This is the first time I have seen this phenomenon so clearly during a conversation at a conference break. It was just the three of us, two businesswomen and I. One of them was looking around, biting her lips and rubbing her hands. She asked a question, grunted, then answered briefly. Her back was hunched, her shoulders curled. Everything about this person told me that she was nervous, insecure, self-conscious, tired, or felt uncomfortable in this situation. Looking at her, I felt enormous discomfort myself.
Whereas the other one stood upright, smiled and looked me straight in the eye with interest. Her hands moved gently , gesturing in accordance with the intonation of the spoken words. She attracted attention. Peace and confidence could be seen in her. It made you want to talk to her, to be around her.
The body does not lie
I remember it perfectly, even though it was 12 years ago. I have never before noticed such a big difference in behaviour, in body language and messages sent to the world as I did during this short conversation. I have learnt from this myself and from those I teach: the body is a powerful tool for communication. It shows how we feel and what mood we are in. It reflects our temper and our intentions. It shows our attitude towards people. Simply put, body language is the most natural expression of emotion. It is a language that does not lie.
On the other hand, body language is the easiest way to reach people, win them over, encourage them to listen to us, focus their attention on us. To make them feel good while being with us. And to build authority.
Understanding this is like an epiphany. I often see this on the faces of women when they realise that knowledge, skills and competence are not enough. You still have to be able to share all this with the world through good preparation, proper attitude and body language. No, it is not about learning how to wave your hands – as people reluctant towards body language say, or about making a few gestures and pretending to be someone we are not. Look, facial expressions, posture, gestures – all non-verbal communication must be consistent and confirm the words we are saying. This can be achieved by learning a different way of thinking about yourself, your body, your voice and your abilities. It is about the conscious use of this powerful tool.
“This is who I am, and I am not going to change?”
How do you do that? The first step is realising how much we can do and breaking up with the stereotypical female “it's not for me.”
For centuries, charisma has been recognised as a gift from God, an attribute with which we are born. Unavailable, mysterious, dangerous. It is associated with great leaders (often cruel and wicked) and orators that captivate the crowds. For many, it signifies domination, undivided governance, obedience in subordinates, authoritarian decision-making, arousing admiration and fear, resulting in surrender and total acceptance. In my opinion, enforcing obedience with anger, fear or manipulation has little to do with charisma.
Charisma is, by definition, a specific attribute of personality, to which the person in possession exudes unquestionable authority among people and influence over them. Personality is a constant set of mental characteristics and internal factors (including the structure and functioning of the nervous system, hormones) that influence human behaviour. It is therefore a way of thinking, behaving and feeling. The basis of personality formation is temperament, on which emotionality, activity, and sociality depend.
Researchers estimate that in 20-50 % (35 % on average) genes are responsible for our personality, attitude towards the world, ability to understand how others are feeling. Therefore, external factors are responsible for more than half of our personality: environment, upbringing, patterns, home, loved ones, peers. And our actions. It means that the words “I was born this way, this is who I am, and I am not going to change” are not true. You can and it is worth working on yourself! You can learn to influence people, guide them, become an authority figure, role model and motivate them to act – even when you are a calm introvert.
Charismatic people have that something in them, that magnetism. They talk and behave in such a way that we gladly look at them, we gladly listen to them, and when they ask for something, we gladly help them. These are people with whom others feel comfortable. Infecting with their good energy and positive thinking. Fearless of challenges. Influencing the actions and choices of others. Making others want to follow them because they admire them, and not because they are forced to do so or because it is worth it for them. These are people who can motivate and appreciate the efforts of others. They get along well, they talk nicely, they express themselves straightforwardly and stay on topic. They are open to people and ideas. They know what they can do, and they are confident about their skills.
Olivia Fox Cabane, an American author, lecturer, businesswoman and lawyer of French ancestry who studies charisma and refutes the myths surrounding it, talks about combining three factors: strength (power or authority), cordiality (personal warmth or humanity) and presence (attention; being right here right now).
You can learn all that. And you can learn how to show it to the world. No, not by playing a part, not by pretending, just really by finding your strengths, building your self-esteem on them, finding some courage within yourself, becoming an authority to yourself.
This, of course, requires self-discipline. Asking questions, watching closely, exercising.
“I cannot do this”?
The key is to understand how much depends on our thoughts. Let this be our second step: a positive attitude. Mental preparation for challenges, meetings and conversations can work wonders. Just like working consistently to control our thoughts. After all, thoughts are the only thing on which we can actually have an impact!
So quit self-flagellating, do not look for negative sides, do not think about mistakes you may have made, do not dwell on potential failures. Disarm the voice of internal criticism. Stop with negative, self-serving prophecy – an excuse for failure before take-off, i.e. repeating: “I cannot do this”. If you think about what is waiting for you as torture, your whole body and mind will rebel. You will not be able to focus and it will be hard for you to get to work. But if you see the positive aspects, it will be completely different.
The more you go outside your comfort zone, the better – you will gain experience. And the more experience, the less stress.
Relaxation techniques, attentiveness training and mindfulness meditation, which involves focusing attention on what is here and now, help with controlling stress, anxiety, racing thoughts, and introducing a good attitude. The easiest way? Close your eyes and feel your own body, listen to your breath. Do not think about what has happened or what will happen. Draw in energy from your breathing, feel every part of your body from the top of your head to the tip of your big toe. And every day, focus on that activity you are doing. When you talk to people, try to actually listen to them.
Another method that works wonders is visualisation. This is evidenced by countless examples of athletes, including Polish ones, such as ski jumpers. Imagining the moment that we achieve our goal, how we behave, how we talk, how we react, is not a magic trick. It is using our knowledge of how the brain works. It does not distinguish between a real situation and a training one, experiencing from imagining emotions. Therefore, it is worth visualising what we want to achieve – courage, confidence and achieving a goal. For example, at a meeting with your boss, you will be discussing proposed changes in the functioning of the company. You have different ideas. To present them, you will need to break through with your opinion. Prepare your arguments well and then imagine how you will present them. How you will behave, what you will say, how you will answer questions, and respond to criticism. Review, revise, and visualise again. And then do it one more time. Until you achieve what you want in your imagination. And then go to the meeting and do it like you did in the visualisation. It really works!
“A woman must be modest”?
Your body and its activation will help you build confidence and reduce stress. This is our third step towards freedom, courage and confidence.
Women often unconsciously send their bodies signals of helplessness, submission and fear, because stereotypically and culturally they have an “in-built” modesty within them. While men show the world dominance, powerand willingness to control, because in the process of socialisation and education they are encouraged to do so. So, women shrink within themselves, lower their shoulders. Hugging themselves, they cross their arms and clasp their hands together. When sitting, they draw their knees up and hunch their backs. Men, on the other hand, occupy the available space, sit with their legs fully apart, spread their arms on the back of the couch or, when standing, lean against the desk with their hands wide apart. Leaning forward, they spread out in the armchair with their hands behind their necks with the fingers interlocking, sometimes putting their feet on the desk.
Have you noticed that the more often men dominate, the more confident they feel, and the more often women give in, the less confident they feel? This phenomenon was studied by Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard. She gathered her conclusions in the book “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges” The people examined by Amy Cuddy – men and women – assumed both a position of fear and helplessness (they sat down, collapsing in on themselves) and dominance and power (they spread out in a chair, placing their feet on a desk, interlocking their fingers with their hand behind their heads, standing with their hands on their hips or leaning powerfully against a desk) for two minutes each. After each pose, they were measured for testosterone, which is responsible for their confidence, and for cortisol, the stress hormone. It turned out that in a position of fear and helplessness, cortisol secretion increases, and in a position of dominance and power, testosterone levels increase. What does this mean? The way you behave has a profound effect on your body's reactions and your thoughts. With attitude and gestures, you can adjust your brain to feel strength, courage, get into a good mood for a task ahead, and thus reduce stress.
So it is not only worth, thinking positively, strengthening your self-esteem, but also, acting decisively which strengthens your psyche. These are connected units.
What do you do?
I suggest: In professional settings to abandon once and for all public signals of fear and insecurity or attempts to defend or reassert yourself. Do not shuffle your feet, do not rock backwards and forwards. Do not sit on the edge of the seat. Do not build barriers, fold or cross your arms. Do not rub your hands, play with your ring, curl up inside yourself, make faces, keep your head or your eyes down, speak in a quiet or muffled voice.
Instead: fill the space, stand in the middle of the room or choose a front-row seat. Take up the whole of your seat. Even if you walk in late for a meeting, do not apologise, do not hide in the corners, just make your way to the front. Straighten your back and arms, keep your neck straight. Raise your hand high when you want to speak. Get up when you talk. Speak loudly and clearly. Look people in the eye. Gesture and show that your hands are open. This is how you will show confidence, courage, openness, attention, honesty, interest, and display your credibility, energy and passion.
And very importantly – dress comfortably so that you feel energetic. There is nothing worse than shoes that are too tight or parts of clothes sticking into your body. Focus on what you are going to say, how you are going to behave and not on the suffering from pain or discomfort.
All of this will change the way you are perceived by others. Your self-confidence, visible thanks to your body language, will make you consider yourself professional, competent, feisty and ambitious. Charismatic, even. But it will also change your attitude towards yourself. You will change! You will gain confidence, your self-confidence will increase. Because it just works both ways!
You do not believe me? Do one of my favourite exercises. Stand up. Stand firmly, surely on both feet, with your hips wide apart. Straighten your back. Tighten your buttocks. Lift up your chin slightly. Put your hands on your hips. Look straight ahead. Just stand like that for a moment, two, three minutes.
This is the attitude of Wonder Woman, a woman of superhuman strength, endurance, condition, speed and intellect. It was her who – first in a comic book and then in a film – showed that a woman can save the world using her inner power and intellect. Therefore, if you have a tendency to back down,avoidance issues, or social anxiety then introduce this exercise permanently to your morning activities. The more often you present confident body language, the greater the chance that you will develop it within yourself.
Get to know yourself and be yourself
I practice it myself every day. When I feel that everything is falling apart, when I have no energy, no ideas and doubts begin to overwhelm me, I get up to move. I straighten my back, throw my arms up to feel like the world belongs to me. A few jumps on the spot are great to stimulate my circulation. When I cannot focus, I start arranging clothes in the closet or stacking dishes on the shelves or I go for a walk with my dog.
I recently discovered that I am a kinesthetician. A person who likes to be on the move, has to check everything, feel everything, touch everything. That is why suddenly getting up during a conversation, when an idea comes to my head, has ceased to surprise me. So has walking while thinking. The hardest part for me is being alone with my computer. I am at my best, my most creative in conversation, when discussing something, in action.. It is then that my body stimulates my mind.
More and more often there is talk of learning by involving not only the mind, but also the body and the senses, so-called somatic learning or embodied learning. Thisincludes kinesthetic, sensory, affective, and spiritual learning. Do children remember their multiplication tables better by throwing a ball at each other, jumping or sitting in their seats? When I was studying, I used to hit a ball with a ping-pong racket. Are business managers convinced by theory or by well chosen real-life examples that show emotions and values? People are different. Some people remember what they hear, others remember what they see, others remember what they touch, what they feel, or what makes them emotional. The most important thing is to get to know yourself. Accept yourself. And make it your superpower.
Do not be afraid of your body ; it can only help you. To learn, to focus, to express yourself. Your freedom is expressed in your body. Use it bravely and wisely.
Think, talk and act as if you believe in yourself. In time, it will become a part of you. We are not born leaders – we become leaders.
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