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Not Facing People Makes Them Comfortable?

I went the other day to an espresso bar (yes, I am a full-on coffee/espresso snob now!) and noticed something that I had to blog on. Being the massive observer of body language and nonverbal communication that I claim to be, I noticed the two people next to me.

they were both seated next to me, and I was standing at a high table drinking my cortado. I noticed two papers on their table, and while watching them I was thinking that these two do not really seem to know each other. I was able to see on the table one of the papers, facing the gentleman, was the woman’s resume.

For those thinking, “Wow, I love people-watching but always feel like I will get caught, how does Jeff do it?” Sorry but this is not a tutorial on how to people-watch! Perhaps in a future blog posting I will go over my stealth detective skills and how they are used in people-watching.

So, back to the story. The woman I now determined was there on a job interview and the gentleman was the one conducting the interview. Right away I was thinking how her body language and gestures were very conservative- she was sitting upright, limited hand gestures as well as few facial cues.

The gentleman on the other hand was shocking me. Yes, I still get shocked. What I noticed right away and was simply astounded by was his posture. For mediators, ombudsman and conflict coaches, I often tell people to develop immediacy and rapport, one thing you should ALWAYS do (hey, I rarely use the word ‘always’) is face them. Especially while another person is talking, if you want to show you care and are interested, face them! Ditto for when you are speaking.

Think about, seriously, close your eyes or just picture to yourself while acting as a mediator, ombudsman or coach and think- do you you face the person? Think now how would you feel if you were the client or party member and the mediator did not face you while he/she spoke and while you listened. Now picture the person turned sideways and the only occasional movement was crossing their legs. Crossing your legs, for men, I say often signifies someone is confident, comfortable enough and relaxed.

Let’s go back to the gentleman conducting the interview now. I snapped this photo discretely (they did not notice) on my mobile phone as I was completely shocked at how the entire time I was there, he sat sideways. Occasionally he crossed his legs. HE NEVER FACED HER directly.

Now as if this was not shocking enough a few days later I went through my nonverbal communication books to quote from them for this post about how facing a person (ask yourself where your belly button is facing) and guess what I found. Add to that, I found the following from a book I often recommend to people who are interested in an introduction to body language.

On page 359 of “The Definitive Book of Body Language” by Allan and Barbara Pease, they state the following:

When you position your body 45 degrees away from the other person, you take the pressure off the interview. This is an excellent position from which to ask delicate pr embarrassing questions, encouraging more open answers to your questions without them feeling as if they are being pressured.

Wow, again shocking. I think shocking at least. My first response to this is just because something is written in a book (or an instructor or trainer tells you) means it is the truth or right. Let me add at this moment I could be completely wrong and Allan and Barbara could be right. All I am saying is I think, based on my own experiences and the research I have read (see below) and been involved in personally is this is totally off.

I really look forward to feedback from everyone and their thoughts on this.


Whether you face someone directly, at an angle, or literally give them the “cold shoulder”, your body angle communicates more or less immediacy. People are interpersonnally cold, unavailable, and uninvolved in side-to-side and back-to-back positions… one of the main ways people increase involvement and immediacy is to assume a more direct body orientation (Coker & Burgoon, 1987). Andersen, Peter A. Nonverbal Communication: Forms and Functions.

“The Degree to which someone’s legs and shoulders face the direction of someone else indicates the level of liking or the status of that person. The more someone’s body orientation is toward you, the better your chances that the other person has a positive attitude about you. Goman, Carol Kinsey, The Nonverbal Advantange, page 35.

The more time doctors spend with their bodies oriented toward patients, the more that patients are satisfied with doctors, and the more medical information that patients understand/retain (Larsen & Smith, 1981). Guerrero, Laura K. and Michael L. Hecht, The Nonverbal Communication Reader.


Jeff Thompson

Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., is a professor at Lipscomb University, researcher, mediator, and trainer. He is also involved in crisis and hostage negotiation as well as a law enforcement detective. His research includes law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiation in terrorist incidents. He received his doctorate from Griffith University Law School… MORE >

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