Removing obstacles between communicators sounds like easy good sense to most of us. Yet we often use various kinds of barriers to defend ourselves – against invasion of our space by stranger or too-fast intimacy with new acquaintances, or from simple exposure. Since external and internal barriers are ubiquitous, its easy to let them stand even when they don’t serve our purposes.
A few quick hacks for removing barriers:
- Drop the hands barrier.
The first thing that most speakers do is raise their two hands to the front of their stomach. Guess where the eyes of the audience go? Right where we’d rather they not. The linked hands form a barrier that divides your body in half and imposes a physical and psychological barrier to the audience.
Then it gets worse: when the hands meet, they tend to fiddle. Fingers get pulled, twisted, fondled and caressed. To stop the finger orgy, drop your hands, and then use them to emphasize points with open gestures that underscore your message. When you are done using them, drop them again.
- Don’t let stuff get between you.
In person-to-person conversation, observational studies have shown that friends will, apparently with little thought, remove things between them. At a table for two, for example, a centerpiece (or candle, large water glass, wine bottle or coffee pitcher) will be slid to the side fairly quickly. Establish a friendly environment earlier by removing physical barriers.
- Avoid a lectern (and a laptop?) when addressing a group.
Big fat barricades that hide your body might seem to offer comfort for beginners, but what they really do is cut your connection. Get outta there! If you need notes, use a slender music stand or note-holder, and don’t stand behind it. When you are at a table meeting with a large laptop screen open in front of you, the effect is much the same.
- Open up your body language.
People who know each other tend to uncross their legs and arms right away when talking, but new acquaintances take longer to do that. You are naturally more approachable when your body is relaxed and open. Let your elbows loosen a bit from your torso, lean forward, let the muscles around your eyes untighten, and be ready to smile.
Barriers of all kinds create mistrust. Physical openness sends a message of confidence that encourages people to want to hear – and like – what you have to say.