What Is Your Body Saying?
I recently read a great blog by Peter Bregman in which he described a time in which he did a series of wrong things when meeting with a potential client. One of the things he did was raise the height of his chair. The only reason he raised the chair was because it felt too low, but in the context of all the other things he was saying and doing, it communicated a power play left a negative impression and he lost an opportunity.
One of the things we focus on at Project Patch is what our body position is communicating. Kids are looking for reasons to believe or disbelieve and many times are more in tuned with what the body is saying rather than the mouth.
Certain body positions are intimidating and interpreted as aggressive. Directly facing someone with your feet planted firmly and your hands clenched is clearly an aggressive position. Crossing your arms and leaning back could be interpreted at not caring or disengaged. Looking at your feet and fidgeting could be seen being intimidated and nervous.
The trouble with the information above is when I get overly focused on my body language I end up looking like a confused baseball coach giving conflicting signs to the bewildered batter. I become fixated on my hands, whether I should be leaning out or in and whether I’m helping or not.
The problem with being self-conscious is that our focus becomes all on us and how uncomfortable we feel rather than on connecting and listening.
So to be more effective in my communication, especially with kids sharing emotional things, I try to focus on two things:
- What is the person I’m talking to needing? Do they need support, space, encouragement, or feedback? If they are moving rapidly and flailing it is a good sign that they need space but if they are sitting next to you and scoot closer it probably means they want less space.
- What do I want them to know right now? Options include letting them know you are concerned, worried, interested, surprised, confused, shocked, scared, sad, as well as a whole host of other feelings.
Once I decide what they may need and what I’d like them to know, I will work to make sure that is what my body position and words (which should be few) communicate.
For example, if they say something shocking to test me I’ll express surprise but physically lean in and say something like, “I didn’t expect you to say that, tell me more.” If I want to communicate a respect for their space, I’d turn sideways a bit and back away a little and yet and at the same time stay engaged in what they are talking about.
The goal is to connect and respond in a way that will continue the conversation rather than end it.
When you focus on their need and your response, you may be wrong at times; the good news is that you will most likely get some feedback and can at that point adjust. But until then, just focus on them and doing your best to communicate using body language and, if needed, words.