The Politics of Space

If you live in Britain at the moment it’s completely impossible to escape the turmoil of Brexit. It’s become a national obsession and regardless of which side of the camp you sit on, the crisis unfolding is frustrating and embarrassing to witness.

Last week was an extraordinary week of news and yet it’s amazing what manages to capture the national attention. One of the biggest talking points wasn’t a matter of policy, it wasn’t arguments about the proroguing of the UK Parliament, it wasn’t even about whether you support leave or remain: it was about body language. Specifically that the way we sit should say ‘I’m ready‘. Readiness means we can respond from a confident and assertive place and maximise our personal impact.

This is great news for me as it exemplifies the power of non-verbal communication and how aware we need to be of the messages we broadcast.

A picture speaks a thousand words

I’m often pointing out to people their habits and behaviours they aren’t aware of; the things speaking volumes that they simply don’t realise are there. This example, though, was most definitely deliberate, intended to send a message, and designed for effect. The issue is that it didn’t quite play out the way its author intended.

If you haven’t already guessed from the picture above, I am of course speaking about British politician, Jacob Rees-Mogg’s reclining pose on the front bench in Parliament.

There are so many issues that this choice throws up that it’s hard to know where to start.

As you can see from the picture, Rees-Mogg, was very publicly taking up three seats, while leaning back on the bench with his eyes closed as MPs debated important constitutional matters.

Changing Contexts

More interesting than the pose itself, is that apparently, he sits like this often in Parliament and has done so for a long time. Why then is this an issue now? It’s all about context: Rees Moog is no longer a backbench rebel challenging the establishment, now he is the establishment. With that goes increased visibility and the behaviours that worked in one context, apparently don’t work in another.

Specifically, though, what was his physicality saying? One could argue that with long debates in the House, fatigue can set in and he was simply managing his energy. The problem with this, though, is that the House was busy and others don’t behave in this way. Also, it’s not the way people in a role of his stature and prominence are expected to behave.

How we manage our physical space tells others a lot about how we feel: about who and where we are. A confident person is comfortable occupying space and doesn’t need to hide away and take less space than their physicality would normally allow. This is a delicate thing, however. What appears to have happened here is that Rees-Mogg was trying to demonstrate his ease and comfort during a very difficult period of governance. But he overplayed his hand – the story became one about disrespect and privilege.

From a communications perspective whatever Rees-Mogg was intending is actually irrelevant here. What matters is how it was perceived by others. While he probably won’t publicly admit being humbled, Rees-Mogg is unlikely to be seen sitting like that any time soon.

The readiness is all

So what advice is there for you, if you have found yourself slumped at work and taken to task for it?

Well, it’s all about how we energise ourselves. And to energise yourself well, you have to find the floor – which might seem odd when you’re sitting down. It’s our relationship with the floor, and more specifically gravity, that determines how effectively we energise ourselves for successful communication. Generally, we are aiming for “readiness”. Readiness is when we are able to be engaged enough that we don’t have physical collapse through the spine but not so much that we look like we are ready to take a drill session around the parade yard.

Making an impact

To do this, first make sure your feet are flat on the floor. Find you sitting bones (the two bones of your bottom). Think about your spine being long and, without straining, make sure it is engaged and energised (thinking about its length will help). Allow your chest to be open and wide, and the back of your neck to lengthen. Finally, think about a thread from the crown of you head pulling in a forward and upwards direction.

Managing yourself in this way maximises your physical impact without adding excess tension or allowing you to collapse. It says “I’m ready”. In terms of personal impact, I don’t think there’s anything more we can really hope for. Readiness, means we can respond from a confident and assertive place and not get dragged into playing the politics of space, even if we are playing politics of state.

This example at an extraordinary time shows the importance of how we manage ourselves to help or hinder our cause. We won’t get it right all of the time but with a little self-awareness we can make better choices. And if you aren’t making a choice, you aren’t in command of your communication.

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