by Arielle Essex

Charismatic group dynamics

There are over 70 nonverbal skills of handling group dynamics that are best taught face-to-face. The good news is that if you can begin practicing just a few of the easy nonverbal cat and dog behaviours, your ability to influence the political dynamics of groups will be surprisingly effective. Some simple descriptions that give examples of these practical applications follow.

‘Permission’ to talk

If you’ve ever had difficulty breaking into an animated discussion, getting your point across and being heard, or have suffered interruptions, you need to learn about BLIPs. BLIP stands for ‘Breathing Level Indicates Permission’. Sound people use technical equipment to watch for BLIPs on screen. These refer to the natural shifts in people’s breathing. When people gather in groups, their breathing begins to synchronise – called ‘entrainment’. If you can raise your awareness of when people are breathing in and out, you can accurately choose the right moment to speak and be heard.

What to look for:

  • When people are talking, they are exhaling; their heads tend to move forward and down, shoulders are concave and the clothing wrinkles
  • When people inhale, their heads and shoulders tend to pull back and up, and their clothes smooth out.
  • When people are breathing fast, high and shallow, with jerky movements, they are more likely to be stressed
  • When people are breathing slowly, low in the abdomen, with fluid movements and words, they are relaxed.

Match the breathing, posture and movement of the speakers until you are in sync. You only have ‘permission’ to speak when the breathing is low and deep. Selecting the timing of your contribution is crucial. When you need to be heard, you can influence the other person’s breathing by pacing your delivery. Simply speak calmly and slowly as the person exhales, using credible command tonality; and stay silent as the person inhales. When a person is inhaling, they cannot speak, so this prevents them from interrupting you.

The power of silence

Most people are overly concerned with having something intelligent to say. Curiously, the people who say the least often sound much more intelligent. Cats make great use of the pregnant pause. Pausing gives emphasis to the line you just spoke. It gives time for the message to sink in, time for people to think and, as they do this, they will perceive you as being smarter.

No word was ever as effective as the right timed pause.

Mark Twain

The ideal use of pausing must be combined with other cat-like qualities for best effect. Stand or sit very erect, with a serious demeanour – still and powerful. Make your statement using a credible, command tonality, with the last syllables curling down. Keep your eyes still and focused in one place. If you use a hand gesture at all, keep it minimal and forceful, leaving your hand in what is called a ‘frozen hand gesture’, hanging still in space. Don’t move anything during your pause. The effectiveness of this technique cannot be emphasised enough.

Compelling interest and curiosity

Most people make the mistake of satisfying everyone’s needs and supplying all the information necessary. They think that by giving the most thorough account, with all the details, they will win points and credibility. Unfortunately, what actually happens is death by detail. Even the dogs in the room may tune out if there is too much information. Even more critically, you will have lost the cats’ interest by paragraph two.

Before you present information at a meeting, determine ahead of time precisely what level of detail is actually needed. A financial director who was exceptionally good at figures used to present detailed accounts at the international meetings until she received feedback that her audiences were keeling over. When asked who needed to have those precious figures, she suddenly realised only about three people in the room needed the detail – and they could read her written report! So all she had to do was present the overview with the bottom line results. Her presentation feedback soared!

Less is more. Cats like to be teased and tantalised. Give them juicy tasters; indicate you have the back-up if needed. Be prepared to expand on anything, but keep them hungry!