The Dirty Dozen: How NOT to communicate with your body

bodylanguageDon’t be these guys.

1. The violator. “Your personal space is my personal space” is their motto. You are forced to become intimately familiar with their particular brand of perfume and breath mint. They can’t resist reaching out and touching you, and they don’t seem to be aware of or care that it is neither appropriate nor welcome. Some violators simply have no boundaries and assume you don’t either. Others are trying to show dominance and sit you back on your heels. Others may simply want to convey a sense of intimacy without working to build it.

2. The borer. This person is a Guinness Book world record holder for sustained eye contact. They come in two flavors – the imploring borer, and the aggressive borer. The implorer’s eyes search yours desperately, looking from one to the other and back again in hopes of plumbing your soul. What are they looking for? You may never know. But their laser vision is just as intrusive as that of the violator. The aggressive borer wants to use the force of their gaze to show you who’s boss. Whether fueled by vulnerability or antipathy, this is not a good use of eyeballs.

3. The wandering eye. This person is just not that into you. Whatever you are saying is just not titillating enough for them to stay focused. Their eyes wander, looking for someone or something else to engage with. Their constant gaze over your shoulder makes you want to turn around and look, but at least one of you knows that would be rude. A modern equivalent is the person who insists it’s a good time to talk but only has eyes for their cell phone or computer screen. They communicate disinterest and disrespect.

4. The roving eye. This eye is on you, all right, but it’s not on your eyes. Whether the eye is inappropriately appreciative or uncomfortably critical, it isn’t conveying interest and attention to what you are saying. Perhaps this person is simply enchanted by your choice of fashion, or perhaps they haven’t taken HR’s crash course on sexual harassment. They are more interested in their judgments about non-relevant aspects of you than what you are speaking about. They are saying, “You are an object.”

5. The Martian. Nothing about this guy’s body language suggests you are in a conversation together, let alone on the same planet. They stare off into space a lot. You call their name, and they seem shocked to see you there. They lose their way in the conversation, and they don’t make much effort to find their way back. The Martian seems to be operating in a different orbit. We have to assume that their lack of energy and enthusiasm is because they miss their home planet so much.

6. The pugilist. This person always seems to be itching for a fight. From their crossed arms and scowl to the smoke coming out of their ears (okay, not really), they seem angry about something, even when there doesn’t appear to be something worth getting angry about. They come off as combative, confrontational, and defensive. While their non-verbals may seem aggressive, they are usually armor over fear and vulnerability.

7. The lounge cat. Their body language insists that you are just taking it all too seriously, man. They don’t sit down so much as drape themselves over furniture. Their demeanor of relaxation in the midst of a stressful situation feels condescending. The slow, deliberate gestures, little smile, and head tilt are intended to show you that only the little people get worked up in times like this.

8. The incumbent mayor. The mayor takes any opportunity to get on her soap box, talking with fervor about her Chosen Subject. She only listens long enough and deeply enough to find a launch pad to her next talking point. The mayor has one agenda only: to convince you of the rightness of her point of view. Unfortunately for her, she would be more effective in this endeavor if she stopped talking and listened.

9. The teenager. It’s all about them. They epitomize drama, complete with rolling eyes and over-the-top gestures and vocalizations. You don’t have to DVR your favorite soaps when you work with a teenager. All of the little things become big things. They swoop into your office without preamble and launch into a soliloquy about the latest (often non work-related) crisis.

10. The toddler. The toddler wears her heart on her sleeve. When she’s up, her energy and enthusiasm are delightful. But when she’s down, she will negatively emote all over anyone in the vicinity. She is liable to stomp her feet, slam her fists on table, and storm from the room when frustrated. Toddlers aren’t good at conflict management. As an aside, they aren’t usually very good at sharing, either.

11. The inquisitor. This garden variety inquisitor doesn’t want to hang you for heresy, they are just so very inquisitive. At least, that must be why utter every sentence as if it is a question. If you are listening to them present at a meeting, you will be begging for the gallows before they are finished.

12. The king. The king feels powerful, and they want you to know it. They feel free to take up as much space as they desire, and use common objects as their own. They don’t balk at putting their dirty shoes on your desk as they kick back, hands clasped behind their head. They leave their coffee cup in the sink for someone else to clean up and stroll in twenty minutes late to the weekly team meeting. They want you to know that they are at the top of the food chain.

Did I miss anyone?

One of the wonderful things about working in an office is the tribe of people we get connected to. Our office really is our home away from home, and we come to love these jokers, even with all of their annoying quirks. But if one of the dirty dozen is in your bunch, it may not always feel so wonderful. This is just one of the reasons why self-awareness is hands-down one of the most important skills a human can possess.


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