QHello Sharon,

I want to thank you again for speaking to our group on Thursday night. I enjoyed hearing your insights and am fascinated by this topic. I wish I had thought to ask you this question as I’m hoping you have an opportunity to help me with this….

I’ve experienced this recently: I’m in a meeting and the leader of the meeting, when speaking, looks at everyone in the conference room, around the conference table — but me!

When she turns to look at me, she will 9 times out of 10 have her eyes closed. It’s like she doesn’t want to see me. She keeps talking, but when looking in my direction, her eyelids are CLOSED and there is a rapid flutter as if her eyeballs underneath are moving, associated with the closed eyelids! I feel this means there is a problem with our business relationship, but I don’t know anything except for this “tell.”

Can you confirm my suspicions please?

Anita (pseudonym to protect privacy)

ADear Anita,

Sorry, I can’t confirm your suspicions, only give guidance because understanding (reading) someone’s body language isn’t just one thing such as the common misunderstanding that one’s arms crossed ALWAYS mean someone is closed off to you. All behavior has to be taken in context. So first a few questions to ponder….

  • How often does this really happen—does it happen 9 times out of 10 without fail? Often it only feels that way, because we humans take eye contact very personal.
  • Does she stall when she gets to you and close her eyes or is it a quick blink while scanning/passing by? For example, she uses a scanning movement that stays consistent as she moves her head around the room?
  • Does she move her head up as if to look over you at the same time?
  • Are there other people in front or behind you? What about the people directly to your right or left..are they ‘the target’ of her closed eyes too?
  • Does she make eye contact with you when not scanning the room– what is the quality of her eye contact then? Does she make quality eye contact one-to-one?
  • What is your relationship with her in other contexts – what is she like one-to-one with you? In smaller groups? Outside the office environment? How are her relationships with others one-to-one?

As you can see from the above, there are many variables and more than I listed… without access to the context, observation and knowing her baseline behaviors. I have three ‘guess and test’ for you:

My first is it’s a “large’ish-sized” group and/or she’s been talking awhile and by the time she gets to you she’s naturally using a lingering blink while trying to remember what comes next. Eye flutter is often a sign of scanning through one’s memory. You can tell if she is refreshing her memory by how fluid her voice and breathing patterns are and if what she’s saying stays consistent she is still externally focused. Try sitting in different locations to see if the “closed-eyes-at-you” changes.

My second is based on when we met. I mentioned you hide well in plain sight. Perhaps, she isn’t able to read you and that disturbs her for some reason – most often, when people can’t “get a read” on the other person they automatically jump to the conclusion and/or question “is there something to hide or deception going on?”

Notice, I didn’t say your intent was to deceive, I said, it’s an automatic judgment on the other person’s part. It’s part of the “fight or flight” response – the ancient brain’s survival mechanism. If this rings true, consider why you enjoy hiding in plain sight and if it’s worth the cost in this situation. You have many behavioral tools in your toolbox that you can choose from to adopt another behavior(s) you wish in this group.  How do you want to be seen in the group and by her?

My third ‘guess and test’ would be a request for personal reflection…. Is she unconsciously trying to manage you for some reason? Are you a threat to her leadership in some way? How did / do you feel about her? Has that changed recently? Why are you taking her behavior so personal? What else about her behavior could be triggering you? If any thoughts that popped into your head ring true for you while reading the above question and this is a relationship you value, consider the direct approach and inquiry about the status of your relationship with her.  OR if it is wiser to just defer to her leadership in this case. If yes, use phrases such as “You would know best…,” “I defer to your leadership on that…,” to verbally put her at ease that you are not a threat.

A note of caution: Deferring can be seen as submissive and if done within the group has the potential to change the entire group’s opinion of your place within the group – this is best used in private.

Use ‘guess and test’ when in doubt and always have at least three possible ‘whys’ (or more) as you guess and test. By the third, you are starting to get away from your personal and cultural bias’. Make mental and written notes of subtle shifts in the situation as you go, it is within the subtle shifts over time (the true patterns in the relationship) that you will find the truth.

Finally, it is always important to remind our self that it can also be a personal bias on our part and perhaps we are “hallucinating” at how often some behavior really happens based on a past incident(s) with her or someone like her — otherwise, know as a “trigger.” (Or you could be triggering” her, or both.)  Go into your next meeting with her with a positive intention and a mindset that she is not doing it ‘to’ you, it’s just how she is and see if that changes the situation….

Guessing why someone is ‘doing’ something is not easy to uncover because regardless of how well trained, none of us are mind-readers. Go into your next meeting with her with a positive intention and a mindset that she is not doing it ‘to’ you – ‘it’s just how she is’ and see if that changes the situation….

I hope this is helpful to start exploring the true cause. As you can see there are many variables and that without direct observation and more context, it’s difficult to know exactly what’s going on in the moment.

To success! To Life!