Part of building my game over the past year or two has been developing a bold, deliberate physical style. The number one way I have done this is making an effort to slow down my gait and my physical gestures. I’ve found, even, that slowing down physically helps slow down my limbic system reactions, giving my rational side more time to work in high-pressure situations (more on that later).
Part of this project comes from a pair of anecdotal lessons.
The first was a college roommate of mine. He was very tall with a husky frame, but he had a dynamic and almost spastic physical mode. It was incongruent with his body, which was a good match for a strong silent type act, and sometimes threw off the “creepy” vibes.
The second was my mentor from my first real job. A middle-aged man who moonlighted as a preacher, he was the type of guy who would listen quietly during an hour-long meeting, render his considered opinion in less than two minutes and walk out with everybody thinking he had owned the room. The comfort and trust he engendered by not being overbearing, and the gravity of his pithy observations, allowed him to exert considerable soft power around the team.
Like these men, I am a tall figure with a deep resonant voice, and from their examples I learned that I filled frame-space naturally, and had less of a need to express dominance with words and our gestures. Another coworker of mine who was 5’3″ had women chasing him around the office thanks to his latent-asshole Danny DeVito shtick. He needed a complicated social persona because his body didn’t provide it for him.
The irony of this is that I didn’t realize until much later than I should have that my height and voice were great gifts, and so spent much of my beta days slouched over and modulating my voice to avoid what I perceived as the awkwardness of my baritonic pipes. Most critically, I was always working to gain status by other means (by talking up my personality or my intelligence or accomplishments), which in retrospect came off as insecure and try-hard.
I work this skill by focusing on standing tall and taking slow strides with long steps. When I’m asked to do something, I do it without looking as though I’m in a hurry to snap to their attention, and when I’m conversing I move my head and my facial reactions with marked relaxation. Being non-reactive is a proxy for outcome independence, which introduces contrast when you actually do act with great haste. If people see me really excited or walking (or talking) quickly, they know it must be serious.
As I mentioned above, moving slower helps my reaction time slow down. This sounds bad – you don’t want your mind to slow down, do you? – but it’s actually useful. What you’re doing is slowing down your visceral response system, so your rational mind has more space. If you find yourself getting quickly angry or sad or butthurt or whatever, it’s good to be able to suspend that so it doesn’t cloud the rest of the conversation. As your now-better-employed mind learns the right touch, you can reintroduce fast reaction where appropriate, but you can be confident you’re always a step ahead of others because they’re reacting while you’re thinking, and you have a much better idea of what they’re about than the other way around.