Following is a chapter in my forthcoming non-fiction book That Th!nk You Do. The book is based on a series of blog posts I wrote back in the mid-to-late-2000s for a California-based company. The editor at my new publishing house found the posts and thought they would make an excellent series of books. The posts/chapters are based on my research in a variety of fields – neuroscience, anthropology, sociology, psychology, linguistics, … – and were quite popular in their day.
You’re about to enter a meeting and you’ve been warned you’re going to be challenged…a lot.
Is it better
- to seek a quiet place, to calm yourself, to find your center and go into the meeting relaxed or
- to focus on the idea of being challenged, being put on the spot, possibly being singled out in front of your peers?
Based on studies performed in Boston and elsewhere, it’s better to enter confrontational situations a little hot under the collar. Just so we’re clear on things, I’m not suggesting you go in armed for bear and looking to take no prisoners, nothing of the sort.
That offered, chances are you’ll come out of the meeting or situation better if you go in with your blood up. The reasons are (evolutionary-wise) simple. Knowing a confrontation or some unpleasantness will take place gives your mind and body an evolutionary advantage, the “fight” aspect of what used to be called the flight-or-fight response. Just knowing a challenge is looming causes changes to your body chemistry, especially your neural chemistry. You go from prey to predator mode and your body adjusts itself without your realizing it’s doing so. Your movements, your voice, your expressions, even your irises start giving off “Keep your distance, bucko!” signals that other people, equally without realizing it, pick up and respond to.
Walk Like a … Predator
Long ago I taught women’s self-defense and there was very little combat technique involved. What I did teach them was how to walk like a predator – on their toes – without obviously walking on their toes. Why walk like a predator? Because when you’re giving off “predator” signals it’s very difficult for others to consider you prey.
In addition to toe-walking, keep your eyes forward, and look from side to side by moving your whole head. Tilt your head slightly forward (and keep your neck straight up from your shoulders). Blink as seldom as possible and open your eyes wide without being obvious about it. Walk with your hands empty and open, palms towards your body, elbows just slightly bent. Match your breathing to your movements and remember to relax.
Synchronize your large body movements – swinging the arms and legs – so that your motion is both smooth and effortless (this is good regardless as any Alexander or Feldenkrais practitioner will tell you). Predators conserve energy until they need it and this style of walking shows that conservation in action.
The kicker is flaring your nostrils. Really. Flared nostrils are one of the most primitive aggression displays humans possess. The next time you’re being bothered by someone – in a meeting, in conversation, on the subway or something – stare at them, don’t blink, and flare your nostrils. Not obviously so, just enough. They’ll excuse themselves or find someone else to harass without knowing why they want to get away. At the very least they’ll ask if everything’s okay without knowing what they’re really asking about.
Next time we’re at a conference together ask me to demonstrate it for you. When you know what I’m doing it’s pretty funny to watch.
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