Authority and influence are consistently identified as two essential elements for leadership and effective management. The American Heritage Dictionary defines authority as “the power to command.” I interpret the power to command as the ability to consistently and strongly influence. In other words, to lead or impact the behavior of others. If you look up the word “influence,” you may be surprised to find the definition says, “indirectly or intangibly affecting a person or course of events.” And if you look further into the definition you’ll find the root of the word is mystical in nature. I am fascinated by this discovery because in my years of teaching communication and leadership I have found that our effectiveness truly begins with the basic energy we hold behind a communication, a seemingly intangible or mystical foundation.
In recent years a great deal of research has been done on the “energy” of interpersonal communication. Respected books on business leadership reference it, deeply effective practices such as “Dialogue” have emerged from it, and scientific studies in quantum physics, “the new biology,” and psychoneuroimmunology, make the case for it’s discussion. Yet the energetic aspect of influence and communication is still largely dismissed as New Age nonsense.
In my presentation and communication courses I often brave the discussion of “energy.” I am astounded at how many people immediately respond with clear descriptions of their awareness of this essential element of communication. “Sure, I can feel it as soon as I walk into the room…” — “Some days I just have a sense that the energy is off” — “I think we see it in facial expression and body-language” — “Now that we’re talking about it, I think it’s something I always sense in my heart or in my gut”
Because I experience energy as an essential component, I believe its discussion is vital to the work of improving communication. No doubt many consultants know that you can teach physical skills, provide verbal models for clarity and impact, and implement structures for communication, but unless by accident or plan you penetrate to the quick of intention and energy the work will disintegrate.
If you are not aware of feeling energy, you may be reading this wondering what the heck I’m talking about. I offer you a “real life” example. I recently had the pleasure of working with the general manager of a manufacturing facility who was caught in the “nice-guy” syndrome. His personal style greatly inhibited his ability to command. To “protect the innocent” let’s call him Rick.
After an introduction to the quantum idea that we move through a field of energy where people constantly exchange atoms, molecules, and pheromones, Rick realized he actually did sense energy in his body. He could identify that he felt a “dis-ease,” or change inside his gut if he felt disconnected from someone. I experimented by having him think of a manager with whom he was in conflict. He sensed his connection to energy click off. When we played back the videotape of our conversation he could see that his body language or tone also changed when he felt the click. We watched how his shoulders dropped, his chest receded, and his head dropped slightly forward in subtle response. To build more physical experience of disconnecting, we tested his muscle tone with Applied Kineseology (muscle testing). When he simply thought about disconnecting with someone his muscles weakened.
Once we established that he could feel a change in energy, we explored visualizing it. If his energy were visible, how would it look? Without prompting, he said he imagined a flow of energy that came in through his head and went out from his gut, like water from a fire-hose. The energy flow connected with someone he thought about or interacted with. When he specifically thought about his volatile manager the flow cut off.
Extensive research has proven visual imagery has a powerful effect on the body. Body-mind research indicates that the body and the mind are one. Effect the body and you impact consciousness. Athletes have used imagery extensively and quite successfully by rehearsing visually, or centering themselves with a meaningful picture. They overcome anxiety and shift to higher states of performance. However, some have experienced that by shifting constantly to perform, there is a loss of personal emotional reality. In order to foster wholeness it is important to acknowledge and feel any emotion before shifting.
I needed to work with Rick to find the emotion behind his disconnection. It was anger – not an acceptable emotion for a nice guy. Although anger can be a positive emotion that motivates change, it is often the instant we feel anger that we disconnect. Rick’s work included identifying and accepting his physical emotional responses. Body Centered Therapy and a multitude of other mind-body wisdoms offer deep diaphragmatic breathing as an essential tool for centering. Breathing helps you be present with physical and emotional feelings. It increases self-awareness. A deep breath fuels a fundamental step to strengthen influence: “staying connected” with others and with energy. We agreed to a couple of practices. Rick would pay attention in meetings to discover when he was feeling anger and cutting off his energy. He could usually sense the click. As soon as he was aware of disconnecting he would take a breath and then do something to connect. He decided he would visualize energy continually pouring through his head and out his gut to the subject of his anger. Then he would take action by verbally acknowledging his response or perception. “I feel angry when you dismiss my decisions…” Rick also found that by visualizing the picture of a big wave in his gut (his personal symbol of power) he was able to feel more capable in conflict. We used muscle testing to verify that the image strengthened him.
Although the above description may sound complicated, the mind can focus on images in a fraction of a second. Whatever meaning an image holds for an individual is then as present to their body and their consciousness as anything that’s “really” in the room is. In short, images drive energy.
Because words are also symbols that evoke mental images, silently saying single commands to yourself (Courage!), or meaningful phrases such as scripture or “wise old saws” can powerfully effect your energy and behavior. Rick told me the phrase “He goeth before me to make the crooked places straight” from his religious background held particular resonance for him. He began to use it as one of several centering tools to prepare for difficult meetings. He went a step further with visualization and began to envision filling a room with his energy before he entered. He would give it a particular quality (e.g. courage, command, or love) and would send it from his heart.
It is important to define up front, your intention for any communication. To do so determines the quality of energy you put out. It is an excellent practice to set the tone of your day by establishing your intention and actively working to broadcast that energy. Many clients report they develop a sensory distinction of personal openness. They learn how it physically feels to be open and then they are able to “do” it.
The result of our work was that by bolstering himself with specifically personal representations, Rick was able to focus his energy. Though he remained a “nice guy”, he also became known as a practitioner of tough love. He more effectively held others accountable and felt good while doing it. Rick became a more powerful general manager.
In addition to strengthening “nice guys,” conscious interaction with personal energy is an effective approach to building openness and interpersonal skill in challengingly aggressive personalities.
Why not make your own experiment with energy?