Even though my son is now a teenager, I still go into his room at night to check on him before I go to sleep. One night, I noticed that he'd fallen asleep in his bed with his arms folded across his chest. Thinking it was an interesting way to sleep, I pulled the covers up over him and went on to my own bed. The next night, I checked on him again and noticed the same thing, which caused me to wonder, Why does he do this?
Over the next few weeks, as I checked on him before going to bed, I noted that sometimes he had his arms folded across his chest and sometimes he didn't. Did it mean anything? Was this a teenager tuning out his dad? Was it "normal"? Who knows! He's unaware, and it causes no harm, but it made me think.
I've been in countless meetings or discussions in which people have crossed their arms across their chest as I was talking. What kind of message does that send? And when I cross my arms across my chest while listening, does that convey a meaning? For decades, we've been taught that crossing your arms across your chest can convey a sense of separation, or a barrier between us and the other person.
In our work environments, if you were the customer and I crossed my arms across my chest while you were telling me your issue, what feedback am I giving you without even opening my mouth?
I have been on the receiving end of Crossed Arms Syndrome and have, on occasion, stopped the conversation and politely pointed out to the person who was talking to me that I felt they weren't listening to me anymore and were shutting down. I tactfully and professionally pointed out that I was the customer and that I had a complaint about their service and wanted to have them correct it.
Each time I've done so, the person has been was very receptive to my explanation, immediately changing their body posture and making sure their body language projected active listening. They addressed my issue, apologized, and we moved forward.
In our world of de facto remote support, Crossed Arms Syndrome can manifest itself as silence on the line and lagging/lack of communication via email, chat, text, or social media. As customers turn to alternate ways of reporting issues and asking for help, support must recognize the need to show attentive digital listening, both verbally and in messages.
Take a moment to review you and your team's verbal and digital posture. Are your arms crossed? Does your customer perceive that they are? Have someone spot check for you, and then act on the results. It could make a huge difference in your CSAT scores!
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Brandon Caudle is a seasoned veteran of the technical support industry, with more than two decades of experience as practitioner, vendor, and consultant. He's the author of two books on leadership and customer service, and he speaks at industry conferences around the world. From ITSM and KCS initiatives to day-to-day operations, he leads virtual teams scattered across time zones and continents, utilizing technology and innovation to bridge distance and culture. In his current role as IT service desk manager for First American Financial, his team works seamlessly across three countries to provide a single point of contact for 17,000 employees worldwide. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonCaudle.