Tag Archives: body language

Anger and Health Issues

I want to write about the three scenarios from last week’s blog posting.  Each of the three stories (all true stories) resulted in health problems for the people involved.  I believe it is critical to understand how anger – when held inside – causes physical harm.


In the Dan Cooper story, we have a young man who followed his father’s road map for his life instead of following his own.  This decision to please his father took a terrible toll on him health-wise.  Dan hated himself for not standing up for himself.  He also felt enormous hostility toward his father for forcing him into the business when he knew full well that his son wanted a career in music. That is a lot of baggage to carry around:


●hate of one’s parent

It is not possible to serve two Gods and remain healthy and sane.


Dan remained working in his father’s business for twenty-two (wasted) years.  Early in his 23rd year, his father had a massive heart attack and died.  Dan immediately put the company up for sale.  He then moved toNew York so that he could attend the Julliard School of Music.  He had a grand piano installed in his little apartment and started taking both piano lessons and violin lessons.  He worked hard at learning all he could about his chosen craft.  Over the next few years, his dragging limp disappeared along with his slurring speech.  The change happened slowly but it did happen.


Four years later, he accepted a position with Disney’s Imagineering Group where he is today, creating music for all of the cartoon movies that Disney creates.  Dan is finally a happy man.


A person can pay a dreadful price by not following his or her own aspirations, goals and ambitions, especially when those are a strong force within.  If you know intestinally what you should be doing in life, but you are doing what someone else thinks you should be doing, it will cost you in health and happiness.


With the Sally and Jay story, it is Jay who has the problem.  Somewhere during his childhood, something dreadful happened between him and his mother, Greta.  If he could have talked about whatever happened to a professional and gotten some closure, perhaps the issue of his spike in blood pressure when Greta was around could have been addressed.  Either Jay didn’t want to discuss it or he could not discuss it because it was buried somewhere deep in his subconscious.


This story illustrates what can happen health-wise when we do not deal with anger-causing issues but instead hold on to them.  We think we are hiding the problem but our bodies react to the issue anyway.


The mechanism is interesting.  Whatever happened, even though it was years ago, whenever we remember that situation, our hostility rises and our anger gets hot – just as hot as it was when the situation originally occurred.  Our bodies think, “My God, it’s happening again!”


As human beings we are pretty resilient when it comes to stress that is tied to a specific incident like someone cutting you off in traffic and almost causing an accident.  But that episodic stress passes and we easily recover.  However, it is the stress that doesn’t go away which eventually causes health damage.  This is the stress, anxiety, hostility and anger that bubbles up in our minds whenever we recall some aggravating incident.  That is why you should never tell yourself, “Oh it’s just a little thing; I shouldn’t get so upset.”  Instead, acknowledge that you are upset.    (Look, if something upsets you, there’s a good reason.   Do not belittle your feelings.  Your feelings are valid.)  Go talk to the person and put that hostility to rest once and for all.


In the Way-lin Yan story we have an example of a person dealing with the type of stress that does not go away.  In Way-lin’s situation, there was no respite – she had to face that aggravating situation every single day.  The caring nurse in the office of Way-lin’s doctor was right –leave that job before it kills you.


Way-lin had convinced herself that because she lacked experience, it was okay for her to be brutalized by a mean and bullying boss.  Now, however, she did have experience.  She was no longer a novice.  Way-lin was counseled to tell the boss that the current recruit was more than satisfactory and that Way-lin’s last day would be this coming Friday.


Way-lin returned to her job on Monday, prepared to make her departure announcement to the boss.  Mid-morning, an astonishing interaction occurred between the new recruit and this bullying boss which left Way-lin flabbergasted.


Boss:  (screaming) You are one dumb broad, sister.  Why in the hell did you staple the report together when you were clearly told not to?

Newbe: (standing up at her desk, facing the boss, head held high, hands at her

side, strong but calm voice)  Listen here.  You will not ever scream at me

again.  No one has ever done that to me in my life and you are certainly

not going to be the first.  I demand an immediate apology and a promise

that you will not ever again address me in such a disrespectful manner.

Boss:  (dumbfounded look, mumbling in low tones) Well, I was upset that you did

not follow directions.

Newbe: That’s not an apology.  I want an apology loud enough so that the entire

office will hear it just as they heard your criticism.

Boss:  (grumbling) I’ll get you some flowers.  Now get back to work.


Newbe: I don’t want flowers.  I want a loud apology and a promise that you will

not scream at me again.

Boss:  (somewhat loud voice) Okay, I apologize.  I’ll try not to raise my

voice when I’m upset over what you do.  Happy, now?

Newbe: Thank you.  That will do for a start.


Way-lin later reported that she was so surprised her mouth guard fell right out of her open mouth.  She was speechless.  “I realized”, she said, “That all I needed to do was stand up to Mr. Andrews once and his abuse would have stopped.”


The great lessons here for Way-lin were:

●speak up immediately when you have been disrespected

●facing up to a bully once usually stops that hostile behavior permanently

●speaking up immediately changes the dynamic of the relationship

●speaking up confirms you will not lay the victim role in the bully’s game


Hating yourself for allowing such a situation to continue is a killer because the stress never goes away.  Conventional wisdom might tell you that learning to deal with stress is a necessary fact of life.  Conventional wisdom is wrong.  How about learning to live without the kind of stress put on you by other people.  You shouldn’t stand for it.  Speak up.  Free your life.

Anger and Body Language

Every single one of us has the ability to read the body language of others. Some refer to it as intuition, others call it gut feeling. There is a gender difference: females seem more attuned to the body language of others than are males.

In my experience with reading body language, I have learned two significant facts:

●our intuition or gut feeling is seldom wrong; and

●our tendency is to ignore those signals.

If you have ever had to interview someone for employment, you experienced your intuition or gut feeling.  Did you listen to it or did you go ahead and hire the person anyway.  Later, when it became obvious they were wrong for the job, did you say to yourself, “I knew he or she wouldn’t work out.  I just had that feeling….”  All of that input, I believe, comes from our ability to read another person’s body language.

Research studies indicate that only 7% of the message is delivered through words while 93% is conveyed through body language and tone of voice.  Such studies show that understanding happens:

7% from the word meanings

38% from the tone of voice

55% from the body language

If this is true, then communication is actually the act of the (person watching the speaker) listener, not the speaker.  It also reinforces the importance of monitoring your own body language as well as watching your adversary’s body language throughout a confrontation.

It is often said that true feelings are revealed through body language while the words contain some manufactured acceptable pabulum which is only slightly related to the truth. Take this common exchange:

Husband:      Are you angry with me?

Wife:               No, I’m hurt.

Her body language gave her away. He knows she is angry but she prefers to be manipulatively dishonest and make him feel guilty for something she refuses to identify.

When confronting an adversary, you must make certain that your body language reflects your intent.  Moreover, you want to project strength by taking the confrontation to your opponent. At work, early morning, before the day gets started is the best time.  Picture your adversary seated at his/her desk, drinking coffee.  You walk into his or her office and, standing, deliver your message. Consider the relationship of height and power; you are standing, they are sitting; you are taking the power stance.  If you approach your adversary later in the day, plan the seating arrangements in advance.  Sitting opposite your adversary only reinforces the conflict while sitting side by side delivers the message: we are working on this conflict together.

When confronting in a close relationship, select a time when your adversary is relaxed and not under stress from a day at work or a difficult commute home or a miserable day with the children. Late into the evening is probably the best time. Always sit side-by-side.

Think of yourself as a tall oak tree with roots deep in the ground; unmovable.  Your hands should be at your sides, relaxed, palms opened (no clenched fists.). Your face should reflect a serious demeanor. Your voice should be strong and at an even pitch.  You do not want to project any stress.  This is why it is always a good idea to role-play with a friend before you confront the adversary.  Practice does wonders for the nervous, pitch-varying speaker. Finally, always give your adversary 100% of your attention along with a straight-in-the-eyeball look.

Now, let’s consider the body language of the adversary. There are two significant items to notice in your adversary’s body language, both of which are controlled by the adversary:

  • changes in the physical distance between you; and
  • the amount of continuous eye contact the adversary maintains with you.

People lean toward what they like and away from what they don’t like. This movement occurs at the moment the other person hears your words. The adversary may, after hearing your message, lean back in their chair, or push back against the chair, increasing the physical distance between you.  They could even get up and begin pacing.  Should the adversary come forward in their chair, you should anticipate hearing something positive.  Should the adversary move away, you should assume you will quickly hear something negative with regard to your words.

The second cue involves your opponent’s eye movements.  The adversary should be giving you fairly uninterrupted direct eye contact all through the conversation.  At some point in the interaction, the adversary may avert their eyes.  They may suddenly become very absorbed in looking out the window or examining their hands or watching themselves pick lint off their clothing.  This is evidence that your adversary would like to get away from you and the problem you have addressed.  The physical constraints of the situation do not allow him or her to do that.  So they escape as much as they can by increasing the distance between themselves and you and by directing their eyes and attention somewhere else.

In the confrontation, there is one moment of significant body language communication: immediately after you speak.  At that moment, you will see before you the adversary’s psychological response to your words reflected in a group of body language changes. Then your opponent will speak their response.

What you want to look for, immediately after you speak, is gross changes in the body language followed quickly by a verbal response.  If you see positive body language, anticipate hearing a positive response.  If you see negative body language, anticipate hearing a negative response.  The problem comes when you see negative body language but the response is positive.  Then you know your opponent is not speaking truthfully. The adversary’s body language and the words of the message that he or she speaks should match. If they do not, your adversary is not being honest.

The most effective strategy for dealing with an adversary’s body language is to comment on it directly.  This indicates that you got their unspoken message.  Here are a few examples.

Adversary:     (Pushes back from the desk, leans back against the chair, crosses arms over chest, looks away into a far corner of the room, shrugs shoulders, looks back at you, rubs at his nose and then  says, I’ll be happy to look into it and get back to you when I have some information.

You:    I sense there is a big problem with my request and that your search for more information may be a delaying tactic and I want…

Opponent:     (She pushes back in the chair, crosses her legs, eyes avert to side wall while she fidgets with a pen. When she looks back at you, her jaws seem tight. She responds in a strained voice.) Well, I guess that might be possible.

You:    You don’t sound as if you want to make the effort to make it possible and I want..

Adversary:     (She leans forward in the chair, smiles while giving you a straight in the eyeball look and says) I’ve been waiting for you to tell me you wanted more responsibility”.

You:    Well, I’m ready for a new challenge right now and I want….

Spouse:(Moves away from you, starts to pace the room while combing hair with fingers and says)  I don’t want to discuss this right now.

You: I can see that this topic is stressful for you. Nevertheless, it’s critical that we resolve this issue quickly. When would you like to discuss it because I want….

Teenager:(Looks down at feet, hands are clenching and unclenching, voice is weak and says) I’ll try not do that again.

You:    That doesn’t sound like much of a commitment and I want you to…..


Listed below are some of the most commonly seen negative body language cues and what they mean.

Negative Body Language Cues                         What that Body Language says

Fidgeting                                                                   discomfort

Teeth grinding                                                          stress

Nervous laugh or cough,                                       agitation

Reddening face                                                       discomfort, embarrassment

Fluttering hand motions with long silences       discomfort

Hands at mouth                                                       a desire to retract words

Arms crossed over chest                                        closed off from discussion

Rapid blink rate                                                        untruthfulness

Hand touching nose                                               untruthfulness

Rubbing back of neck                                             aggravation

Combing hair with fingers                                     agitation

Pacing the floor                                                        distancing self from the issue

Tightness in jaw                                                       aggravation

Playing with pen, paper clips, etc.                                    agitation

Tapping pen or pencil in even cadence              impatience

Crossed legs, top one swinging                            impatience

Hands clenching and unclenching                                 anger

Hands at throat                                                         unexpected surprise

Hand rubbing chin                                                  thinking

Feet up on desk                                                       prove it to me

Legs crossed one leg over the other                    defensiveness

Bulging eyes                                                                        extreme anger

Purple-red face                                                        extreme anger

Lack of eye contact                                                  distancing self from the issue

Rolling eyes to ceiling                                            heard this already

Mumbling response                                                            unsure, uncommitted

Voice high-pitch; words rapid                                panic, nervous

Voice low; words slow                                             anger

Varying pitch                                                                        constructing a phony response

Long silences                                                           fabricating or deleting information

Sigh, noisy exhale, groan                                      passive aggressive no response

(may speak agreement)