Sharon Sayler

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Who Cares!! It wasn’t like I do it on purpose! Unintentional gestures are also often lovingly called “fidgets.” These little emotional reactions are the result of the body’s desire to be physically comfortable… again “Who cares!”  Well, you should. All can confuse the integrity of your message.

An example of a physical comfort gesture is crossing your arms as you listen. Many people do this without ever giving it a thought. In this example, the movement happens because of the desire for physical comfort, although an observer may assume you have closed yourself off or not wanting to get to know them.  Yes, movements made for physical comfort are just that. But communication isn’t about the sender, it’s about the receiver. All behaviors we do affect the emotional state of the other person.

Though emotionally comforting fidgets can calm us, those pesky, jerky movements or anxious behaviors often make others uneasy. Because they form as habits, they can be difficult to stop, so people usually try to disguise them. Adjusting a cuff-link, rubbing an earlobe, and picking lint off clothes are just a few examples of the infamous fidget. While these are comforting behaviors, they send a clear, nonverbal signal of nervousness.

The fidget list is pretty long, and gender does play a role in preferred fidgets. Women usually play with necklaces and twist their hair, while men rub their necks and spin their rings. While they all are a comforting behavior, they send a clear, nonverbal signal of nervousness.

Hands are not the only fidget offenders; there is a wide range of unintentional non-verbal fidgets:
–    Touching the face and neck
–    Stroking or smoothing the hair
–    Rocking, swaying or pacing
–    Vibrating your leg while seated
–    Clicking your pen or picking fingernails
–    Playing with jewelry
–    Inhaling then blowing the exhale through the mouth
–    Laughing and sniffing

It doesn’t really matter what fidgets you do, though; usually, you’re not even aware that you’re fidgeting until someone points it out to you.

We fidget because we are nervous or anxious, causing our breathing to become rapid. Rapid breathing and the resulting lack of oxygen often accelerate fidgety and anxious behavior, beginning a repeating cycle.

In an over-simplified definition, nervous, fidgety and anxious non-verbals are an automatic response from our limbic system. The brain’s limbic system is hardwired to ensure survival, and is responsible for the fight or flight response.

As we have evolved, this habit has taken on a different meaning. Rarely is your life in real danger, as it was when this response developed eons ago. However, your limbic system doesn’t know this. Since you cognitively understand it, you can adjust or slow down your breathing and change fidget habits.

Examine if and when you do the above behaviors and the response you get. All behaviors serve a purpose at some time and if you are getting the response you want, keep doing it…. When you are not getting the response you want, look to see if it’s an unintentional non-verbal that is sending the wrong message. However, learn to look beyond someone’s fidgets, remember, the REAL message is in the pattern of behaviors and all movements must be looked at in context.

In my experience as an executive coach for high-achieving professionals, these behaviors directly reflect the success you have and how others perceive you as a leader.

It’s not what happens, it’s how you choose to respond that makes the difference.

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