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Don’t shoot the messenger – 3 body hacks that will help you deliver bad news

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Here’s a great post from Luke Gregorczyk. Presenting is not always about warm audiences and sunshine, sometimes we have to give tough messages to frightened, angry or stressed people and that’s a whole new set of challenges for even the most experienced presenter.

Here, Luke reminds us that there is much more to this speaker art than crafting a great message and designing effective visuals. The speaker herself carries a whole measure of the message, and here are some really practical and useful tips to help you to help the people in the crowd.

From time to time we all find ourselves in situations where, even though saying the hard truth is the right thing to do, we cringe at the very thought of doing it.

Whether we need to communicate that a project went over the budget, or announce an unexpected financial loss, or need to dissolve a long standing partnership, our nerves will always make us feel uncomfortable and somehow overburdened.

The fact is that, unless we are sociopaths, delivering bad news to a group of people will always make us cringe. Yet, as long as we remember a few basic facts about how our bodies work we can help ourselves to handle such situations without unnecessary pressure and nerves, and here is how.


The Body – the forgotten giant

Although much has been written about how changing our thinking can produce a profound change to our self-confidence, the idea of using the body to help us to do the same is somehow underexplored. Yet there is plenty of evidence to show that by changing our posture, our habitual way of using the senses and breathing can produce astonishing results. What follows are the 3 very simple body centered hacks that will help you to feel in control whenever you have to communicate a difficult message to an individual or a group.


Hack 1 – Always remember your feet and stay grounded

Feet are the foundation of your nervous system: if your spine is not well supported by a pair of well rooted trotters then your autonomic nervous system is more likely to activate the fight & flight response when you are faced by a challenging situation.

In my work with groups we often use weights strapped around the ankles to give more grounding and sure footedness to a person who would normally struggle with confidence. The result is always the same. They report more certainty and more capacity to face up to the challenge. Also, the group members whose task it to challenge them feel less intimidating in their role once the weights are on.

The well rooted body gives a clear message of more confidence and power to its “owner” and those around. Of course wearing a set of weights in your pocket and putting them on whenever you feel you need an extra boost of confidence is not very practical so here is an easier way:

  1. Make sure you always stand on both of your feet and don’t switch from one leg to the next.
  2. Then, starting with one leg only, do the following for half a minute each part: a) squeeze and relax your toes, (b)pivot and rotate on the ball of your foot left and right as if extinguishing a cigarette, (c) in the same way pivot on your hill and rotate left and right.
  3. Then stop close your eyes and compare the sensation of support the foot you moved gives you when compared to the other one. You should feel quite a profound difference, then do the same of on the other leg.

Once done check out how rooted you feel.


Hack 2 – Make your space safe

When facing a tough grilling or about to deliver a piece of bad news to your boss your nervous system will activate what’s called a sympathetic response and will begin to scan your environment in search of danger. When activated, most of your mental resources will be taken up by this activity and you will find it very hard to utter a spontaneous and sophisticated sentence.

It is so because the more primitive areas of your brain had taken the power away from the smart ones. They are simply much better in keeping you alive in danger and since your survival mechanism makes no distinction between the primeval forest and the boardroom meeting, in its evaluation you are struggling for your very existence.

You can put your hyper-vigilant nerves at ease and reclaim the clarity of thought by using your peripheral vision. My clients consider this technique by far the fastest way of inducing calm measured mental state when it’s rapidly needed.

  1. To access it, focus on one point in the room, a light switch, a door handle etc., for few seconds and then begin to gradually expand your field of vision as if you would be switching from high beam light to flood the entire room with brightness.
  2. Imagine that the muscles around your eyes are relaxing and the whole room is seen all at once with all its elements i.e. furniture, people. Notice what effect this has on the way you feel.

If you allow it time your will feel much more resourced and tranquil.


Hack 3 – Breathing gives you time

Since time in memoriam breathing has been known to have a huge effect on the nervous system. The ancient teachings of the east as well as the modern mindfulness practices abound in techniques that use breath as means of accessing and influencing the way we regulate our physiological state.

The following breathing exercise will be very helpful whenever you will find yourself pressured for an instant response when you know that you would rather take your time before answering. I use it on my assertiveness workshops as a means of creating a time buffer for clients who normally don’t allow themselves sufficient space to make a decision that’s in agreement with their values. Do this exercise whenever you feel a little jittery and about to enter a social space where you are likely to be challenged, you will need about 3 minutes to complete it:

  1. Watch your breath entering and leaving your lungs, when you can clearly distinguish between the two, begin to increase the time you take to exhale without changing the inhale so that you can count to 7 on the exhale and to 4 on the inhale.
  2. Do it for about 1 minute focusing on the different feeling inhale and exhale produce in you.
  3. Then when entering the room, maintain a gentle background awareness of your breath and whenever asked a question that needs a little more consideration inhale and exhale before answering.

You will be surprised how much will happen in that short quiet space that you would otherwise rush into with an answer.

So there are your 3 body hacks to help you deliver bad news. Enjoy and share your findings with us.

Luke Gregorczyk

Luke Gregorczyk

Body Language Specialist at Rolfing London
Luke is a body language specialist at Rolfing London. He designs and runs workshops that use a body centred approach to communication. In case it means anything to you, Luke is trained in Neural Manipulation, Visceral Manipulation, Movement Assessment, Applied Anatomy and Remedial Massage.
Luke Gregorczyk
Luke Gregorczyk
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