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Mark Bowden
Mark Bowden

Talking Management

How body language can undermine your message Add to ...

MB: Oh, for sure; for sure it trumps it. The words, the linguistics, are the spaghetti sauce. The spaghetti is what is happening with the body. Look, I can give you untrustworthy gestures and say, ‘Look, you know Karl, you know that you can trust what I have been telling you here.' Now what if I give you trustworthy body language and say ‘Karl, look, you know that you can trust what I have told you here.' What if I drop my hands down by my sides and say ‘Karl, look, you know that you can trust what I have told you here.' The message is different, depending on where it is. Hands outstretched at chest height. ‘Look, you know that you can trust what I have told you here.' The meaning is tending to come from the gesture, not necessarily from the linguistics. And if you see a difference between the gesture and the linguistics, you will tend to go with what the body was saying. So when I say ‘Trust me' – gesture of hands on face, covering mouth and nose – or if I say, ‘Trust me' – with hands down, off of face – which one do you want to go with? This one has more of a level of trust. You are more likely to think that is the truthful person. Does that make sense?

KM: Absolutely. Does this go back to, you know – we have the thinking rational line, but we also have the more ancient part of our brain which was great when we were out hunting animals and things like that, but we still have that in our thinking?

MB: You cannot get rid of it. The reptilian mind, the R-complex is probably about 500 million years old: Fish have it. So if we take that evolutionary idea as being absolutely correct, we still have that going on in our head. I can put on a suit and a tie, but it does not stop me from having a reptile brain that will again trump any of this logical stuff if it gets put under pressure. If you start putting people under pressure, they are probably going to go for that reptile mind.

An example would be, and here is a great example of body language and the way that we interact with the world: If somebody is working at a desk, for example, and you come in behind them, that part of our mind knows to be wary of any shadows that come in from over the top. It comes from the days when we were reptiles and we were looking out for birds of prey. If we see a shadow, we instantly go ‘Uh oh, problem, problem, problem, this could be an attack.' So, if you come in as the leader, as the manager, but you come in from behind me and cast a shadow, I am instantly alerted that there could be a problem. I am most likely to do a lizard-pressed gesture, where I start to puff out my chest and I start to look over my shoulder. I instantly get this feeling of ‘All right, are you going to attack? What is happening here? I am bigger than you think I am.' Whatever you say now to me is just noise because I am under attack. You might as well go away for 10 minutes, come back again, approach me from the front so that I can see you coming and then you have not alerted my fight-and-flight system, which is part of this reptile brain.

KM: The flight and fight is going to get me aroused, it is going to get me stressed for a few moments, and that will pass. I can overcome it, but it is going to take me a moment or two to calm down?

MB: Ten minutes is pretty much the rule. You have got to go for 10 minutes. If we are having a conversation here and you say something that somehow sparks that aggressive system in me, I start getting aggressive and passionate up here. You start to copy me. Suddenly, Karl, you think that this is going to go nowhere because now we are arguing. What you need to do is break the conversation and say, ‘Mark, I am just going to go away for 10 minutes. I am sorry; I need to stop the conversation there. Let me come back and let's talk about this a bit later.' You come back in 10 minutes; I will probably have forgotten what this was about because I was not in control of those emotions. You said something, you did something, and something happened that sparked that reptile off. You cannot logically stop it. In fact, when you try and logically stop it and you say ‘Mark, don't be angry,' I just get angrier. You tell me ‘No, no, no, don't,' I just get more angry. You need to accept me for a start and say ‘I can see that you are getting quite angry, I am getting quite angry as well, so I am just going to go away for 10 minutes and then come back.' Ten minutes will sort it out.

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