You've got to be believed to be heard, suggests Bert Decker. The secret is all in understanding a code. It is an elaborate code, written nowhere, known by none, yet understood by all, as Stephen Dubner noted in this photo.
This secret is how we tell each other, without words, how we see ourselves and the world - and how we want to be seen. How do others perceive you, especially upon first meeting you face-to-face?
How well do you anticipate another person’s discomfort before that person freezes up and becomes paralyzed, withdrawn or even destructive in a situation?
Here's some early warning signs of increased emotional intensity. Look out for them in yourself and others.
Sweating: Might indicate an increase in some emotional feeling.
Blinking more: Might indicate an increase in some emotional feeling.
Dilated pupils: Often indicates arousal or fear.
Blushing: Might signal embarrassment, shame, anger, or guilt.
Talking louder and faster: Usually signals anger, fear, or other excitement.
Talking slower and softer: Might signal sadness or boredom.
Body gesturing: Signals a negative emotion, usually fear or anger.
Breathing fast and shallow: Indicates the presence of emotion.
Are You Out on a Limb?
Gestures are emblems of feelings. Using too many gestures usually takes away from the potency of your natural presence, just as talking high, fast, loud or at great length diminishes your power and credibility.
Most people cannot help “leaking” their feelings. Fortunately, few of us are attuned to noticing the subtle signals that indicate strong emotion in others. Or we misread the signals.
Your body is a hologram of your being; a three-dimensional movie that is constantly running, showing others how you feel about yourself and the world. As you walk through life, is your body saying what your words are saying? Your body is a three-dimensional "full-motion" billboard to the rest of the world. Even if people are consciously reading your body language, they subconsciously react to your body signals.
Tour Your Body for Vital Signs
For example, if you are literally uptight – rigid in any part of your body, especially your face, where most people focus most of their attention in conversation – people will instinctively resist or react against you and your comments. This phenomenon is akin to bounding a hard rubber ball on a concrete surface and then on a soft carpet. The ball bounces higher and faster against the hard surface than the soft one, of course, just as others react more against your "hardened surface."
Suggestion: Whenever you are entering a potentially volatile or even new situation, loosen up physically. Walk, stretch, and work on the areas where you tend to hold most of your tension.
Probably – like many conscientious, hard-working people – you hold your shoulders higher and slightly more forward than is natural, with one of the tendons in your neck tightened up even more than the other. If someone can give you a quick 10- to 15-minute shoulder and neck massage, you will enter a situation more relaxed and others will respond more softly to you.
This is a good time to get acquainted with your body again, as you were as a child. If you don't know where you hold your tension, and most people don't, take a tour of your body so you can know what needs the most loosening – and exercise.
Are you shouldering the world's responsibilities, or perpetually drooping? In your determined drive toward success, do you plant your feet solidly on the ground in a life gesture of hostility, defiance, or taking ground?
Perhaps you have a forward-leaning posture, with your head tilted slightly forward, as if ready to spring into action, actually expressing a lifelong pattern of flight away from psychologically threatening situations when you thought it was part of your makeup to leap forward to new opportunities.
To be depressed is, in fact, to press against yourself. To be closed off is to hold your muscles rigid against the world.
Being open is being soft, with no instinctive muscle-clenching, such as the jaw-tightening that is a growing pattern in Americans, even into their sleep. Hardness is being uptight, cold, separate, giving yourself and others a hard time. Softness is synonymous with pleasure, warmth, flowing, being alive, drawing other people toward you rather than forcing them away.
Are you itching to get at someone? Is a colleague a pain in the neck? Are you sore about something? What is your aching back trying to tell you? Is there someone or something on your back? What about your ulcer, allergy, or muscle spasms? Is there someone you cannot stomach? What is it that you would like to get off your chest, or your back?
Your body speaks to you all of the time, telling you your own needs. Listen to it. It is your free and most sophisticated medical feedback testing system, continuously showing you your inner tensions, state of mind, and habitual life attitudes.
When you are misaligned and tense, you expend outrageous sums of extra energy in the everyday gestures of life. Because the body is a high-viscosity substance that is 60–80% water, your bones are floating in a relatively fluid environment. Over time, despite that apparent fluidity, you have tightened the muscles around every major experience of pain, fear, or anger.
In Western society, we usually hold the tension somewhere in our upper bodies, whereas in many Eastern cultures, the tension tends to be held in the lower body.
We all hold great muscle tension around certain bones in blind remembrance of fearful events, long after the actual events are probably long forgotten. You continue to tighten these muscles each time you think you are experiencing similar situations, thus guaranteeing that you make your pattern of uptightness increasingly habitual, until it becomes an almost permanent condition you no longer recognize as not normal.
Ah, the misleading appearance of maturity. You might never recall what initially made you afraid, but you can note where your body reacted to protect itself. Then spend more time in your exercise and massage or other bodywork to relax and loosen those muscle groups.
We go through life making decisions, closing down and limiting ourselves unconsciously. If you don't begin a regular practice of exercise and stretching, you are guaranteed to lose mobility sooner as you age, robbing yourself of the most positive and alive present you can offer the world every day – a loose and relaxed presence.
Stay open literally by getting in motion more frequently. Stand and stretch at least every twenty minutes when you are sitting and working. Try to walk, hopefully in sync with someone else, in fresh air and sunlight, at least thirty minutes a day. As Dr. Dean Ornish wrote in Love and Survival: The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy, our survival depends on the healing power of love.
One of the safest and most natural ways to move closer to others is to walk with them. Walk farther to the restaurant. Walk and talk on the way to the meeting. Walk with your loved one, rather than sitting at home, to come down from your day together. Motion is emotional and makes every event more vivid and memorable. Literally move toward the one you want in your life and loosen up together.