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The Language of Your Body

By Charlie Badenhop

Do you sometimes find yourself stuck in unproductive conversations that leave you feeling somewhat helpless? I am sure this happens to all of us at times. Have a look at this story to understand a new way to approach such conversations.

A client who I will call "Jim" shows up wanting to discuss his "utter failure" in his new job as a marketing manager. As he talks, I note that his shoulders are rounded forward, his trunk is tilted somewhat backwards, he rocks ever so much from side to side, and he talks rather quickly while breathing in a shallow manner. All these components of his physical behavior, make up a non-verbal communication pattern that we call "the language of the body". Jim begins his conversation by establishing a sense of "utter failure" in his body. He then shirts his attention to crafting the verbal language that agrees with what his body has to say.

When Jim's finished talking I suggest he tell his story again from a different perspective, by first initiating a different "body conversation". With my prompting he makes numerous adjustments to his posture and his breathing style. What I am helping him do is "talk from a more confident body," and upon resuming his conversation he reports that his situation does not seem as discouraging as before.

I encourage Jim to continue talking while maintaining the new body language patterns I have suggested. He soon reports that "Keeping my new posture while talking makes me feel like I am trying to accomplish two competing tasks at the same time." Upon hearing himself speak these words he gets a teary look in his eyes and says, "Just now I realize how overwhelmed I have been feeling at work, by trying to do too many things all at the same time." Having said this he slumps back into his "old" posture, and it takes a good bit of gentle prompting to bring him back to his "new" more solution oriented body. I encourage him to breathe deeply and tell me what he is now feeling. He spontaneously begins to change his story from one of "utter failure" to talking about "A challenging yet necessary business lesson that he is thankful for." He begins to understand experientially that to a large extent his emotional responses to circumstances and relationships are initiated by his body.

I explain to him that "When you change the way you use your body, your change the 'conversations' that emanate from your body, and you give yourself a new emotional understanding and appreciation for what has been taking place." This is a key learning. Rather than attempting to help clients fix circumstances they perceive as "failures," I instead strive to help them realize how they generate their sense of "failure" with their body. When you learn how to use your body differently, and breathe in a more relaxed manner, you feel much more able to successfully meet the challenges you face.

If you tense your shoulders, look down towards your feet, and breathe in a shallow manner, you will not report feeling competent and confident. Yet this is exactly what clients often do prior to explaining how they would like to feel more competent and confident! The way you use your body establishes the emotional tone of your thoughts and feelings. When wanting to discuss your challenges, it's crucial to prepare yourself by breathing deeply and embodying a posture that helps you to feel competent and confident. Only after doing this should you begin to talk! Much more than most people realize, when you describe a situation that has been problematic in the past, what you are really doing is describing how you feel in the moment, as you use your body in a restrictive manner.

Lead with your body and your breathing, and solution oriented conversations will follow!

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