Saying it all, without saying a word… Have we forgotten part of our language skills in the online world?
“You say it best when you say nothing at all…”
It wasn’t easy, but I have indeed managed to start this month’s newsletter with a quote from Boyzone (bear with me readers!) Now whilst I am admittedly a fan of 90’s pop music- and even more so of the film Notting Hill where this song featured – there’s rhyme and reason for the reference. When we think about our communication, how we are going to prepare for a speech, presentation, interview or difficult conversation – we tend to focus on the words, content or the script. And yet we know that as human beings over HALF of what we ‘say’ is not what comes out of our mouths. It comes out of what we say with the rest of our bodies. And this is still true if we are practising social distancing or communicating in an online world. Even though perhaps we may have lost sight of the impact of our bodies in our new world of virtual communication. So, this month it’s time to get physical – and we don’t mean pulling on leggings and going to the gym (now that they are open!). Join us this month as we delve into the intriguing and often underestimated world of Body Language.
I speak for each and every one of you when I say you are highly developed, highly intelligent, sensitive, self-aware creatures (I would expect nothing less from our fabulous readers!). And yet… all of us- at our core- are animals.
As animals, we have some basic survival instincts -food, safety and continuation of our species. These instincts existed way before our modern language did and yet somehow, we managed to communicate with each other – and not only survive- but thrive. We had to be very good at not only at signalling our needs and fears but also reading them in others, even when no words were spoken. In our era of modern language and high-speed communication, we have sophisticated and subtle means and methods of communicating. And yet, the hardware of who we are as human beings remains unchanged.
In Paul MacLean’s 3 brain model, our reptilian brain was the first part of the brain to develop and is responsible for protection, safety and non-verbal communication. So, whether we like it or not (or are aware of it or not) we still use our non-verbal communication to provide a wealth of information. AND we are always being read and interpreted by others, based on the non-verbal cues we project. So, imagine the powerful impact we could make every day if we consciously communicated- not only with our words- but with all of our being.
“It took millions of years for man’s instincts to develop. It will take millions more for them to even vary. It is fashionable to talk about changing man. A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man, with his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.”
– William Bernbach (1911–1982), American advertising creative director
So, what about our posture? Well, it’s often something we only think about if we have to go to an osteopath or chiropractor due to back pain. However, an Ohio State University study (2015) showed that holding a slumped posture for 30-minutes could significantly increase stress levels, depression, and fear. On the other hand – maintaining an upright posture can result in greater confidence and lower stress levels. Bear this in mind particularly if you are now working remotely and are sitting for much of the day. Our health and mobility are important, and… let’s keep in mind that there is so much more to our posture and how it is serving us. Looking at a number of studies, evidence suggests that our posture matters more than company hierarchies in terms of making a person think and act more powerfully!
Why is this? Well going back to the caveman… a slumped posture – (head dropped and rounded shoulders) would have been a demonstration of “flight” (fear/submission) posturing and can have a very real neurological and psychological impact on our systems. So, next time you are in a meeting or virtual meeting, even if you are feeling nervous you may want to try this:
1. Sit forward on your chair or stand up and either way – with feet apart and firmly grounded on the floor
2. Shoulders back
3. Chin up/not too tucked in
You may be amazed not only by how you feel but by how you present yourself and ultimately by the words that come out of your mouth. As we say here at 4D, it all starts with the physical…
I recall going through some rather draining legal proceedings a few years back. As anyone who has experienced this will know, it can be intellectually overwhelming and emotionally draining. I recall those feelings and the sense of not having any control or power (a core human need). But one thing I could do was get a hold of was how I showed up: how I behaved and interacted physically. So, I made a conscious and deliberate decision to maintain a strong, grounded posture with shoulders back and head held high. It was incredible to notice how different I felt and also, how it changed the verbal language I used and the way other people responded to me. It was a game-changer.
“Isn’t it odd. We can only see our outsides, but nearly everything happens on the inside”
– Charlie Macksey
Proxemics explain how people treat the space between them and others. It’s a form of nonverbal communication and the distance of the proxemic can make situations either intimidating or acceptable. And what we find acceptable, varies from person-to-person, when it comes to our personal space.
As animals, we have a sense of what physical proxemic feels acceptable and what feels threatening. As you can imagine, smaller animals than us have an even greater sense of this hidden dimension – anyone who has a guinea pig or rabbit will know that it can be hard to catch a sight of them. Yesterday, I was at my sister’s house and I was determined to catch a glimpse of her new guinea pig – Manuel. So, I crept into the room his cage was in. He remained static until I came within 1 metre. and then – boom, he bolted. It was almost like I had tripped a tripwire that caused him to scurry at breakneck speed into his little guinea pig house! Animals’ bodies respond to their intuition and signal their levels of discomfort. I had entered his ‘intimate’ proxemic and all of his body told him to run. Sorry, Manuel!
As human beings we are no different and understanding how to use your space and reading others’ space is crucial for creating the right connections and leaving a good impression. Many of us feel this only too acutely at the moment with the emotional distance that can be created by the extended proxemic of social distancing. It has an impact! And whilst we need to be mindful of keeping our distance to keep our communicates safe, we would do well to recognise there is an impact on how we may make each other feel as well as look to compensate for the distance through other body language strategies.
The 4 Levels of Gesture
Research has demonstrated that in everyday interpersonal communication people spontaneously generate images via hand gestures to accompany their speech. In this way, they help to encode the speech into the listener’s memory by utilising two cognitive aspects: words and images.
The physical act of moving our arms and hands generates energy within our bodies. The higher the level of gestures we make the higher the level of energy we release. But there is also another hidden effect of gestures involving the brain. Psychologists Rizzolatti and Arbib (Language Within Our Grasp 1998) discovered that when we perform an activity, such as gesturing, we activate motor neurons in the brain. Curiously, similar neurons are also activated when we merely watch an activity. These are called mirror neurons.
When we watch someone moving, mirror neurons fire off in our brains and we not only witness a gesture but also experience and feel the gesture in our minds. Watching gestures- or any movement- literally creates an energetic reaction in the brain. This is why watching people dance or sing can be a contagious and emotional experience- and we may feel compelled to express ourselves too! This suggests that gesture can expand the effectiveness of our communication, by improving cognition, opening up different levels of meaning for the listener and also, by boosting energy levels (for both the speaker and the listener).
So how can you utilise the power of gestures: By using specific gestures to accompany your speech you can:
1. Appear more confident
2. Feel more confident
3. Enhance your communications
4. Raise not only your energy but also the energy levels of those who watch or interact with you
Increase the vocabulary available to you in the moment (research shows that restricting hand gestures makes it more difficult to find the right words.)
I often hear comments from people I work with that working remotely limits our ability to use our gestures and whilst there is some truth to that, we are still #always at choice. Push your computer screen back so that you give yourself a wide frame on screen from the chest up (or better still stand up) and get those arms on camera!
Eye contact may seem an obvious element of our physical language, but we can all too often be unaware of where our eyes may be focused and how we may be impacting others. Eye contact can demonstrate in an instance – respect, appreciation, interest, understanding confidence, engagement, making people feel connected and important. AND it can suggest fear, nervousness, disinterest to name just a few. Now that isn’t to say that removing eye contact is not sometimes useful. If you want someone to stop talking or if you have a consistent tricky ‘challenger’ in your audience – gently removing your eye contact after a few seconds is often a great way to change the dynamic.
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said”
– Peter Drucker
Create your New Norm
We are responding cognitively all the time to the signals and signs our bodies give us. At the same time, we are also reading other peoples’ body language – perhaps even more than the words that come out of their mouths. And other people are doing the same to us. Over our lives, we have built up patterns of body language. But we can choose to change those behaviours that aren’t serving us anymore. Of course, when it comes to breaking patterns and creating new ones, practice makes perfect.
So – whether you have been consistently working in a face-to-face environment or are soon returning to an office or communal place of work – at 4D we want to encourage you to think about your body language. Trying our new or unfamiliar ideas (such as taking a stronger posture, smiling more than usual or using higher arm gestures) may feel strange at first, but over time, this new pattern of body language will become your new normal. A part of who you are and how you communicate. And…
…don’t imagine that if you are primarily interacting and communicating in a virtual environment that the ‘language’ you are speaking with your body doesn’t matter. On the contrary – it matters even more! Three top reasons to focus on your body language even when in virtual meetings are:
1. Because your mind-body loop will be affected by the physical position and gestures that you choose to do. Remember your body is constantly sending messages to your brain! So your impact even on the phone is affected by how you sit, stand and physically behave.
2. Quite simply, connectivity and communication ARE harder when we’re not face-to-face. So why not use ALL the tools at your disposal to really land your message, build great bonds, influence and communicate with impact.
3. If on a video call no one else has their camera switched on – stand out from the crowd. What a gift to leave an even stronger impression! TURN YOUR CAMERA ON!
What is your body language saying about you?
You can find out more and sign up for our newsletter through our website as well as check out the 4D articles, podcasts, videos and online training programmes. If you’d like us at 4DHB to help you engage your audience, get your messages across online and have some fun…do get in touch.
4D Human Being – helping leaders, teams and individuals consciously communicate with impact every day.