Francis Briers continues his exploration of embodiment and its value to leadership development
As I said in my last article, Embodiment, sometimes referred to as ‘somatics,’ is a field of study dedicated to exploring and understanding the subjective experience of the body.
The prevailing tendency in modern culture is to treat the body objectively – as an object: a vehicle to get your brain to meetings, a machine to be made more efficient or a thing to be made more beautiful. In this way Embodiment is deeply counter-cultural in that it asks us to embrace our body as an integrated part of ourselves.
Even the application of body language (as distinct from embodiment) tends to treat the body as an object: a tool which can be mechanically manipulated to send the message we want. Body language can be an incredibly rich method for reading people, but I often see it unskilfully applied as a way of managing communication, one which can undermine trust and certainly does not build authenticity.
Have you ever seen a politician or other senior leader speaking and you can tell they are using all of the ‘correct’ body language, they have clearly been schooled well, but you still do not really believe what they are saying? Using body language techniques we may be able to mask the surface signals which many people will read at first glance, but the deeper embodied congruence, the subtle patterns of thought and feeling which have become hard-wired into our musculature will still be noticeable to the more sensitive or observant members of any given audience.
I meet many people who are employing or seeking to employ body language training, not to manipulate a message but to get help with their genuine struggles with communication. These struggles with communication are often not really about the surface expression though, that is the visible expression but the cause is usually deeper.
If authenticity is about becoming more fully ourselves rather than wearing the ‘masks’ we think people want us to wear then the deeper cause I speak of here is about essentially the same thing.
What we need is not ‘correct’ body language but to be able to feel more ‘at home in our own skin.’ This is a common phrase but I think it has more relevance than it is generally given.
You may have seen in others or you may feel yourself like you are not ‘at home in your own skin.’ I suspect even those of us who inhabit our bodies fairly comfortably have days like this but for many people it’s not just sometimes, it’s all the time.
This is unsurprising considering the degree to which, as I’ve described, we live in a disembodied world, where body is an object if it is thought about at all. While the personal challenge that this feeling of not being ‘at home in your own skin’ might be obvious, what about the professional impact? I think that when we see a leader we perceive as really authentic, what we are seeing is someone who is ‘at home’ with themselves.
That does not mean they are physically perfect or athletically gifted, this is about how they inhabit themselves – this is about embodiment. There are other factors that affect our assessment of someone’s authenticity of course – whether or not someone is being honest for starters! If someone is obviously lying to us, or supporting something they don’t believe in then we can often tell that is the case: we read it in their body language, it leaks out often in spite of their best efforts.
Paul Linden has done fascinating research in embodiment and can demonstrate that when we lie, most of us get physically weaker. Our bodies cease to operate as an integrated whole which undermines our ability to take a strong stance. You could say that we begin to dis-integrate.
Authenticity has long been recognised as an important quality but all too often remains numinous and intangible. “Leaders need to be more authentic!” comes the cry, and understandably so because if we see someone as authentic, we are much more likely to trust them enough to follow their lead.
What is lacking is how. Embodiment gives us the ‘How’. If you want to be seen as more authentic, more trustworthy, then I’d start by being honest! However, many people who are honest still lack authenticity and I think that is because of this sense of internal discomfort, the not feeling ‘at home in your own skin.’ We see the awkwardness or lack of awareness and presence in how they hold themselves and we interpret it as a lack of integrity.
This is so often what the communication issues I mentioned earlier are really about – presence, awareness and ease. These things can’t be papered over by making a bit more eye contact and remembering not to cross your arms. With embodiment training or coaching you can learn to more fully and comfortably inhabit your body. You’ll feel better, and other people will feel better around you.
We are subtly mimicking each other all the time. We have special cells in the brain called ‘mirror neurons’ which scan those around us and create some of the same patterns in our bodies.
This is part of how empathy works – we feel what someone else is feeling by this process. It’s an evolved response enabling us to subtly monitor and navigate the shifting tides of our social environment. This is how, when you get more comfortable in yourself, it has an effect on those around you: when you are relaxed and at ease, they will be too.
If you want a method to help you be more relaxed, integrated, and at ease, to help you grow authenticity and engender trust, then I describe a simple technique which is a good starting point in my previous article: Embodied Leadership – Foundation of Integrity and Responsibility.
If you would like to know more about embodiment and embodied leadership, please do get in touch.
Francis Briers is a senior consultant at DPA Consulting and he can be contacted at Francis.Briers@dpa.consulting.