Body language. Both feet on the ground.
I attended an enlivening talk today about body language by Carole Railton who has published numerous books on the subject and comes from an NLP, life coaching and behaviourism background. She used to be something big in the business world and is the founder of an organisation called Life After Branding which is ‘dedicated to supporting behavioural change in individuals for commercial results’. This gives a very interesting perspective, though not unique of course, combining the business and personal spheres to bring the best out of people and the corporations they work for.
The first thing we use after our first breath is body language. When we are babies we communicate with our eyes (and a few screams). We become articulate and use language as we get older. We start to believe this is the way forward. I wanted to ask the question about how eye movement and NLP relate, but despite the relatively small group and informal setting, I couldn’t quite muster up the confidence to put my hand up and ask a semi-formed question about how to read people from an NLP perspective and whether they are accessing for example remembered imagery or constructed sounds depending what direction they are looking in. I am also quite interested in the new psychotherapeutic field of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and how that relates. This theory developed by Francine Shapiro holds that certain eye movements decrease the intensity of disturbing thought in PTSD sufferers.
50% of the information we take in when we meet someone is visual. Body language is a communication skill and we don’t even have to do too much to read body language. We must be authentic to ourselves. That’s the bottom line.
The exercises were very revealing The most potentially life-changing one is so simple. We were asked to think about the worst case scenario in relation to something that is currently on our minds. It could be something we are dreading or frustrated by today. We looked down with head tilted down, eyeline towards the floor. We worked on increasing the intensity of the negativity. Then we looked up towards the ceiling, tilting the head back far, with eyes closed and mouth slightly open, and tried to summon up the same dreadful worst-case feelings. It was the most incredible thing. Carole didn’t put any expectations in our heads, but one by one, people came to the same conclusion. What bad thought? It’s gone. I can’t put my finger on it anymore. I actually lost track of mine.
The talk was tailored to high-fliers and contained some advice for taking part in video conferencing and how to influence with authority. Some of this stuff was really fascinating. A little tip she had for coming across ‘authentically’ on VC, was to hold a small postage stamp-sized piece of paper between thumb and forefinger of both hands and keep your hands in your lap. Holding on to that little bit of paper, out of sight, avoids excessive gesticulation and releases any nervous energy. Another tip was to blink in an exaggerated and repeated way, as VC cameras don’t pick up normal blinking, meaning participants can look as though they are staring. Blinking is important as it shows sincerity.
It’s important to have both feet on the ground in situations when you want to be truly present such as an important meeting. Apparently we take in 30% more information with our feet squarely on the ground compared with legs crossed. It appears authentic and grounded whether sitting or standing. What you’re doing with your feet is something the police are trained to look for. People easily pick up nervousness or lack of commitment in what you’re saying when you’re not rooted.
A great tip for meetings was to keep your hands open with the palms facing up if you want to learn more. And with the palms down on your thighs if you want to take control of a meeting or situation. We give with our right hand and receive with our left. If you angle yourself correctly you can maximise your capacity to give or receive depending on desired outcomes. Carole said that in her previous career on the frontline of global account management, you can influence a potential sale by simply being positioned on the left so that your right side is the active one!
Body positioning is clearly a tool for influencing once you start to understand even a little about it. One other technique I’ll touch on briefly is breathing mirroring. You can use breath to calm the body. Once you recognise your own breathing pattern you can get into other people’s. This can work particularly well in the case of calming someone down, particularly a hyperventilating child, gradually decreasing the pace of their breath as you slow yours right down. Carole says this works every time… and if it doesn’t, you aren’t doing it right!
The higher up the person is on the rungs of power, the less they move. The CEO makes fewer movements than the messenger boy. In fact women make fewer movements than men. Carole doesn’t get people to move less than they normally do, because that would be inauthentic, but to move more deliberately and more regally. A fascinating exercise we did was to stand up and close our eyes and imagine we had a heavy crown on our heads. Sure enough, people began to move around slower and more thoughtfully with their heads still, chests out and backs straight.
I tried this exercise on my colleagues when I got back to the office, and they were most amused! It felt good to share what I learned. At the class I also ran into someone that is in the healing trade, that I keep bumping into. She runs the alternative remedies centre where I got my Migun massage and EFT treatments. Incidental connections are as much as part of the learning as what was spoken about, I think.
So it’s important to keep your feet firmly on the ground. (No wonder I never liked bar stools.) But occasionally look to the clouds and things don’t seem so bad.