A couple of weeks ago I offered a playful connection between physics and communication. In this post, I intend to offer some insight into how to use Space and Time to improve the quality of our communication.
Before I do, though, it’s worth mentioning that this is tsp-uk’s one hundredth blog. In little over 18 months this community has produced a phenomenal range of content and insight. From the philosophical to the highly practical this space continues to be a dynamic and exciting forum to share ideas. Here’s to the next 100!
Now back to the topic in hand. My intention is not to give a class here, or offer some “top tips” but to explain how these concepts relate to my work and a couple of the ways I apply them in my practise.
My main focus with time is that we don’t take enough of it. Rushing is not helpful to us and it’s not helpful to our audience. It’s not good enough just to have got through the presentation/meeting/pitch/appraisal without “messing up”. We need to think about the quality of the interaction.
So, how do we take more time? Like so much with effective communication the answer lies with the breath. This might seem incongruous to many but in fact the breath is the key to helping us work more effectively with time. It’s impossible to speak as you breathe in, therefore the more slowly and regularly you breathe, the more time you will take with your communication.
To help with this, focus on the out breath rather than the in breath. We often feel we need to actively “suck” air in to fill ourselves with air. If we breathe out effectively, our body will take care of the rest. It will allow itself to fill with the air it needs to oxygenate the brain and power your speech.
An exercise to try is lying on the floor with a heavy book on your belly. First, put your knees up with your feet hip width apart, this is called semi-supine and it flattens out the lumbar, or small of your back. You might want to put a book, an inch or so thick under your head to ease pressure on the neck. Allow the breath to come and go without effort, becoming aware of the motion of your breath, the rising and falling of the belly. Then place the heavy book on your belly and return to semi-supine. You’ll notice the weight of the book and the gradual the impact it has on the energy required both to breathe in and out. Try to imagine you have a straw in your mouth and breathe out through it maintaining a consistent jet of air leaving through your lips. As you breathe, notice your back against the floor and how the ribs’ contact with the floor increases and decreases in time with the movement of the breath.
After five minutes (or as long as you can spare), slowly come back to standing and quietly become aware of the expansion and contraction of your breathing apparatus.
Notice, if you can, how your system has slowed and consider what it would be like to communicate important messages with this sense of calm and centredness; with this relationship to Time.
As I said in my last post, there are two types of space to consider: one is literal, the other metaphorical. The metaphorical space is closely connected with time. It’s the space to think and breathe. It could be argued that because when we inhale we physically expand this “space” is not only metaphorical but it’s really about giving ourselves space to connect our thoughts with the act of articulating them. Doing this serves both you and your audience more effectively.
The second type of space is our engagement with the space we’re in. How do we manage space and how aware of it are we? My observation is that we spend too much professional time engaged with our own narrative, worries, concerns and challenges. These of course need considering but we do it when it’s not helpful to us and it actually has the impact of making us feel and appear less confident.
The next meeting you go into, check to see if you enter the space with your eyes towards the door handle or floor. I’d bet that nine out of ten times you do. It’s not surprising given the number of challenges most of us are digesting all the time. But this has the effect of not making us fully present. We’re focusing on the challenging aspects rather than what is in front of us, now. See if you can engage your peripheral vision, opening your window, if you like. It will have the effect of showing you who you are about to converse with and, crucially, tell them you are ready and available. There’s lots of research suggesting that we don’t trust people whose eyes we can’t see so this isn’t just for you but your audience too.
Another key element to space is our relationship with the floor. We have lots of expressions which positively associate a connection to the floor: “she’s really down to earth”, “he’s very grounded”, “keep your feet on the ground” and negative ones about: “losing one’s footing”, “head in the clouds”, “the ground vanished beneath my feet”.
A solid and sure connection with the floor demonstrates relaxation and confidence. A common mistake in presentation is that people think moving around is interesting, as if by standing still we will bore people and the act of moving our legs will entertain them. While movement can inject energy into your speech, moving for the sake of it is more a manifestation of nervous tension than anything else.
I’m not suggesting that you have to stand stock still but if you move, move for a reason. When you get to where you want to be, stand your ground. It may feel strange but there is great power in being the person who doesn’t need to move as they speak. People will look at you as someone so comfortable with what they are doing, so sure of their message, that they must have something of value to say.
These are a couple of the ways we can engage with Space and Time. See if you can catch yourself and understand more about your own relationship with them. And ultimately, see if you can take the time and space that you deserve.