Saturday, November 9, 2013

Judge not

One of the hardest things for us to do is to trust ourselves. In many situations, social as well as professional, we second-guess our every utterance and stifle our instincts. Why? We know there are people out there who will judge us, and too many mistakes will land us in the loser column. I could probably dig up several studies that say such a fear of judgment is deeply rooted in our brains as a self-protection mechanism. And I can think of situations where it is useful not to dive headlong into action but take time to pause and reflect. But reflection is not the same as the "instant editing" process jump-started by fear's best friend, your inner critic. That lack of trust in your words and actions is extremely detrimental to effective interpersonal communication.

I work with acting students and speaking clients. Both come to me for very different reasons. But they get into trouble the same way when they do not trust themselves. I can see the brain freeze, the dazed, I-wish-I-were-anywhere-else look that comes over them. They stand outside of the interaction, watching, judging. Asking themselves how they could improve their performance, say it better. And in the meantime, they disengage from the activity at hand: communicating.

Every communication is a conversation. Even a speech. Just because the audience does not speak while you are at the podium, don't assume they are not mentally having a dialogue with you. Indeed, you should hope that they are! But all too often that level of engagement never happens because the speaker stays "in his head," or she is preoccupied with how she looks, how she sounds, and is not "in the moment." You can't stand by and observe, criticize, or score the level of your speaking while simultaneously being engaged with the audience. You need to be there, telling them the story, living it with them.

When we see an actor who is so self-conscious he or she is not fully inhabiting the character we write her/him off as having no talent. But that is not always the case. I have been teaching acting to adults for a while now. And I have found that my students who take a leap of faith and bravely step outside of their comfort zones learn to become good actors. If they trust themselves enough to stop judging, they can transcend their own reality and actually live in the moment--as the character. They thoroughly prepare, of course, so they know where the scene will lead, and so they can fully immerse themselves in the journey.

When speakers prepare as thoroughly, they, too, can experience their speech. They can enjoy it as they are sharing it with their audience, their conversation partners. They will be freed from the need to judge themselves, as well as the fear that they will be judged. It's simple. Just trust and prepare.

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