By: Raquelle Solon, Business Solutions Engineer, FEI Behavioral Health

July 7, 2016

In the hustle and bustle of getting more done with less, we often tend to concentrate on tasks rather than the individuals doing those tasks. Many companies have a core value of treating people with respect, but this can fall short with the “What have you done for me lately?” mentality that often occurs when meeting goals and objectives, especially on a lean budget. What can we do to change this?

Building healthy relationships with your team is key. Get to know your team with sincerity. Taking time to speak with individuals means you can get an idea of what that person’s “normal” is so that when they aren’t responding or behaving in a way that is “normal” for them, you are more likely to notice. When people are stressed both at work and outside of work, anxiety and frustration can escalate. This can lead to increased volume or tone in their verbal responses and may be noticed by physical responses such as slamming doors, stomping or abruptly leaving. If you’ve taken the time to build a healthy relationship with that person, you can pick up on those cues early and realize stress is likely a contributing factor, either from workload or personal circumstances.

The same holds true for the behavior of managers. As leaders, managers should be aware of how they’re being perceived. When I was an executive with Target, for instance, I would walk through the store mentally analyzing and creating plans. My forehead would often tense up, and because I was focused, I would give brief responses to my team members. These mannerisms came across to the team as me being in a bad mood or unapproachable. While that wasn’t my intent, I had to be aware of such perceptions and take steps to adjust my behavior.

Words only make up seven percent of communication. The rest comes through in how we say what we say and what our body language conveys. Some nonverbal signs to be aware of as you’re working to monitor for stress, frustration or anxiety on your team or yourself include:

  • Body language: An open, relaxed stance slightly to one side communicates something completely different from a squared-up, closed-fist stance. Hands that are open or folded over one another communicate non-threatening and non-stressed emotion while closed fists or arms crossed communicates tense, aggressive and closed-off emotion.
  • Facial expressions: Be aware that scowling, avoiding eye contact and tenseness around the lips or forehead can communicate stress, frustration or avoidance; while relaxed, neutral and smiling, with appropriate eye contact, communicates open, non-threatening moods.
  • Voice: Monitor tone of voice for aggressive and sarcastic tones, which indicate stress or frustration, while too mellow tones can communicate despair. Tones carry inflection and volume to communicate meaning beyond the words that are said.

Oftentimes we overlook the small hints others are communicating. After an incident happens, we say things like “They just snapped” or “I never saw this coming.” Taking steps to recognize nonverbal cues can help you avoid these statements and get stressed team members the support they need.


About the Author

If you’d like more information on how to train your leaders to improve your organization’s chances at reducing disrespect, hostility or violence in the workplace, contact Raquelle Solon, a business solutions manager, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 470-728-7423. FEI Behavioral Health offers flexible solutions for the full spectrum of workforce resilience goals, from EAP and wellness to crisis preparedness and management. Partnering with a wide range of corporations, government entities, and nonprofits, FEI is a social enterprise wholly owned by the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, a national network of more than 450 human-serving organizations.