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Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Taking a Stand
When an ice storm hits Atlanta, trees fall.
Unlike many large metropolitan areas, Atlanta is filled with tall pines, old oaks, and streets lined with dogwoods. An ice storm takes a heavy toll on the trees in every part of the city.
In our last ice storm several years ago, a tall pine near the entrance to my neighborhood cracked about three feet from the ground. As it fell, the top of the tree caught on a small branch from an adjacent tree, leaving the pine leaning precariously toward the street at a forty-five degree angle.
I watched the tree, a huge gaping crack in its trunk, held up by a tiny branch, for three years, waiting for it to fall into the street. I had so little belief in the tree’s ability to stay balanced on that branch that I drove in and out of my neighborhood by a different way.
In spite of the appearance of weakness and instability, the tree remained standing for three years. Finally this year, the neighbor on whose property the tree had grown cut the tree down.
I was greatly relieved.
Although the tree was an obvious presence, I had little confidence in its capacity to maintain its angled stance. I did not trust its ability to hold its own. I avoided it.
When people make assertive statements, but present a weak or off-balanced appearance, the listener is likely to disregard the power of the statement. Just like the tottering pine, a person who is not standing on his/her two feet will look less effective and less able to maintain his/her position.
You’ve seen public speakers who, because they are nervous, shift back and forth from one foot to the other. Their movements are distracting and disconcerting. Sometimes I find I am watching the motion rather than listening to the speech.
“Don’t fidget,” Richard Gere admonishes Julia Roberts in the movie Pretty Woman. While he is trying to make her look like a lady, he also is trying to help her maintain a positive presence.
Try to become a keen observer of yourself. Do you fidget? Are there habits such as playing with your hair or swaying back and forth that you use during stressful communication? Do you betray your fear of speaking up through your nonverbal indicators?
Nonverbal assertiveness is a powerful tool. The words that you say are empowered or diminished by how you handle yourself physically.
When you are speaking, plant yourself firmly on both feet. If you are seated, uncross your legs and put both feet flat on the ground. Not only will you look more solid in your stance, but also your words will seem more powerful both to you and the listener.