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Day 18. Evolving Your Non-Verbal Communication

To effectively know and communicate your boundaries, you need to be mindful of your body language. This means listening to your body by paying attention not just to what is in your head but how that’s showing itself in your body language, the conscious and unconscious movements and postures that communicate your feelings and attitude.

Adjusting your body in situations where you need to assert and represent yourself and where you ultimately want to come across as confident even if you’re quaking inside, will not only make a significant difference to how you come across but also in how grounded you feel.

The tips I share here are about helping you communicate your boundaries with love, care, trust and respect, but also help you to build up your confidence by being boundaried with you. Learning to listen to your body will help you to soothe it in situations where you have typically felt overwhelmed and to also respond to you when you experience a surge in negative chatter in your head.

The more boundaried you are, the more you can feel confident in and trust you and your body. You stop showing the opposite of what you’re saying or undermining you.

Redirect your thoughts away from superiority and inferiority. If you don’t, you’re going to go in all guns blazing and trying to use boundaries to rule others, or you’re going to be primed for doom and in a zone of being a victim without options. Try saying, “I am safe, I am secure” on repeat when these thoughts pile in.

Be the lion/lioness. No, I don’t mean roar— own your body and your space rather than mentally and physically cowering. If you’re cowering, assess the threat level. If you’re in actual danger, then opting out of the situation is more appropriate than discussion. If you’re nervous of the person because you see them as more powerful, not because of danger, then it’s time to remind you that they’re not the boss of you so that your body language doesn’t create the impression that they are an authority over your boundaries.

Note – Shaking before we have to say something to that certain someone is highly indicative, not of them being an authority or you being wrong but of them having repeatedly crossed your boundaries. Shaking does not mean halt; shaking is a strong body response letting you know the toll that not being boundaried is taking on you.

Breathe. Many of us don’t realise how much we hold our breath, especially in stressful situations. If you don’t regulate your breathing, your posture will be tense, and it’s likely to affect tone. Counting up to ten and back down until you’re in a calmer state of mind and breathing more naturally before broaching a subject is helpful. It also helps if you can feel yourself getting annoyed and need to give you time to dial it down before responding. I like to do yoga breaths (in through the nose, out through the mouth) – if you put your hand on your chest and then try to breathe in and out with your tummy (so that the hand doesn’t move), it’s very calming. This is a quick way to get centred as you can focus on your breaths, not your thoughts.

Eyes! Part of what conveys confidence, intent, credibility or trustworthiness, is being able to look people in the eye. With someone who lacks boundaries, especially if they’ve been taking advantage, you not making eye contact will convey that you’re embarrassed, afraid or not believing in what you have to say. They won’t take you at your first no and may even feel validated that their needs, expectations, wishes, feelings, and opinions are more important. You don’t need to hold eye contact continuously or stare them down as if you’re going to bore a hole into their face or take over their controls, but don’t keep looking down as that’s a confusing signal if you were speaking that may indicate that you’re ending your side of the conversation. When you’re listening, a psychologist friend of mine suggested looking at one eye, then the other, then the mouth. Looking down while listening may signal boredom or fear.

Try to keep your facial expression pleasant or neutral. Smiling and breathing are all it takes to make an adjustment. Straightening up affects your communication as well as how you’re thinking about you in that moment. Obviously, it’s more than fine to show annoyance if that’s what it calls for but for initial approach, pleasant or neutral might be more suited.

Shake the tension out of your face. I’m known for my facial expressions, including my side-eyes, so people sometimes think I’m annoyed when I’m deep in thought. In situations where I need to communicate something around boundaries, I shake my face out by opening my mouth wide and making funny facial expressions by opening and closing my mouth quickly. Note – People who carry resentment often have jaw problems like TMJ. It may be worth seeing an osteopath or your practitioner of choice if this resonates with you.

Sit or stand up straight. In situations where I need to step up for me, straightening up emboldens me plus it actually helps you to feel less ‘defeated’.

Get familiar with your pissed-off state. Do you fold your arms, put your hands on your hips, clench your fists, pace, fidget, shake your leg? Whatever it is, get clear on which ones you want to keep and which ones you need to have a replacement manoeuvre for. You might be OK folding your arms although you might shake out your shoulders to be less defensive. You might not want to continue clenching your fists or pacing. Instead, you might try and place your hands on your thigh, especially if you’re sitting down or opt to sit down instead of pacing.

Become familiar with your nervous behaviour. Instead of my hands fidgeting, I tend to hold them together if sitting or clasp my knee, which feels comforting. Pay attention to what you do. If you’re nodding when you’re saying no, this may be confusing to you and possibly to the other person. If you slow down enough to be self-aware, when you feel the nodding kick in, you can try to hold it or step back / straighten up to change position and focus.

Perfect words or responses not needed. Just because you haven’t said a sentence as you would like, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have the opportunity to self-correct. If you call you names internally and you’re impatient with you, this will affect your speech. If you stumble over your words, say to yourself, ‘It’s OK’.

You don’t need to speak loudly but do speak clearly. There are loud people that don’t communicate clearly. Again, practice breaths and rehearse projecting your voice up a notch. Taking a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth, is not only relaxing and part of what people do to help them focus on their breathing for meditation, but it stops you from stifling your voice and gives your lungs more air at a time when you’re stressed. Shallow breaths will give you a ragged voice and cause you to feel stressy. Again, try this affirmation: ‘I am safe. I am secure.’ 

Don’t berate you because you will clam up. Practice speaking in front of the mirror and if some words and phrases bring out the mumbles or you think they come out strange, practice saying these or use a thesaurus to find an alternative word to say. If in doubt, consider taking a confidence class or doing something fun like some sort of performing arts workshop or singing lessons.

 

The TAKEAWAY

  • Remember that your feelings don’t always represent an actual threat or a projected outcome, so even if you’re quaking inside, reassuring you that you’ve ‘got this’ and showing that you’re going to be ‘street smart’ and look out for real threats, calms down the sensation and allows you to come across in a cool, calm, and confident manner.
  • Anything that you’ve been doing that you feel that you need to evolve represents habits designed around your previous levels of confidence. Don’t judge your younger self – you can’t know what you don’t know.
  • Breathing makes a huge difference.
  • Look at where your body is holding tension – these point to where a little adjustment in posture could be a positive shift in mood.
  • Loud does not mean assertive. Some of the loudest people I know are some of the most insecure.
  • Remember that you’re not looking to have a perfect response and you learn from each experience.

    JOURNALING: Which body language habits do you feel that you need to evolve and which ones have you realised that you’re doing already? Find the positives! Imagine a past situation where you felt too overwhelmed to step up. Can you see how your mindset and body language affected you? List what happened – compassionately! – and see if you can locate the thinking that was influencing how you positioned you in that moment.

    TASK: Have a go at practising some of the suggestions on your own. Doing it in front of the mirror, while it’s going to feel strange initially, will help you to be more accepting of you and to be more supportive and aware of your body and how you’re thinking.

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