Body Language Is Subconscious, Let It Stay That Way!

If you still haven't decided what you think/feel when seeing a politician, a clergyman, a businessman or a consultant holding their hands to form a steeple (see photo above), this short article may come in handy (pun intended).
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Whisper words of wisdom

We live in the age when too many people are becoming a little too conscious of their own body language, to put it mildly. In other words, too many of us may be a little too keen to control (or at least influence) the way we convey meanings and messages to others nonverbally. As irony would have it, in the process, we often risk compromising the single most valuable aspect of non-verbal expression, i.e. authenticity, inevitably replacing it with a universal set of behavioural (on-stage) patterns. Of these, a hand steeple remains perhaps the single most potent symbol.

A long list of reasons can be invoked to explain the above, starting from easy access to potential role models (actors, politicians, celebrities and other categories of stars, including those representing somewhat dubious constellations), all the way to overdosing on countless coaching/training programmes available for politicians, corporate executives or anyone else determined enough to spend money on 'improving' their non-verbal finesse. Don't even get me started on motivational speakers ;)

A steeple will make you look smart and authoritative!

Really??? Do you honestly believe that the single most overused (if not plainly abused!) body gesture of all is all that trustworthy? From the perspective of someone who has watched and studied body language and non-verbal communication for longer than I can remember, I will tell you this: after countless conferences, event audits, training sessions (as both trainer and trainee), whenever I see someone on the stage or in front of the camera holding their hands to form a steeple, distrust sets in almost automatically. It almost feels as if the person concerned was screaming to everyone watching: Hey, look at me, I'm a smart a...e, I've been through some fancy training/coaching programmes and I know how to look impressive!

How to recognise effective body language training?

From my limited experience, the simple answer to this apparently complex question boils down to three points of advice:

  1. Be demanding, always listen to your heart and start from the 'first impression', if only to see if whatever someone is trying to 'impose on you' (through training outcomes) still feels natural and authentic.
  2. The most powerful training programmes are, always and without exception, tailored to your individual needs (overblown self-assessment and all kinds of hidden insecurities included). While you may learn quite a bit from group sessions or on-line training materials, the kind of intimacy (aka bluntness) that is required to achieve long-term results (and, more importantly, develop the right habits!) can only be achieved in a one-to-one training session.
  3. Look for ways to explore your (authentic, not pretend!) inner modesty and humility rather training programmes whose goal is to make you wave your arms more, hold your hands in a particular fashion or gesture in ways that are intended to achieve results which will likely guarantee one thing only...increase the risk of your eventually becoming the Frankenstein of body language at best, psychologically confused and troubled, at worst.

By contrast, the most effective body language training should teach you two things and two things only: (a) to watch and understand yourself (and your body language) a little better, (b) to watch and understand others (and other people's body language) a little better.

Body language and non-verbal communication have always been more than a passion for me. A trusted friend in a potentially confusing world of superficialities would probably be a better description. Over a very long time, it has also remained the single most reliable source of information about personalities, characters, relations, motivations, ambitions, egos...and so much more.

If there's one thing I would like you to remember after reading this short article, it's probably this: body language training should never be designed to stifle your sense of authenticity, let alone try and impose a universal corset of (someone else's) gestures on you.


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