Play the Part: Master Body Signals to Connect and Communicate for Business Success - Gina Barnett (2015)
Part II. PRESENCE IS A SKILL NOT A GIFT
Chapter 9. What Is Your What? Connecting with Yourself
“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for—in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.”
John, after working as an external consultant for a corporation, was then hired by that corporation to “come inside.” He quickly discovered that the expertise he’d brought to the company as an external player, and for which he thought he’d been hired, was in fact the last thing the corporation now wanted from him. There was a grace period, during which as a new hire he was expected to get up to speed on a wide range of subjects. As he did so, however, he uncovered a multitude of issues that as a consultant he would have addressed. But now as an internal employee, he had no say over the critical issues he discovered. Needless to say, he was unhappy.
“What have I done?” he asked me again and again. With two kids under the age of four, he had the financial urgency of being the breadwinner. “I’ve only been inside a year. I can’t just hop out now. It’ll look bad on my résumé.” He continued, “If I speak up about what I see, it’ll go on my performance review and be on my permanent record. I’m stuck. I’m miserable.”
He was boxed in by the double whammy of financial responsibility and the fear of speaking up, and his body was beginning to manifest the symptoms of chronic stress. His brow was tight and carried an always-worried expression; his posture was crumpled; his voice had a flattened, passionless tone. He was all of 31.
When trapped by unforeseen circumstances, the impact on communication, thinking, and productivity can be legion. John was stuck on every level. His verbal communication was timid and indecisive; his physical body was tense and his thinking muddled. As I listened to him and observed the signals he was sending, I thought about the book The Code of the Executive and its focus on mortality. I said to John that the position in which he found himself was one that demanded his greatest courage. He was not happy to hear this. Everyone is a leader, whether of his or her own life, small business, team, family, or even blog! And like it or not, life is short. Furthermore, observing how stress, fear, and negative emotions were impacting his life, it was essential that he find ways to realign his current reality with his intentions and aspirations.
I suggested that John key-message himself, that he list and then prioritize all the aspects that make him him. His whats could be literal (father, son, husband, manager) and behavioral (collaborator, idea generator, extrovert). I suggested the list be made over several weeks to allow his conscious and subconscious to contribute. Our priorities change almost daily, as one day being a manager feels most important, while the next, being a parent staying home to care for a sick child takes priority. Nonetheless, in the process of defining oneself in terms of all the roles played and how one accomplishes what one does (delegates, listens, instructs, orders, researches, makes dinner), a picture begins to emerge. What takes precedence? What comes last on the list? Where is the most time spent? The “Why” column usually articulates one’s values, intentions, and purpose, and though that column is last on the form, it is usually what informs our deepest aspirations.
By clearly identifying our whats—the given roles that we play and core values that we hold dear—followed by the ways that we do what we do in order to achieve our hoped-for goals, it becomes easier to design and set direction for current situations and begin to conceptualize our next steps. It is also an excellent way to identify where our values and style either match or conflict with our given circumstances. As John so clearly manifested, a long-term mismatch can have significant impact on one’s mind, body, and spirit.
TRY THIS: KEY-MESSAGE YOU
Using the key message template in the previous chapter, make multiple copies and scatter them around your office and home. Over several days or weeks, randomly jot down, as they occur to you, all the roles that you play and qualities that define your personality and style, followed by how you do what you do and your why, or the values that drive all your behaviors. By having multiple lists scattered randomly, you can write things down as you think of or observe them. After a couple of weeks, bring all the lists together and create one master key message template. Title it! (Hard but fascinating.) State your purpose for creating it and prioritize every listed item in order of importance. Put that master list away for a week or so and then take it out and review, edit or reprioritize it accordingly.
TRY THIS: WHAT DOES THE BODY THINK?
When you review the key message of you, notice what you feel in your body as you consider what you have written. Does a certain how or what make you feel excited in your belly, happy in your heart? Pay attention to the way your body reacts to your aspirations.
When trapped by circumstances that feel beyond our control, our tendency is to hunker down, avoid conflict, fly beneath the radar, and wait it out. Those choices or behaviors can be effective for a time. All of us at certain times must choose how to get through challenging circumstances, how to bite the bullet, as the expression goes. That’s life! Our goals and values cannot always be in perfect alignment with our circumstances. Everything is situational. The cost varies depending on the circumstance, but in general, long-term submission to circumstances that are in deep conflict with our values may result in physical symptoms, emotional distress, and personal dissatisfaction.
Key-messaging oneself along with the practices of tuned-in body awareness as described in Part I may reveal levels of stress and unhappiness or great joy and satisfaction. Either way, if, as the captain of your personal ship, you feel lost at sea or buffeted by currents beyond your control, attempting to plot a strategy for addressing such is not only helpful; it can provide renewed passion and excitement. Often just the exercise itself helps to make a difficult situation more manageable because it allows you to imagine and implement different strategies and responses. Change rarely happens overnight. Shifts of direction, role, even style require patience, new thinking, new behaviors, help seeking, networking, and a whole host of tactics. Just by actively thinking about how to set a new course for the ship of SS YOU, you may discover that feeling trapped begins to dissipate and new tactics and strategies for engagement come to mind.
TRY THIS: WHAT IF I … ?
Make a list, similar to the one below, and sketch out any answers that pop into your mind. If there is a mismatch at work, this exercise will help you look at your current circumstances and provide options for responses.
“What if I …
find an ally?”
start a campaign?”
quit my job?”
create a new network?”
Our choices are often far beyond what we imagine them to be, and with the daily consciousness that time is short, current circumstances might not seem so limiting.
TRY THIS: WHAT IF I … ?, CONTINUED
Building on the skills of body awareness, note what you feel in your body when you make your list of “what-ifs.” Do you get tense? If so, where in your body do you feel the tension? Do you feel excited? If so, where? Scared? Where? The feelings may be very subtle, almost indecipherable. That’s OK. The practice of noticing them will improve over time.
Increasingly our economy is made up of small businesses. Below are statistics from SBA.gov from the past few years:
The 23 million small businesses in America account for 54% of all U.S. sales. Small businesses provide 55% of all jobs and 66% of all net new jobs since the 1970s.
✵ The 600,000 plus franchised small businesses in the U.S. account for 40% of all retail sales and provide jobs for some 8 million people.
✵ The small business sector in America occupies 30-50% of all commercial space, an estimated 20-34 billion square feet.
Furthermore, the small business sector is growing rapidly. While corporate America has been “downsizing,” the rate of small business “startups” has grown, and the rate for small business failures has declined.
✵ The number of small businesses in the United States has increased 49% since 1982.
✵ Since 1990, as big business eliminated 4 million jobs, small businesses added 8 million new jobs.
These are fascinating and inspiring statistics. The range of opportunities outside the corporate sphere is increasing. This is not to say that corporations are not viable workplaces; it’s to demonstrate that there’s a much wider work landscape than is immediately obvious. How the choice is made whether to steer toward a corporate role or a small or midsized business can often be the result of chance. A job is needed; an opening is pursued. Key-messaging yourself well in advance of the pursuit of a new job or, if you are employed, taking on that new project will more likely increase alignment with your core aspirations. Key-messaging yourself is also a good way of weeding out pursuits or work projects for which you’re ill-suited. By defining what attracts and interests you and updating it as needed, you’ll tune in to the opportunities that better resonate with your aspirations. Aspirations that align with your current situation are signaled by the body, just as those that don’t align are communicated as well.
TRY THIS: GO FOR A WALK
You’ve titled your key message, prioritized your whats, identified how and why you do those whats. Now, go outside for a walk. Why? Walking is a great way to have the mind and body work in concert, to consider things from both cognitive and physical aspects. While walking, just let the mind wander. You’ve key-messaged yourself, you’ve created a conscious aspirational template. Trust that by allowing the body to move in space and time with that aspirational goal now clearly defined things will in time become clearer. Just going for a walk is one of the best things you can do for yourself. I keep hearing that sitting is the new smoking. My response? Walking is the newest (and oldest) cure.
In the theater there are good actors, gifted geniuses, so-so talents, mediocre wannabes. It is similar in every field. Despite all levels of skill and talent, from my perspective, actors come in two basic categories. There are those who act because they crave attention, need desperately to be loved, and seek constant reinforcement for their delicate egos. Then there are those who see themselves in a service profession. In other words, there are those who act to get and those who act to give. Everyone is a mixture of each, but the percentages can be significant. Those who act to give offer their skill, intelligence, passion, and emotion to serve the play and thereby give the audience an experience. They do not perform for their own self-aggrandizement, but to offer themselves to something greater than themselves. This doesn’t mean they are egoless or have no opinions. Not at all! It means that the driving force behind their work is service.
Service can be performed at the highest levels of industry or the lowest levels of employment. With the exception of the 1 percent, almost everyone needs a paycheck. That’s a given. How one conceptualizes contribution and reward can profoundly impact one’s level of satisfaction and one’s style of communication. Does the hospital orderly who mops the floors feel like a contributor or a wage slave? He or she may not have the skill to cure patients, but a few kind words said at the beside of an ill person can work miracles for both! Why is this important? From my perspective, it goes back to how we connect with ourselves and with others—how our work and actions resonate beyond their immediate impact, creating ripples of generative energy. Imagine how the orderly who sees his or her job as service will communicate to a patient.
What is service? It is putting oneself in the role of giving, irrespective of what comes back. It is giving for the sake of itself. It can happen anywhere, anytime, at work, at home, on the street. It is a mindset that once embraced can completely change one’s point of view from victim to victor. Why victor? Because one cannot lose when in service. The clients or audiences may reject what is offered; that is their choice. But the offering itself is its own reward. When resonance, meaning, and service are all aligned, it shows. Managers, colleagues, and clients can feel that energy, and they connect with it and you. Bodies can intuit this energy in the same way they instinctively intuit danger. In terms of presenting, if the talk is a gift versus a get, the experience for both speaker and audience will be altered radically.
Everyone is a client. I’m constantly amazed by those who are incredibly polite, deferential, and kind to external clients—and then beat the crap out of their own employees. It’s akin to the star, so noble and gracious while receiving the standing ovation, but a horror to everyone backstage. Divas are tolerated, but only for so long. Bad behavior ultimately catches up with them, and their opportunities decrease. There are always rare exceptions for those who are so extraordinarily gifted that their less-than-stellar behavior will be tolerated. Most of us do not dwell in that heady atmosphere. Presence is for always and in all conditions. Of course, there will always be highly stressful, extenuating circumstances when we cannot be on our best behavior. We are humans and we mess up. But to be one way with the presumed “important” person and radically different with the less or “unimportant” one reveals the ultimate truth of one’s values. We create hierarchies, and we decide who is important and deserves our respect. Hierarchical thinking and behavior is essential for many systems. There can only be one captain of a ship. Nonetheless that captain who treats visiting dignitaries like they are minigods and the engine crew like they are bugs suffers from a profound illusion. We are all on this ship together, each playing a vital part. Everyone we encounter deserves our kindness and respect.
When work is conceived as service and everyone is a client, the fetishism of who is greater or lesser dissolves, and one’s sense of purpose is radically transformed. Each encounter can be an opportunity to discover something new, to listen with greater attention, be more present. It is hard after years and years of accumulating knowledge, education, wealth, and prestige to sacrifice ownership and admit that all these aspects have been borrowed by your brain to be offered to the world. But indeed, knowing and living this point of view removes vast amounts of suffering for oneself and those with whom one lives and works. Less ego, more connection, happier bodies.
TRY THIS: THREE-ACT PLAY
Think of three actions that you can take at work that will help a completely random person, not your boss! Then go to work and do them! How does that act impact the way you connect and communicate?
RESPECTING OR LIKING
The simple truth is that there are people we do not like. There are people we actively dislike. There are people we loathe. There are people who, for whatever reason, do not like us. Liking and disliking are human and cannot be avoided. For everyone, these highly charged feelings impact the body.
Many clients worry that if they push back, create clear boundaries, don’t comply with every demand, they won’t be liked. The boss won’t like them; their colleagues won’t like them. They spend vast amounts of time worrying about the consequences of speaking up or delivering difficult news. This seems to me to be an outgrowth of a strange contradiction that we all must learn to accept while growing up. When we were three or four and we hogged a toy, the parent or teacher said, “It’s Sally’s turn to have the toy now. You’ve had it a long time.” We clutched the toy and refused to let it go. “Come on now, be nice. It’s not fair that you’ve had the toy all this time and Sally hasn’t. We have to be fair.” Niceness and fairness were concepts that were drilled into our heads repeatedly as grown-up after grown-up insisted upon our compliance. Then we entered high school, and suddenly we encountered the not-so-nice kid at the next desk who pulled all As and never cracked a book, or the one who got all the hot dates and yet treated girls like used furniture. “Life isn’t fair” became the new mantra that parents and teachers drilled over and over again, attempting to prepare us for the fact that, indeed, it isn’t. “But what about being nice, being liked?” shouts the inner four-year-old who spent years tamping down the greedy infantile self in order to be nice and fair. This contradiction seems to plague us for the rest of our days. Then we have children, and we repeat the contradiction all over again for them!
Of course we must socialize and civilize our children, so that we can all live and, the hope is, thrive within our given societies. Every culture does and has done this throughout history. Different concepts regarding life are laid down at different ages depending on the maturity of the child. But each of those concepts and contradictions functions within us continually. The unconscious doesn’t know time. The subconscious doesn’t know that what was learned at 4 is any less or more true than what was learned at 24. All have equal weight and veracity in it. Despite our neocortex (neo as in “new”) using reason, logic, and life experience to assess the current reality, the subconscious maintains its power and pull. The inner fight between being taught so young to be nice and fair, only to discover that life has no such concept, results in a constant tug-of-war between the rational and the irrational, the imaginary and the real. And fairness is merely one single concept with which we all struggle! The compromise many make is to focus excessively on being liked.
“If I do that, so-and-so won’t like me.”
“And?” I ask.
“They’ll make things more difficult for me down the line.”
“Then, I’ll have to work around that.”
“I might be able to work around that. I’m not sure, though.”
Very often we get stuck at “he or she won’t like me,” and at that point, fearing conflict—it is the very rare person who actually likes conflict—we impinge on our ideas or actions. We stop ourselves out of fear of not being liked. “Finish the fantasy” is my constant refrain. We often stop at the point of conflict and leave it at that. Instead, practice “What if?”
TRY THIS: FINISH THE FANTASY
Think of a recent work conflict with someone with whom you do not get along or whom you actively dislike. Write down the complete fantasy of what might happen if you performed the task about which you were anxious. No matter what the consequence or conflict, keep writing a response to whatever imagined obstacle comes your way. Don’t stop. Take it as far into left field as you like—it’s your fantasy!
TRY THIS: FINISH THE FANTASY, CONTINUED
Tune into the somatic body response to what you have created above. Do you feel energized, anxious, excited, happy? Where in your body do you feel those reactions?
The goal of the above is to permit your imagination to take you out of the limiting frame of being liked to explore other possible consequences. The outcome may be totally unrealistic or outrageous, or it may be quite pragmatic. The eventual outcome is less important than the action of completing the fantasy. It is a conversation with yourself to explore where you place limits on your own sense of agency out of the fear of not being liked, and the impact on your body from doing so.
More critical than being liked is being respected. People respect those who live by their values, do the best they can, and treat others with respect. Those who respect themselves are often indifferent to being liked. Everyone would prefer to be liked; it simply feels better. Most of us are pleasers; it’s only human. (And in evolutionary terms, probably ensured our survival.) But those who seek respect are willing to lose the popularity contest. They are willing to suffer the consequences of living their truth. That’s not to say that they are unkind. They can be very kind, respectful, even deferential, but they are indifferent to being liked and thus able to take greater risks and communicate with courage.
TRY THIS: WHICH DOMINATES, BEING LIKED OR RESPECTED?
Make a list of those you know at work who fall into one of the categories above. Who is worried about being liked more than respected? Who is indifferent to being liked? Who has a good balance of each? When you return to the office, take some time to observe those on your lists and make note of how they move, walk, talk, gesture, and express themselves. What do you observe? Can you draw any parallels to your own body as an instrument with regard to being liked or respected?
When work is performing service, solving problems, and helping others, people notice! If indeed the notion of hierarchy is suspended and everyone is treated with kindness and respect, extraordinary things begin to occur. Those who create a collaborative atmosphere of “We’re all in this together” attract others who feel similarly. (While those who thrive on power, hierarchy, and external approbation also attract their kind. Like finds like. Interestingly, I’ve found that people who grow up in very strict, rigid families tend to wind up working for very strict, rigid companies. It’s what they are used to. It mirrors what they’ve known and feels familiar. Family is the root of familiar.)
Whatever the culture of your organization may be, all enterprises depend on relationships. We need each other to get things accomplished. We are also constantly building up a database of information about each other that is comprised of all encounters, both random and purposeful. When asked who on a team is the whiner, the know-it-all, or the yes-man, there is hardly a moment of hesitation about who would be cast for each role. Such meta-characteristics are intuited by all and build up layer by layer from repeated encounters and behaviors. Due to the amplification effect, they are then gossiped about, and the reputation spreads further. We read each other constantly, pretty much instantly, and irrefutably. Once that initial data has been stored, it is almost impossible to scrap it from the hard drive that is your primal brain. (We are loath to disagree with our own first impressions.) Over time bad behavior can be forgiven, especially if the person apologizes and makes good on ways to remediate. Relationships are not static. Neither are we. We are dynamic and can alter in profound ways. Nonetheless, first impressions are built upon, not erased. So if you are aware of any missteps that may have hindered how people feel about you and might impact work flow, take steps to remedy them. Reach out; apologize; ask for feedback; communicate. Building a network, a web of people who know your values, respect your work, and see you as a contributor, is an essential part of doing business.
TRY THIS: THE WEB OF YOU
Make a chart of the people you know with whom you work, putting yourself in the center and creating concentric circles out from that center in order of depth of relationship. Those placed closest to you might be your immediate boss, colleagues, reports; then move outward to two steps removed, then three, etc. (You can make one for your personal life as well.) As an exercise, this can be a revelation! It can show you the deep web of life and connection of which you are a part, the places where repair is needed, the relationships that have faded or deepened. Why do this? Because relationships are our glue. They place us in or out of dynamic circulation. They keep us stuck or open up amazing possibilities. But we need to see where we sit in this dynamic and understand how we enable or disable our potential.
TRY THIS: WEB SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION
Take a person from your network of coworkers, friends, or family. Put this person in the center of the circle and, to the best of your knowledge and ability, do the same exercise from his or her perspective. Whom does this person put first, second, third in his or her expanding concentric circles? Whom does he or she need in order to thrive and feel connected? Why do this? It may help you to understand the choices that this person has made that have enabled or hobbled his or her potential.
We live in an intricate web of relationships that expands widely from our nexus into the world. How we value, respect, build, and treasure those relationships will greatly enhance our ability to communicate, connect—and serve.
Chapter 9: What Is Your What? Connecting with Yourself
✵ Key-Message You—self, values, goal alignment
✵ What Does the Body Think?—how the body reflects our aspirations
✵ What If I … ?—capacity for risk
✵ What If I … ?, Continued—imagination
✵ Go for a Walk—self-reflection
✵ Three-Act Play—service
✵ Finish the Fantasy—courage
✵ Finish the Fantasy, Continued—risk, courage, imagination
✵ Which Dominates, Being Liked or Respected?—self-awareness
✵ The Web of You—relationship awareness
✵ Web Six Degrees of Separation—understanding the impact of relationships