In second grade, I learned to spell “Miscellaneous” and suddenly noticed everyone around me using that word. Something similar has happened since I joined Toastmasters and started reading a book called The Definitive Book of Body Language. Suddenly I began noticing the gaucheries and the “oh gosh that’s me”s when I watched slouching, giggly or chin-raising guests on talk shows. Chin-raising: I do it because I’m short and used to looking up at people, but I look silly when I see me on film. Talking with your chin up is often a subconscious sign that you want the floor and are afraid you won’t get heard. Relax, give people a chance to finish their thoughts. Keep those shoulders back and that chin floating in a dignified parallel to the floor.
Studying body language has helped me feel less self-conscious. Now when I meet people, I can more easily tell if the awkwardness I’m feeling is just their nerves and not about me. If I’m talking to a stranger who’s using her glass as a fence or folding one arm across her body to clutch the other, she’s just feeling out of place. This has also made me aware of my own put-offy behavior, and now I devote effort to standing still. The way I hop and fidget is cute if you love me but can be nerve-wracking if you’re meeting me for the first time. I do the hop verbally, as well, racing from one half-finished thought to another and jumping three steps ahead when you’re only halfway through a sentence. Stillness and silence are new tools in my box.
They’re powerful tools. When you watch a Chihuahua racing the fence and yapping as a Rottweiler walks by, which one impresses you? A person who is still and centered acts as a kind of energy foam, absorbing but not reflecting the nerves of another. This is not standard, but it is a strength. In a subconscious attempt to find common ground, we automatically mirror the behavior of those around us. If it’s too uncomfortable, we close ourselves off and walk away. Mirroring can connect people, but it backfires when nerves, self-consciousness or fear is causing a behavior glitch. If you feel awkward while talking to someone, take your eyes off yourself and look at them. Is your conversational partner nervous, feeling out of place or out of sorts? Find your stillness and give a smile that says, “I accept you.”
Believe it or not, I have trouble getting conversations started sometimes. Thankfully, God places skill-builders in our lives, and I have a couple of friends who are great at talking to total strangers. They’ve helped me grow tremendously. I’d love to hear your tips for First Conversations–leave a comment below.
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10 NIV
Lord, thanks for reminding us that it’s not always about us—what a relief! Open our eyes this week to the signs that others are dealing with their own insecurities or issues and just need our patience and acceptance. Help us to be conduits for Your grace in their lives, even if we have only a walk-on role.