What Story Are Your Shoulders Telling?

Communicating without words

As you arrive at work, you see the familiar figure of a valued colleague walking towards you.  They haven’t seen you yet, but you can tell immediately, that all is not right in their world.  As their focus finds you, their face lights up and their shoulders lift a little.  You stop to discuss what’s going on for them and how you can help.

We’re all primally aware that our body language and that of the people around us tell us many things.  We’re also aware that our body language changes depending on our health and our mental state.

When was the last time you gave your shoulders credit for their communication skills or considered intentionally making use of their language?

12 Rules For Life

I was lucky enough to be gifted a copy of Jordan Peterson’s book “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos”, and the first rule is “Stand up straight with your shoulders back.”  Now, I’m aware that public opinion on Jordan Peterson is complex and multifaceted.  Some see him as a brilliant thinker, a passionate defender of free speech, and a much-needed voice of reason in a world that has become too politically correct.  Others as a dangerous and divisive figure – a label that seems to plague anyone who stands up and speaks clearly these days.

However you view him, I believe his 12 Rules for Life are worth considering.  This first rule is about taking charge of your life and standing up for yourself.  Peterson argues that the way you carry yourself physically affects the way you feel mentally and that standing up straight with your shoulders back can help you project confidence and assertiveness, which can lead to better outcomes in your personal and professional life.

He also notes that this rule has evolutionary roots, as animals use body language to establish dominance and attract mates, and suggests that humans can benefit from paying attention to their posture and body language in similar ways.

As a pilot, I’ve learned the importance of standing up straight with my shoulders back, both in the cockpit and in my personal life.  This simple but powerful rule can have a profound impact on how we show up in all aspects of our lives, including our communication in business.

I’ve written previously about the mental process of transformation that happens when you don your pilot’s uniform and prepare to step into the space you must command once on duty.  When in uniform, posture and body language play a critical role in projecting confidence and establishing authority.  As the captain of an aircraft, you want to communicate your capability to your crew and passengers as they place their faith in you to handle any situation that may arise. Standing up straight with your shoulders back is one way to communicate that confidence.

But it’s not just about appearance.  Good posture also helps us feel more alert and focused. When I sit up straight, I’m less likely to slouch or get too comfortable, which can lead to a loss of concentration. And when I’m alert and focused, I’m better able to make split-second decisions and react quickly to unexpected situations.

The same principles apply in our personal and professional lives. When we stand up straight and project confidence, we’re more likely to be taken seriously and to have our ideas and opinions valued. People are drawn to others who appear confident and in control and being able to project those qualities can be a game-changer in our personal and professional relationships.

So, what can we take away from the aviation experience to inform our own lives and communication in business?

Here are a few key lessons:

1. Posture matters:

In addition to projecting confidence, good posture can also have physical and mental health benefits. Studies have shown that sitting or standing up straight can help reduce back pain, improve lung function, and increase energy levels. In addition, good posture can help improve mood, reduce stress levels, and boost self-esteem. In business, having good posture can help you come across as more confident and authoritative, which can be particularly important in meetings, interviews, or presentations.

2. Confidence is key:

Confidence is a key factor in achieving success, as it allows you to take risks, overcome obstacles, and pursue your goals with determination. However, it’s important to distinguish between genuine confidence and overconfidence or arrogance. True confidence comes from a deep belief in your own abilities, combined with a willingness to acknowledge and learn from your mistakes. Overconfidence, on the other hand, can lead to complacency and a lack of self-awareness, which can ultimately undermine your success.

3. Focus on the present moment:

In both aviation and business, it’s important to stay focused on the task at hand and not get distracted by external factors. This means staying fully engaged and present in the moment, rather than dwelling on past mistakes or worrying about future outcomes. By focusing on the present, you can maximize your effectiveness and efficiency, make better decisions, and achieve your goals more quickly and easily.

4. Communication is key:

Effective communication is essential for success in both aviation and business. This means being able to express yourself clearly and persuasively, as well as being able to listen actively and empathetically to others. Good communication also involves being able to adjust your style and approach based on the needs and preferences of your audience. In business, this might mean tailoring your message to the specific needs of a client or customer, or adapting your communication style to fit the culture of a particular organization or team.

5. Take care of yourself:

Finally, taking care of yourself both physically and mentally is crucial for achieving success and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. This means getting enough rest, exercise, and healthy food, as well as taking time to prioritize your mental and emotional well-being. In aviation, pilots are required to undergo regular health checks to ensure they are fit to fly, and in business, it’s important to be proactive about managing stress, avoiding burnout, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. By taking care of yourself, you can be more productive, creative, and effective in all aspects of your life.

In summary

The five key lessons outlined in the previous answer all relate to the importance of developing and maintaining a strong sense of self-confidence, focus, and resilience. By paying attention to posture, staying present in the moment, communicating effectively, and taking care of your physical and mental health, you can position yourself for success in both aviation and business.

At their core, these lessons are all about cultivating a mindset of growth and self-improvement, rather than succumbing to fear, doubt, or complacency. Whether you are a pilot striving to fly safely and efficiently, or a business professional seeking to succeed in a competitive marketplace, these lessons can help you to unlock your full potential and achieve your goals.

Of course, the process of learning and applying these lessons is not always easy. It takes time, effort, and a willingness to confront your own limitations and weaknesses. However, the rewards of this process can be immense, both in terms of personal fulfilment and professional success.

In conclusion, while the specific challenges of aviation and business may differ, the underlying principles of success are universal. By focusing on good posture, confidence, present-moment awareness, effective communication, and self-care, you can create a foundation for success in any endeavour.

by Christen Killick

March 27th, 2023

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