4 Nonverbal Signals a Scrum Master Should Be Noticing

The Center for Nonverbal Studies has a fascinating webpage called The Nonverbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs, and Body Language Cues. While coaching teams, I recently began to intentionally look for many of these gestures and it is interesting to see how often these gestures and cues reveal what people would really want to say or what they are feeling.

From the perspective of a Scrum Master, understanding what is really being communicated on their teams is a crucial element of their role. When people leave things unsaid or unresolved, small cracks in team relationships will begin to widen into chasms.

When nonverbal cues are noticed, a Scrum Master should be triggered to ask an appropriate probing or open-ended question. Nothing to call out the gesture directly but to prompt the person to re-engage with the team or with another individual. If emotions are high, this re-engagement may need to occur at a time in the future.

I would recommend scanning or reading all of the gestures listed in “The Nonverbal Dictionary” but here are a few to highlight:

Probing Point. This may be something as simple as lip purse, shoulder shrug, or hand behind the head but a probing point “presents a strategic opportunity to search beneath a subject’s spoken comment or oral response to the remarks of another.” http://center-for-nonverbal-studies.org/probe.htm

Flexion Withdrawal. This is typically a movement away from danger or an escape measure. In a team setting an example may be the”pulling the hands and arms backward, away from disliked speakers.” http://center-for-nonverbal-studies.org/withdraw.htm

Hand Behind Head. When someone puts one hand behind their head, this may be a sign of “uncertainty, conflict, disagreement, frustration, anger or disliking.” http://center-for-nonverbal-studies.org/handbehi.htm

Arms-crossed. This is quite often a defensive position but it could also be someone just relaxing their arms. If you notice this, assess the context of the situation and determine if they are being put in a situation to be defensive. http://center-for-nonverbal-studies.org/armcross.htm

David Givens and the Center for Nonverbal Studies

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One thought on “4 Nonverbal Signals a Scrum Master Should Be Noticing

  1. GREAT Article – particularly so because:

    (a) We all know and have heard most of our lives how much communication is expressed non-verbally, yet insofar as I’m aware, its not really been overtly addressed hardly anywhere in the agile/scrumMaster workd
    (b) Observation is an absolutely essential prerequisite to Facilitation – which is “The” most important “single one” part of a Scrummaster’s job, IMHO. That means a “Good” scrumMaster really needs to observe **all** the communication going on – not simply the verbal exchanges.

    This tiopic could be worth exploring further.