An important step in moving through change is truly connecting with a different future, and this future depends on learning how to read and understand virtual body language. Part of forming that connection is putting your beliefs and thoughts into language to share the ‘future story’ with yourself and others!

Think about any goal setting or visioning course you have attended or article you have read…the one key request is that you write down your goal/vision and speak about it like it is happening or sure to happen in the near future…“I should get in shape” becomes “I am physically fit”, “I’d really like to be a better leader” becomes “I am a servant leader”, “I wish I was a better parent” becomes “I am an inspiring parent”.

It begins with the power of the language you are using, whether that be displayed physically or verbally. That language can either hold you back, keep you in a holding pattern, or propel you forward.

How Do We Display Virtual Body Language?

“Painters have a brush, sculptors have a chisel, surgeons have a scalpel, and conductors have a baton—and leaders have language.” 

The one common phrase I’m sure you have heard a lot lately, I know I have, and perhaps have been using yourself is, “I’d like to do X when things get BACK TO normal.” or “When things get BACK TO normal we will do X.”

The thought struck me the other day after I heard the phrase yet again, that by using the words BACK TO I got this strong visual picture of moving backwards in time, clinging to something that was. Do we really believe things will go BACK TO the way they were? Or should we be focusing on moving FORWARD, and using what we have learned in the FUTURE?

Using Body Language in a Sentence

I was in a virtual meeting with a pair of young entrepreneurs the other day who opened their storefront almost one year ago, only to have it shut down the last few months.

For any of you that have started a business you know how challenging the first few years can be to create your business plan, build your clientele, scrape up enough to pay your rent and your staff, and keep focused on the future where one day the hope and dream is to be successful and profitable!

As their 1-year anniversary is looming they got discussing what they had planned to do to celebrate. One of the owners quipped, “We had a plan A and a Plan B, maybe even a plan C…we just didn’t have a plan P (for pandemic)!” After the laughter died down, talk shifted to what they will do when they reopen their doors and ‘things get BACK TO normal’.

There was a palpable energy shift to a much lower frequency in the virtual chat room. We sat with this energy for a moment…it was very heavy and dark, not near as excited as one would think at the prospect of opening up again.

We wallowed around in this energy, exploring it, letting it envelope us. I finally share, “Wow, I could really feel the energy drop…Do you WANT to GET BACK to the way things were? What was that energy shift about? Are there new opportunities moving forward that give you more energy than what we just experienced?” The employees could all read the virtual body language presented by their leader, and were empathetic towards the situation. It changed the mood and motivation to take steps in a positive direction instantly!

Is Virtual Body Language Sticking Around?

Language has the power to transform our beliefs into words and then into action. Language has the power to transmit energy. No matter the length of time that individuals spend conversing and connecting, the impact of virtual body language and verbal language, can have lasting effects. How often do negative interactions stay on your mind?

This article highlights the importance of taking time to contemplate what you say and the impact it has. As I was reading, this quote really stood out for me…

“Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”

Being ‘Impeccable with Your Word’, one of the Four Agreements Don Miguel Ruiz shares, has taken on a whole new meaning. Not only in the context that Ruiz wrote about in his book (amazing read by the way!), but also in the way we can lead ourselves and others. Being impeccable with your word leads to high trust, and trust is the foundation of leading well – especially through extreme change. Leading others starts with leading ourselves.

What Beliefs are Driving the Language You Are Using?

Our thoughts and beliefs are the beginning, they bring value to what we say and do. The virtual body language shown through thought has an internal influence on us, and that internal influence can make a difference to our external outcomes. “Without the self-awareness of thought, we would live each day as we did yesterday, and we would simply recreate the same solutions as we did the day before.” In Lolly Daskal’s blog she shares insights about the 6 R’s of better awareness. 

What we believe about the future equals the words we use today, and those words can help move people forward or hold them back. The fact is that we are NOT going BACK to the way things were before, even without a crisis. How we do things today is not the same as how we will do them next week, or next year.

How Can Virtual Body Language Improve Company Culture?

I believe the crisis has just amplified what already existed in life. We are ever changing, ever evolving due to the experiences we have along the way, the things we learn, the hurts we carry, the challenges we face, the beliefs we hold to be true and sometimes circumstances outside our control. These changes may appear very subtle, hardly noticeable or they may be ‘shout from the rooftop’ loud. Keep in mind that these experiences and changes show up in the words we use.

Looping back, those young entrepreneurs have in fact done an amazing job of pivoting their business online to stay connected with and support their current clientele, and attracting new clients while their doors have been closed – all while staying aligned to their long-term vision!

So, after the dark pause, we started brainstorming the beliefs they have about the future of their fledgling business.

We then moved on to the language they want to use with themselves and their team around the new ‘doors opening’ celebration ad the new Plan P business model. It was discussed how they will incorporate the lessons they have learned and the opportunities that have arisen out of this situation that they did not plan for. We focused ono the importance of forming connections with one another, and how those relationships rely on consideration for our verbal and virtual body language as we work remotely.

Beliefs and Language Check

What is your language saying about the way you are leading through change?

1. First, check in with yourself.

What language are you currently using to describe the future? What words do you find yourself saying a lot? With yourself? With your teams? With your family? Does your virtual body language align with your verbal language?

  • Write out the words and do a check in – Are they ‘back to’ or ‘moving to’ words? Are they focused on the past, present or future?
  • What do those words tell you about your beliefs?

2. What are the beliefs you want to align with the future?

What language do you want to be using to talk about the future? With yourself? With your teams? With your family?

  • Take the ‘back to’ words and write out the opposite – what words can you replace those with that are moving you towards?
  • Write out 3 key beliefs you want to focus on moving forward.
  • Write out key words or ‘moving to’ messages you want to get in the habit of using, read them daily. (or, if you are like me, as many times a day as you need!)

3. As you are leading others through change you might hear someone using ‘back to’ language?

  •  What can you do to support them by tapping into their language?
  • You might say something like, “What was it about ‘back then’ that you really enjoyed?”,
  • “How can you create more of that right now and in the future?”

4. Practice, practice, practice.

It will likely not go smoothly, you may slip up, if you do, catch yourself and try again. The more you practice, the more it will become habit.

  • If you slip up in front of your team you might say, “Wow, I just caught myself dreaming about the past. What I want to be more focused on is bringing with us what was great about the past and looking toward the future.” Or you can just say, “F%$#! What I meant to say is…”
  • Being imperfect and vulnerable is called being human and is a very powerful leadership quality!

What’s your language right now? Is it telling the story you want to be telling? Is it aligned with your beliefs about the future? Is your virtual language accurately representing your virtual body language?

We would love to hear your insights, stories and practices around language!

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