Communication skills exercises, part II: Body language

July 28, 2011 by Joshua
in Blog, Education, Freedom, Tips

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I love starting seminars with this exercise. It’s simple and interactive. It gets people’s blood flowing and meeting their neighbors. It works best in a group, but you can apply it on your own.

The principles

The principle is that your body language — your position, motion, posture, etc — influences your emotions and those of people around you. Likewise theirs influence yours. Since your emotions motivate you, changing your body language change what you and people in your environment do. Awareness of body language increases your ability to influence yourself and others.

While most people can’t change their emotions directly, anyone can change their body language directly. Therefore this exercise enables you to influence your emotions (and those of people around you) indirectly. If you feel low, this can help.

The exercise

The group performs each step before knowing the next steps.

  1. Stand and create sullen body language: shoulders, chest, spine, chin, voice…
  2. Introduce yourself to your neighbor.
  3. Next, create outgoing, gregarious body language.
  4. Introduce yourself to your neighbor again.

When I announce step one I ask how the emotion affects each element of body language:

Josh: “Should your shoulders be forward or relaxed and back?”
Group: “Forward”
Josh: “Should your spine be tall or slouched?”
Group: “Slouched”
Josh: “Should your chin be up or down?”
Group: “Down”
Josh: “Should your chest be out or in”
Group: “In”
Josh: “Should your voice be quiet or project?”
Group: “Quiet”

At this point there is a room full of people standing sullen. I have everyone introduce themselves to their neighbors and everyone sheepishly introduces themselves. Since they don’t know step 3, they are confused at this point, but the confusion turns to that much greater enthusiasm as the point of step 3 dawns on them.

Step 3 is like step 1, but everyone replies they should stand tall, relaxed, chin up, voice projecting, and so on.

Josh: “Should your shoulders be forward or relaxed and back?”
Group: “Relaxed”
Josh: “Should your spine be tall or slouched?”
Group: “Tall”
Josh: “Should your chin be up or down?”
Group: “Up!”
Josh: “Should your chest be out or in”
Group: “Out!”
Josh: “Should your voice be quiet or project?”
Group: “Project!!”
Josh: “Now introduce yourself to your neighors”

I’m not exaggerating with the exclamation points. With everyone standing tall, relaxed, chin up, and voices booming everyone laughs, jokes, and gets to know their neighbors.

They visibly want to meet, share who they are, and listen to who the others are. Step 2 usually ends on its own. Step 4 I have to stop them or they’d keep talking forever.

Follow up

I follow up in two ways. The first is to have them reflect on the difference. I ask questions and promote discussion on

  • How did you feel about yourself, your neighbor, presenting yourself, meeting him or her?
  • Did you genuinely feel different?
  • Did you sense he or she did?

In my full seminar I return to these questions after we’ve discussed self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and how much you can increase yours as an example of how easily they can bring about emotions they want. The change is short-term, but significant, predictable, and palpable. They can sense they influenced others and that others influenced them.

The second way is to reinforce that they can use this exercise in their lives by asking and having them discuss

  • How hard is step 3 before meeting anyone? (or to create any mood you want?)

You, right here, right now

Even if you aren’t in a group or being led, you can perform and benefit from this exercise. Pick an emotion and incorporate it as fully in your body language as you can. Be aware of as much as you can — posture, pace of motion, scale of motion, speed, facial expression, breathing pacing, vocal tonality, pacing, and volume, and so on.

Now interact with someone with that body language.

Next do the same thing with a different emotion and interact with the same person or someone else.

Pay attention to how much you influence the other’s emotions.

Also, next time you want to feel a certain emotion — enthusiasm in a job interview, friendliness in a networking event, calmness during a conflict, etc — take a moment to incorporate that emotion. Actively create the social world you want.

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3 responses on “Communication skills exercises, part II: Body language

  1. Pingback: » Communication skills exercises, part I Joshua Spodek

  2. Pingback: Communication skills exercises for business and life » Joshua Spodek

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