We had a very successful webinar with Cathy Salit on May 10, 2016. We were disappointed when we ran out of time and didn’t get to everyone’s questions. So, as promised, here is a follow up on some of the unanswered questions. Also, if you missed the webinar, you can see the recording here.
Do you have a success story to share with us from a client using your techniques? How is this all related to presence?
The story I’m thinking about appears in my book (where there are quite a few others — hint, hint). I like this one because it’s about an everyday challenge that many of us face, and it’s not about fixing something that’s broken — it’s about making a choice to grow professionally. Here goes:
Natasha had recently been promoted to report directly to the global head of her department at a financial services company. Her boss asked us to help her with her “presence.” He thought Natasha wasn’t consistently showing up as the leader he needed her to be. She was “on” when she was performing in an official capacity, but when showtime was done, her preference was to retreat back into her own world. That might have been fine, but she was also ambitious and looking to advance her career. “I don’t think she sees that how she shows up everywhere matters now,” her boss said.
My colleague Maureen Kelly asked Natasha to describe a few situations she’s regularly in, using the language of the theater: Who are the characters she’s performing with, what’s the scene (where the action takes place), and what is the purpose of that scene in the overall business play? And to get at the crux of their work, Maureen asked Natasha to describe her own leadership character, as well as her objective in each scene.
Natasha started at the top of her day, and they soon found a scene to redirect. It turned out that Natasha came into work in the morning with her headphones on, eyes often focused on her iPhone, not making eye contact, distracted and far away in the back of the elevator. She said she had never thought about what she looked and acted like when, as she put it, she’s “not even at work yet.”
What Natasha didn’t see was that she had already entered the stage of her office long before she stepped onto her floor. She and Maureen examined her entrance more closely, and she realized that she was onstage from the moment she walked off her commuter ferry and stepped onto the crowded street a quarter mile from her office. There were colleagues surrounding her from that point on—Natasha had just never acknowledged them before. Whenever someone approached her, she always felt surprised, taken off guard.
So Maureen had Natasha make some new, small performance choices. While on the commuter ferry she enjoyed the breeze, her music, and the water. But as soon as she walked the plank (pun intended) to the pier, she got into character. She took off the headphones, said hello to fellow employees on the way to the office, and smiled at people in the elevator. This was the performance of an executive who took notice of and was interested in the people she worked with. Natasha didn’t need to perform “big”—what needed to become larger wasn’t her character but rather the stage on which that already successful character appeared. Her promotion had provided her with that stage. Natasha then grew her presence by—literally—being present.
What tips do you have for changing my mindset and being bold?
Let’s focus on the fact that you’re a performer. As such, you’re looking to create a character that’s bolder than the one you typically play. How can you do that? Here are a couple of things to get you started, and they work in tandem:
- Observe someone who exemplifies the boldness you want to portray. Watch them for specific actions that convey this characteristic to you — how do they walk, sit, gesture; how much eye contact do they make? When they speak, what’s their tone of voice? Then try out performing these actions. If you have a friend to practice with, it’s better. You may feel unnatural at first, but that’s usually the case when we try something new. Then begin to bring these new “character choices” into your realworld scenes.
- Put your focus on others. That might seem like a contradiction in light of #1, but bear with me. When it’s hard to be bold, often it’s because we’re thinking (or obsessing!) about ourselves — how do we look, are we going to say the right thing, and on and on. But when we look outward, it can give you something positive to do instead of that (sometimes) paralyzing selffocus.
○ Be curious. Give yourself the goal of learning as much as you possibly can about whatever is going on in the scene you’re in. If it’s a conversation, that means finding out more about the other person and their point of view. If it’s a meeting, it means asking questions, and being a great listener when people respond.
○ Be gracious. Work to make everyone else feel comfortable, supported, listened to.
Is Performative Psychology being used in other domains like education? Healthcare?
Yes! The field is growing continually, with more and more people in different disciplines using performance in teaching, coaching, psychotherapy, community development, health care and more. There is a biannual international conference that I’ve been part of for many years, Performing the World, that brings together practitioners from around the world to “explore and celebrate performance as a catalyst for human and community development and culture change, and thereby, to create a new and more humane world.”