Ever had an experience where you met someone only to find out after the fact that their impression of you prior to the actual meeting was entirely different from what you turned out to be? How is this possible? According to Stephen R. Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, communication breaks down as follows:
- Words (the literal meaning) account for 10% of the overall message
- Tone of voice accounts for 30% of the overall message
- Body Language accounts for 60% of the overall message
With body language making up over half of how we communicate, its little wonder that people often form opinions of others before ever actually meeting or really getting to know them. Modeling is the most powerful way that you influence others and it has little to do with your spoken words.
“Your actions speak so loudly, I can not hear what you are saying.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“There is but one way to train up a child in the way he should go, and that is to travel it yourself.”
One: My first encounter with the scenario above was with a woman named Christy years ago in the late 90’s where we both trained at Brickhouse Gym in Coppell, TX. Brickhouse is no longer there however the lesson learned is with me to this very day. Christy was a beautiful brunette, impossible to miss, and a little intimidating too me. We had exchanged the occasional “good morning” or “hello” but never really had an actual conversation.
Further, my gym demeanor tends towards the serious side. It’s not that I’m anti-social, but once I’m into my workout, armed with my headphones, it train first…chat later. This “persona” as I painfully discovered can come across as a little arrogant, self-centered, and generally stuck up. This was Christy’s basic run down of me once we got to know each other. We eventually became great friends, however in the beginning, her impression of me was not the best.
Two: Fast forward to 2014 and my home gym is 24 Hour Fitness in Carrollton, TX. One morning a young man named Frank came over and complimented me on my training and general condition. He said he had been “watching” me for a while and could tell how serious I was. I said I really seemed to know what I was doing and he further complimented my overall work ethic.
Humbled, flattered, and little caught of guard were my thoughts and feelings following this little exchange. I had NEVER noticed this guy before and yet he had been watching me for some time. Always remember…you are on stage. Never buy into the idea that no one is watching. Someone is always watching and you are influencing them for better or worse.
I don’t believe in neutral. Your actions either lift people up…or bring them down. As a believer and follower of Christ, I take this as a personal responsibility to conduct myself accordingly regardless of the setting. While the Bible is full of counsel and wisdom regarding our personal conduct, the following are two verses that I strive to live by daily:
“It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.”
“It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.”
Three: As I write this post, my third lesson just happened last week at Gold’s Gym in Tulsa, OK. This was only my second trip to this gym and after paying my guest fee, with headphones on, I went to work. It was one of my more low-key days hitting calves followed by a core conditioning circuit. I was just about to wrap up my workout when a young man named Tyler came over to introduce himself.
He had been foam rolling and stretching across the way from where I was training and I noticed him watching me a few times but thought nothing of it. Unless you’re a professional bodybuilder (which I’m NOT), calf training is generally not going to gain you any attention.
My core conditioning circuit however routinely draws comments as I travel to different gyms around my territory. Let’s just say it’s not based on sit ups, crunches, leg raises, or any other flexion based movements. The exercises are much more dynamic, anti-flexion & anti-extension based, and when done in a circuit, provide a “strong” cardio effect.
Bottom line…it’s hard!
After introducing himself, Tyler’s first question was “where did you get those exercises?”
As a certified personal trainer and with over 30 years of experience from the “school of hard knocks”, I was happy to share. We didn’t talk for long and I gave him some direction on a few resources where he could learn more about the exercises I was doing. He was very polite and appreciative and we parted ways after only a brief conversation.
My first experience with Christy taught me the power of how we can influence someone negatively with only our body language. This is a classic case of actions speaking louder than words and in portraying in inaccurate picture of reality. Little did I know.
Fortunately with her I had the opportunity to redeem myself. But what if I didn’t? It could have led to nothing or it could have resulted in harm. I do know this, despite your best intentions, you can still falsely influence or even offend someone without even knowing it.
A wise woman once shared a lesson with me many years ago regarding the downside of good intentions. She said you can have the best intentions in the world with a spoken word or action taken and still offend someone. Then you have a choice.
You can accept responsibility that you did offend them regardless of your intentions and then take steps to make amends. Or you can stand justified in your “noble intentions” while they remain offended and the relationship potentially fractured. The mature choice I hope is obvious.
“The best of intentions in the absence of wisdom and discernment can get your head knocked off.”
Kelly Perkins Amidon
My second experience with Frank taught me how we are truly always on stage. At least with Christy above, I was aware of her existence. With Frank, I had no clue and we had been training in the same gym at the same time of day for weeks. While the whole experience was positive, it reinforced in my mind that we do in fact influence people without any concept of our actions.
My third experience with Tyler was a confirmation of how we can influence with our actions especially when tied to our strengths. The gym is a great example for me because it is an environment where some of my strengths are on display. I know my spiritual gifts and strengths give me credibility and the ability to influence people and this is not something I take lightly. I strive to be a good steward with those blessings daily…seeking to help people the best I can under all circumstances.
“…For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to who much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”
“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, When it is in the power of your hand to do so.”
Take home point for my readers:
Who are you influencing that you’re aware of but have no relationship with? Are your actions creating a positive or negative impression in their mind?
Who are you influencing that you have no awareness of? It’s not a trick question. The answer is that you’re always on stage and you should act accordingly.
How are you using the gifts & strengths you’ve been given? We all have the power to influence in our own special way and remember…
“to whom much is given, from him much will be required”