There are four ways, and only four ways, in which we have contact with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts: what we do, how we look, what we say, and how we say it. – Dale Carnegie
Several weeks into her coaching engagement, the stress on Tonya’s face produced by workplace tension, revealed she was losing the battle. As we examined her understanding of the conflict and her behavior, it was clear she had lost some of her freedom to be herself.
During our coaching sessions her outlook changed, she regained her freedom seen in her smile and laughter. She was liberated like someone no longer threatened by the playground bully. Over coffee I wondered out loud, “Tonya, do people at work get to experience you as I experience you?”
When did you lose you?
Frank had been recruited to a position carrying a lot of responsibility. As we explored some of the conflict on his team, we began to discover truth in the Story. Upper management was “suggesting” how he was to “manage” the people.
“Do you remember the Story of David and Goliath?” I ask.
He knew the story.
For the record, David is a “shepherd boy”. Saul is the powerful king. Goliath is a big problem and threatening the people. Courage to face the giant was not to be found among the troops, until this “shepherd boy” showed up.
When David had gained an understanding of the Story he declared, “I’ll deal with this.”
The powerful king insisted David suit up with his armor; battlefield policy requires it!
David’s experience was limited to slaying wild, hostile animals – lions and bears. He knew how to take care of business; the only problem was the boss’ expectations. The king told him how to show up.
Tossing the sword, spear, helmet, and coat of armor aside, the shepherd boy grabbed his slingshot and five smooth stones. The rest is history. One well-placed stone, hurled with a faith the giant did not understand, brought the end to the problem.
What if David had lost his identity? Remember, the “shepherd boy” defeated the giant, in part, because he was true to himself. He was authentic. (Digging deeper into Story, it is true his confidence was not only based upon his expertise but also his faith in God.)
So, how do people experience you?
As you know, communication is not limited to spoken words.
Wikipedia reminds us of the role body language plays …
Body language is a form of mental and physical ability of human non-verbal communication, which consists of body posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements. Humans send and interpret such signals almost entirely subconsciously.
No doubt life is intense, and when it is, we often communicate unconsciously. What subconscious messages are you sending?
When the intensity and stress of life threaten you or what matters to you, where do you go?
When threatened, pressured, bullied, or intimidated we experience fear. We are familiar with the basic responses: fight or fight. When fear-based emotions (anxiety, anger, ill will, resentment, frustration, impatience or bitterness) are stirred up, they produce unproductive behavior, which in turn limits our performance. Others see and feel the message without a word being said.
The affect of intensity is often expressed non-verbally — unless we exercise self-control.
What do you think? How are people experiencing you?
For starters, how often do you smile? America’s Body Language Expert, Tonya Reiman, writes:
When genuine, most of us can have a GREAT smile. We can identify a smile more easily than any other expression, even from a distance of up to 300 feet. Physiologically, a smile tells our brains that we are safe, and that we can relax. When we smile at others, it sends a message of trust and sincerity. Thus, we’re seen as open and approachable.
Think about it. What do we need when feeling threatened? What if we feel safe and we send a message of trust and sincerity? The power of a smile can help manage interpersonal stress and conflict.
Here’s another: when do you laugh at work?
When walking the hall, what message are you sending with your body posture, eye contact and facial expressions?
Someone comes into your office (did you just think, “When someone interrupts me…?”), what message do you send with your eyes, your face, your posture?
Whether you do it on purpose or not a message is being sent and received.
Two Steps to Freedom
1. Pay Attention to Your Intensity
Tonya’s answer to my question was, “No, they don’t see me smile or hear me laugh that much at the office.” The conflict in the Story and resulting non-verbal communication betrayed her (she lost her identity) and made it harder to establish the very thing she wanted.
2. Embrace your Bright Side
Frank miss-applied his boss’ suggestion for how to “manage his people”. As a result, his intensity limited some of the positive behaviors (smiling and laughter) that had allowed him to connect with others throughout his successful career.
How are you showing up?
THE PEOPLE PROJECT:
Your Guide to Changing Behavior and Growing Your Influence as a Leader