Using body language for influence and to deal with shyness
“He was leaning towards me; his face was white with anger, he wasbreathing in short gasps, almost hissing. His fists were clenched. He began spitting words at me….."
This article is reflective of a real event, altered to protect confidentiality
Michael worked in the stressful world of corporate middle management. At the time he had a boss who was extremely difficult to deal with. The boss could be aggressive, demeaning, and unpredictable and didn’t handle problems well.
On one occasion a serious issue occurred in Michael’s department which effectively shut down the whole plant. There had been other problems not related to Michael’s department and his boss was under severe pressure. Given that his relationship with his boss was not great Michael realised that he could end up taking the hit not just for this but also for the other problems.
Getting into rapport
Called to account
Having put the appropriate remedial processes in place he went to his boss to break the bad news. However on the way he got a call from the boss’s secretary informing him that not only had the boss learned of the problem but that he was extremely angry and that Michael's presence was required immediately.
A few weeks earlier Michael had attended a course which touched in the use of body language. Although he found it interesting he never envisaged resorting to its use.
Checking for rapport
Trying it out
These are Michael’s words: “I knew I was in trouble and would be dealing with an already difficult boss who felt threatened and angry. The man would not be rational and the meeting could end badly for me.
I was struggling to find a way to handle the situation. Without thinking about it too much and in desperation I made a decision to use what I had learned about body language to try to defuse the situation. Far from confident I went into my boss’s office.
He was seated behind his desk. His face was white with anger and no doubt fear for his own future. He was leaning towards me; breathing in short gasps, almost hissing. His fists were clenched. He began spitting words at me, most of them unpleasant.
I sat down opposite him and leaned forward at the exact same angle as he was. I mimicked his facial expression and breathing. I clenched my fists and began spitting similar but non-insulting words back at him. I was mirroring for all I was worth. In the back of my mind an incredulous ‘I’m definitely fired’ kind of thing was going on.
Moving towards normality
I stuck with what I’d learned and once I felt I was on my bosses rather disturbing wavelength I tested it by gradually relaxing one of my fists. Sure enough after a few moments one of his fists began to relax also. Over the next few minutes I began to slow my breathing and deepen it, checking that he was following suit. I relaxed my posture and began to normalise my voice and speech patterns. I relaxed my face to a more normal state, always checking that he was following suit.
Through all of this I was calming my language and noting that he was now doing more listening than attacking. Eventually he was in a state whereby he was able to accept my reassurance that the solution to the problem was well underway and that all would be quickly under control. As I left the office, no more than ten minutes after entering he was smiling.”
Although Michael knew practically nothing about psychology at the time, he had just learned a very important lesson about the power of body language in the art of persuasion and influence.
Once shy (and even non shy) people have mastered the skill of mirroring, they are in a position to move on to using it to achieve a desired outcome, such as defusing a difficult situation (as above), or to persuade someone to act or behave in a particular manner.
The basic principle is to use mirroring to assist the other person into a state whereby they are more comfortable and receptive. They are then more likely to hear what you have to say and if your requirements make sense to act in accordance with them.
Mirroring - the basics
The basic technique is to mirror expression, posture, speech patterns, breathing etc. of the other person until you have established a rapport. You can check that you have achieved this by slightly changing some aspect of your own physiology such as posture. If you have established rapport the other person will follow suit with a similar (but not always identical) change. Once you have verified this you gradually alter your expression, posture, breathing etc. to a state more amenable to achieving your desired outcome, which is usually a more relaxed state. It is important to check as you do this that the other person continues to respond.
You always start with the person as they are. If they are down, negative and low, then you mirror their body language until you have rapport and then gradually vivify your body language, assisting the other person to a more “up” state.
If the person is inclined to be mistrustful, again mirroring their mannerisms, breathing and other body language will automatically cause them to feel more comfortable with you. You can then lead them to a more receptive state.
Body language can be used to take people out of their comfort zone also. A good example of this might be a coach preparing an athlete for competition.
Like all good things, body language can be abused. For instance it could be used to make a person feel uncomfortable in order to disrupt their ability to act effectively in a meeting. To get an idea of how this works try getting into rapport with a friend, and once you have him or her in a relaxed state, start to tap your finger on the table while continuing the conversation, or start to glance away from him or her at regular intervals and note the effect.
By becoming aware of body language you may be better able to resist manipulation. If for instance you are dealing with a sales person and find yourself feeling inclined towards buying something you knew beforehand that you definitely didn’t need, check if the salesperson is mirroring you. Body language isn’t the only technique used by persuasive salespersons, but its presence may indicate that you are being led.
Mastery of these techniques can be very beneficial in all kinds of ways. Because they are “invisible tools” they are ideal for shy people who can use them to gain self confidence in social situations. For shy and non-shy people alike they can be excellent tools in taking greater control in all kinds of social situations.
Body language alone will not make you a great communicator and influencer, but it can make you a better one.
I would advise getting a comfort level with these skills in less important situations before trying them out in more critical situations.
In my next article on ways shy people can be more socially comfortable I will cover easy to use skills and strategies to keep conversations going along nicely.
If you would like some help with shyness or any other issue feel free to contact me. I will be delighted to work with you.
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You can contact James Jameson on 086 2835758 / 1800924864 or firstname.lastname@example.org
James has clinics in Wicklow Town, Bray and Dun Laoghaire.
Experienced, caring and professional
Dun Laoghaire, Bray and Wicklow, email@example.com