When some people think of HR professionals, they think “paper pushers” or “company rule enforcer.” Others, nickname us the “counselor.”
An effective HR professional needs to be – as Mae West put it – fluent in body language as well as a good listener. We have all come across friends and family that “tell us one thing” but we can sense we either aren’t getting the full story or the truth. Employees are no different – and keep in mind, most are afraid to reveal the full truth because they fear for their job.
If you focus on just what the person is telling you, how much information are you missing out on? What’s the bigger underlining problem that could affect not just the employee but others or the company as well? Or is there a potential new idea that the employee is afraid – remember, its now always a “problem” so don’t go into a dicussion already expecting that.
Trust is a big part in getting the employee to open up to you – and that should always be worked on first – but sometimes, their body language will give you clues to help “fish” information out of them. I told a friend recently that I prefer discussion in person rather than over the phone or text because then I am able to “see” when they are getting upset, when they are about to go on a rant that may need to be reigned in and when they are about to shut down.
What are some key body language signs that I look for:
1) Tapping their feet or figiting with their hands – they are nervous or anxious…either way, they are looking for a quick visit and exit.
2) Constantly looking down – not maintaining eye contact can mean a couple of things: either they are still reliving the situation in their mind or they are embarrased to.
3) Arms folded – this one is a no-brainer, they are on “guard” and prepping for a fight
4) Blank stare into space – they are about to shut down. They are beginning to tell themselves not to share anymore.
5) Increased breathing – can point to a couple possibilities: either they are trying to control their emotions or their temper is beginning to build up
6) Increased swallowing – they are fighting back tears
7) Sweat or redness in the face – yep, temper is building up and about to explode
Paying attention to a person’s body language seems like common sense but is something you have to train yourself to do from the start of the conversation – not wait until things heat up. Employees need to vent but they also need to know that you are truly “in their corner”…and that comes from both listening to them and making them feel comfortable enough to share their thoughts. Reading their body language helps you adjust to them – don’t force it to be the other way around.
Remember: your job is to uncover what they aren’t telling you and pair it with what they ARE telling you to paint the full picture.