Yes”

00:16 — “No” with smirk. See 13 Ways a Liar Can Say “No,” But Mean “Yes”

00:18-00:20 — Answers “No” but nods yes.

00:24 – Swallows before answering a threatening question. See When to Watch the Throat For Signs of Deception

00:27-00:33 – Multiple denials to a single question. See 13 Ways a Liar Can Say “No,” But Mean “Yes”

00:53-00:58 – Displays misdirected anger at the police for doing their job. “They knew what they were doing and that’s unforgiveable to me” (paraphrased).

01:05-01:20 – Provides a weak denial regarding her confession, led by the word “Well,…” In this context, “well” is considered an Explainer, that is, an expression providing a reason or justification for an action, thought, or attitude. Explainers reveal a causal state in the mind of the speaker. Other Explainers include because, since, as, in order to, therefore, etc. The key take-away for Explainers is that they are frequently used as rationalization cues.

Note also she claimed the police “acted like my answers were wrong” and told Knox she “had to remember correctly.” Curiously, she displayed very little outrage against the police for these alleged acts although she appeared genuinely angry just moments earlier.

03:17-03:37 – “I wasn’t providing a lot of the detail…” In this context, the phrase “a lot” is known as a Qualifier or Hedge. This is a word or phrase that reduces the force of an assertion by allowing for exceptions or avoiding commitments. Note the continued lack of outrage against the police, whom she just claimed provided the bulk of her statement.

Also curious is her lack of eye contact. Her eyes are focused downward. Another possible indicator of deception is the ambiguity of her closing phrase — “It was all like that.”

03:37-03:42 – “And I signed it (confession)” with downward eyes. She continued to avoid  eye contact until she asserted “…because I was incredibly vulnerable at that time.” Note the use of because as an Explainer.

4:39-4:42 – Opens with “I can try to explain..” and ends with “That’s all I can do.’” The word “can” indicates the speaker (Knox) knew she had a choice (i.e., she can explain or she can choose not to). In contrast, a statement such as “I will” would have indicated both commitment and action.

4:43-4:58 – Knox expressed sorrow for falsely accusing Patrick and then rationalized it with “…BUT (pause), I was demolished…” The word “but” is known as a Retractor. This is a word that partially or totally negates the immediately preceding statement. Other Retractors include however, although, yet, & nevertheless.

Also note the imbalance of emphasis within her statement. Knox devoted just five seconds to her falsely accused colleague and then took ten seconds justifying why she accused him.

Six Simple Steps to De-Escalate a Tense Situation Reply

President John F. Kennedy sitting in a “figure-four” stance; generally viewed as a distancing or “barrier” position.










By Chris Simmons

Previous posts have addressed the principle that emotions – not logic – are the core drivers in any decision. As such, when engaged in a discussion wherein tensions are rising, you can quickly lower stress levels by using these simple forms of nonverbal communication:

(not in priority order)

  • Change the angle of your body vis-à-vis your counterpart.
    • Shift your stance so your torso is not parallel to his/her upper body (i.e., you’re not “squared off” as in boxing).
    • If standing, cross your legs.
    • Tilt your head during the discussion.
  • Concede space, by either stepping back or leaning back.
  • Lessen the frequency and length of eye contact.
  • Avoid “barrier” behavior, such as crossed arms or a figure-four sitting position.
  • Take a deep breathe and audibly exhale. This gesture gently expresses your frustration while concurrently calming you and those around you.
  •  Enjoy a “change of scenery” together. Take a short walk or go get something to eat or drink.

In every human interaction, the majority of one’s message is conveyed nonverbally. Thus, rather than telling someone you want to defuse a tense situation, show them. Given our reliance on visual cues, “show, don’t tell” always achieves faster and more effective results.

Beware the “Othello Error” Reply

Bethany Jilliard as Desdemona and Dion Johnstone as Othello. (Photo by Michael Cooper).

By Chris Simmons

This phenomenon occurs when a truthful person, realizing they aren’t believed, immediately exhibits stress indicators as if they were lying. The only effective way to prevent this defensive reaction is to appear to have total belief in your counterpart’s story (at least initially). Then, once you tell him/her that you believe they are lying, ignore all further stress indicators. In doing so, you will have protected the accuracy of your behavioral baseline regarding their normal (i.e., truthful) patterns.

This blunder takes its name from a scene in the Shakespearean play wherein General Othello misreads the reaction of his wife (Desdemona) to news of the death of Cassio – one of his lieutenants.