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Tom Salinsky talks about physical choices and the signals they give to others


uch of the world’s drama is about who is dominant, who is submissive and how

happy each party is with the status quo. But in life, although we might sometimes have some sense of how other people come across, it’s hard to get an accurate read on how our own behaviour is being interpreted. Some actors use the term ‘status’

to describe how powerful, confident or in control somebody seems. Tey often use it in place of ‘body language’. However, the phrase ‘body language’, and some of its proponents, suggests that it is possible to accurately divine intention from behaviour. “Do you see the way they are folding

their arms? Tat’s because they are feeling defensive.” Maybe. I do think it’s possible that people who feel defensive

might fold their arms, but people might also fold their arms because it’s comfortable, or habitual, or because they are cold. Tis kind of mind- reading is far too unreliable for me. On the other hand if, over two hours of tense negotiations, you never unfold your arms, the person on the other side of the table is not likely to perceive you as being eager to build bridges with them. How you present yourself, the

story which you tell with your physicality, is something we can rely on. If we couldn’t, then drama would be impossible because the actor’s physical choices would send different people vastly different signals and we would all be watching a different play. In ordinary life, these behaviours just take care of themselves, and we

Defensive, or just in need of a cardi?

How you present yourself, the story which you tell with your physicality, is something we can rely on

unthinkingly figure out how much space social convention requires us to take. People who get this wrong stand out instantly and seem weird. If you get on to a train and

there’s no one else on board yet, you can sit where you like. Tere are no status rules for you to follow because there are no other people present. But when a second person gets

on, there’s a very important rule they have to follow. Tey have to sit as far away from you as they reasonably can. Ten any third person who gets on sits equidistant from the two of you and so the carriage fills up in this very even fashion. If you are sitting on a train on your

own, and a stranger gets on and, with the whole of the rest of the carriage to choose from, they decide to sit next to you – that’s not normal! You might even be in fear of your life at this point. Based on choice of seat! And your psychological alarm bells

are ringing for a reason. After I talked about this at a conference recently, a man came up to me and said that this had happened to him on a coach. Ten he said, “Do you know what happened next? He pulled out a knife and asked for my wallet.”

Tom Salinsky is an actor, improviser, writer, teacher and trainer. He is also a director of the Spontaneity Shop @tomsalinsky

42 | September 2016 | @TrainingJournal

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