Body Language – A Case for Coaching?

In the course of training and coaching sessions, I am frequently asked whether it is possible to “improve” one’s own body language. People often refer to Samy Molcho and his writings. However, this is no simple “yes or no” question, in my opinion.

It has been demonstrated that posture and body stance influences how we feel. The so-called embodiment has a genuine effect on our psyche: if you limp along like a beaten dog, you will not radiate essential vitality, and if you keep up this stance, you will soon feel like misery incarnate, even if you were actually feeling quite well before.

However, these are merely individual postures; if we want to target our broader “body language,” we should be aware that we are trying to alter a system that works mainly on an unconscious level. It is noteworthy that Samy Molcho, who is often presented as an epitome and shining example of “excellent” body language, is first and foremost an actor, and as a good actor he has mastered the essential skill of his profession: to become that which he represents. That is precisely the reason why good actors are so convincing in their roles while amateur actors – aren’t!

Meanwhile, non-professional actors like us average people have to live with the fact that everyone realizes immediately that we are merely “acting out” what we are trying to represent. This is what happens if you try to emulate a body language that does not fit the situation you are actually going through at the moment. It’s just not authentic. If, for example, you have learned that large, open movements imply an open person behind the stance, and you try this in front of an audience even though you feel completely inhibited because you’re afraid of rejection, even the most uncritical audience will recognize that there is something fishy going on. The very same sequence of movements, employed by a self-confident person and thus signaling, “I’m open to all,” will only confuse the audience when used by an insecure protagonist. The motions just don’t match the real-life body tension, breathing patterns and other subliminal signals. Instead of convincing your audience, you make them suspicious because you send out contradictory information.

And while your audience may not process this information on a conscious level, they nevertheless feel the mismatch. This is simply due to the fact that we as human beings have been trained for millennia to decipher even the most unconscious body signals because ultimately our survival could depend on detecting whether the next person had honest goals or not.

For these reasons, I personally do not believe that we can work on “body language” as such – at least not without taking actual acting classes. What we can manage, however, is to work on individual postures and stances. For example, we can affect the way we stand and thus effect change that in course has an impact on our psychological attitude. And then, in turn, the body language can naturally and authentically adjust to this inner attitude.

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