I flew back to the west coast recently after working with two awesome women in DC. I had a connection in Salt Lake City and I was envisioning sitting next to an amazing woman who would be really interesting on each leg of the trip. But that wasn’t quite how it panned out.
I am always really curious and interested in the power of body language and how we use our physical body to invite connection or keep it at bay. When I sat down on my second leg of the trip, my 19-year-old seatmate quickly informed me that he was flying home to California from an unplanned 90-day drug rehab in Montana. His parents had admitted him and he said they saved his life. He was clearly anxious and was speaking quickly. He was clearly uncertain and very excited to get back to the familiar.
As he started talking, I could physically sense the people all around us tensing their bodies. They pulled out their papers, books or headphones in a clear and obvious attempt to create distance. His body language was saying, “Help, I want to feel safe here and I need all of your help to do that” … except everyone around him was shutting down.
Our bodies make great defense systems when we tense up. We send unseen messages to others that they are not welcome or that they shouldn’t enter our space. It gives us a perceived safety from the emotional world around us. Mostly I sense that we fear overwhelm. What if we let someone into our space and they seem unpredictable and we don’t know how to manage their demands on us emotionally? So we quickly shut people out that we don’t have the skills to handle.
The problem here is not only that we don’t allow ourselves to connect with others – it also drains our energy to resist and create tension against them.
Using your body to interact with others effectively and knowing literally what to say to maintain control of your energy, gives you power and ease. You CAN connect to others without it feeling unpredictable or overwhelming.
When I observed the people around us shutting him out, I felt compassion for him. I could sense that he was scared and there was a lot happening in his life – a quiet plane ride was torture for him. I did have the skills to manage his demands without draining my energy. So I softened, felt ease in my body and my mind. I chose body language that allowed him to feel safe and accepted while not inviting in too much conversation or drain. Talking doesn’t mean connection. I answered his questions, I read, I gave him a pen to draw with to decrease his anxiety.
I used my body language to create fluid boundaries not walls. I left with lots of energy. I felt kindness and love for myself, and this stranger that I let into my space. I felt connected though we only spoke 100 words.
When we can hold this space for people, we become highly attractive and we have energy to spare. We attract great people to our lives, clients, team members, friends … particularly other people who can also hold space for us to feel connected.
What would your work and life look like if you were at ease and knew exactly how to communicate and connect with the right people?