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How Gestures Connect or Repel

For many years my parents took what some Brits call an evening “constitutional.”  They walked, hand in hand, around the neighborhood – just the two of them. Sometimes, they talked. Other evenings they said little, so I am told. Yet they always came home smiling.

Since then I’ve discovered that motion evokes emotion, for good and for bad. Walking helped my parents re-connect at the end of each day.

Act how You Want to Feel and How You Want Other To Feel About You

How you turn, walk and gesture affects your emotions and other around you – and how they feel about you. We are startled, for example, then wary when we see a quick, unexpected movement especially when caught out of the corner of the eye. Conversely we are more deeply drawn to a singer who sweeps her arms above her head as she belts out that exultant line in her song.

Sometimes we even mimic an entertainer’s gestures. Whatever emotion they act out on stage, we feel and sometimes act out. That’s our mirror neurons at work, catching the emotions in the people around us just like we catch a cold.

Motion Intensify Our Emotions

The extra magic is that motions – yours and others – make emotions catch faster and more intensely.  When you smile I instinctively smile back – even if you are on TV and I am sitting on the couch – and we both feel better.

Now there are fresh insights into how gestures attract or repel others. Winning Body Language author, Mark Bowden studied the work of two remarkable men. One was a mime, physiotherapist and acting guru, Jacques Lecoq.

The other was an Iraeli spy, nuclear physicist and Judo expert Moshé Feldenkrais whose insights into how our movements affect our thoughts and emotions was revelatory for me.

Gesture to Get Along

1. To appear honest, factual and sincere hold your hands at the height of your navel. That’s what Bowden dubs the TruthPlane.

2. To avoid appear disinteresting and depressing do not gesture below your waist. That’s the GrotesquePlane.

3. To convey excitement or that you are offering a big idea, bring your gestures up to chest level. That’s the PassionPlane.

Connect With Your Gestures and Your Voice

Here’s a way to remember what to practice to look comfortable with yourself and to connect with others:

1. Lower

2. Slower

3. Less

These three tips refer to the level of your gestures and their speed and amount of motion. Alternatively, for example, quick, jabbing finger gestures pushes us away as you can see in this video.

Think of your voice in the same way. Lower your voice; do not race through your sentences and say less to invite other into the conversation.

Get in Body Sync With Others to Get Along Better

Whether you are around loved ones, strangers or colleagues, to connect better literally get in body sync with them. That means your heart rate, skin temperature and other vital signs become more alike.  The more alike “we” are the more we like each other. From five researchers I follow here are some ways to get in body sync:

Get in motion together, the more similar the motion, the more likely it will be that you like each other.

• For example, eating across the table from each other, while you wouldn’t want to replicate another’s exact movements you will instinctively become more alike in the speed and amount of movement of your body and your hands as you eat.

• Always take the opportunity to shake hands. You are in exact sync with each other.

• When you walk together you are more likely to match each other’s pace and arm movement and thus strongly mirror each other.  At a client company I suggested that teams walk together across the open quad to the other building where they would meet, and talk about the agenda along the way.

They noticed that they often accomplished more when walking to and from the meeting than while sitting still around the conference table. Sometimes, now team leaders call for Walking Meetings in which they “meet” by walking, grouped together, on the sidewalk around the quad.  I enjoy walkabouts with friends up and down the steps here in Sausalito and along the water front.  Sometimes this is the way I meet with clients.

By the way I disagree with the first phrase in the sub-title of Bowden’s book yet found many helpful parts: Control the Conversation, Command Attention, and Convey the Right Message Without Saying a Word.

Categories: behavior, Book, Connecting and tagged , , , , .
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One Comment

  1. Posted July 17, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    This is great Kare. I’m amazed how wide your network is and your ability to pull a post together from many sources. I just read Mirroring People, and the ideas in that book totally resonate with a lot of the other points you highlite – e.g., around getting in motion together. I liked the analysis of the Toronto mayoral candidates hand gestures during a pre-election debate (in jabbing fingers gestures video), and I guess its no coincidence that Miller won the race!


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