Dab or Float, Press or Punch? This week, Sarah shares the basic framework of Laban Movement Analysis (LMA). Rooted in the studies of theatre and dance, LMA can be used in a wide variety of settings to help us understand and identify the different ways we communicate.
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Sarah Noll Wilson
Hello, and welcome to this week’s episode of Conversations on Conversations where each week we explore a topic to help us have more powerful conversations with ourselves and with other people. I am your host, Sarah Noll Wilson, and I’m also your guest this week. So we’re gonna do a solo show, one of the things that we’re exploring and experimenting in our, you know, our first year of doing this is testing out different ways of sharing information. And today, what we thought would be fun is to do a mini episode, so not as long as our normal ones, and really focus in on a very specific tool that you can use in your existing life. But before we jump into that tool, of how can we have more powerful conversations, I just want to take a moment and invite and encourage, if you haven’t already, to please rate and review the show. You can do this on Apple podcast, you can do it on Spotify, this is incredibly helpful. So if you’ve been listening to us for a while, please take some time to log on, rate and review the show. It helps us increase our visibility and bring on really great guests.
Normally, I would say whoever I’m talking to, but it’s me! So it helps us bring on great people. But so please be sure to do that. And I’m so excited to explore this with you. We’ve been talking as a team of just how can we continue to add value? How can we give you really specific strategies and practices? So we aren’t just thinking about how to have conversations, but we’re actually having the conversations we need to. And this week, I want to share with you a strategy that I’ve learned back from my acting days. And I’ll tell you a little bit about my background that I use when I am coaching people who are engaging in conversations or having to have conversations that may have some emotional heat. This is also a strategy that I use, actually quite a lot. And so let’s just jump into it. You know, one of the things that in the work of how do we have different conversations, especially how do we navigate conversations when things may be difficult, or when there’s emotional heat behind it. And there are so many great resources, there’s so many, there’s so many books behind me that I would recommend. There’s so many people I would recommend that you follow. But there’s a lot of resources out there that explore the idea of what to say? What’s the language? What are the questions we should be asking and answering, you know, even for the work that we do we spend a lot of time in the land of what should we say. And that is important. It is incredibly important that we are intentional and thoughtful about the words we use. How we approach questions that we ask. How we receive conversations when they’re brought to us. But as important I have found over the last 10 years of really doing this work is that it isn’t just what you say, it’s how you say it. It’s how am I using my voice? What is the tone that I’m using? How am I using my physical energy in having this conversation. And you know, a good friend of mine, Stephanie Chin, who has started a company called Spicy Conversations, the way that she always says it is that there isn’t a script, but there is always a tone. And so I’m excited to share with you this really unique tool that someday I may write about in more detail that has been instrumental and helping me have more courage, helping the clients we support have more courage. Helping them be able to show up perhaps more calmly, or even more candidly, depending on what the situation needs.
But first, let’s go back. Let’s go back a few years. So let’s unwind, and we’re gonna go back and I was trying to remember when this came about, and I think it was about eight or nine years ago. So it’s been a minute. And I you know, I was working with someone who often received feedback that their communication style was very aggressive, almost combative at times. And you know, and it made people nervous to connect with them, to communicate with them, because a lot of times, there was, you know, just a lot of damage that happened because of not only what they were saying but how they’re saying it. And as I was receiving this feedback, and talking with this individual that certainly obviously wasn’t the intention, but emotions would would rise and they recognize that yeah, sometimes I get really, really sharp when I’m frustrated, I get really sharp. And as they were talking, I found myself going back to Sarah and her classical training, acting training days, and thinking, wow, she’s really — there’s a punch here, when, when these conversations are happening, or there’s a slashing.
I want to be really clear, we know that there is a huge gender divide with feedback around being too assertive, too aggressive. And, you know, when we looked at the situation, and even in the person who I was working with their reflection, they very much own, they’re like, oh, no, I can get very, very sharp, very intentionally sharp. And so I just want to want to highlight that as we talk through this. But when I was thinking about a punch, it made me go back to my voice and movement days. Because one of the things that I learned as a classically trained actor was to not only understand how to use my voice to create character, to connect with emotion, to express emotion. But one of the things we spent a lot of time on was how do we use the voice and the body to be able to communicate what we wanted to communicate in that moment. And it’s funny for me to reflect on and think about, that I spent most of my undergraduate degree, learning how to breathe properly, learning how to project, learning how to warm up my voice, my instrument as an actor. Learning how to use my body, voice and movement class was a really important part of our training, you know, because it isn’t enough when you’re standing on stage to sound a certain way. It’s about embodying that character, and how does that character move? And how does that character feel? And how does that character take up space? And what is the speed at which that character talks? Is it a slow talker? Or is it a really fast talker?
And so what I want to introduce to you this week, is a body of knowledge of a practice that’s very well known in the dance world, and also known in the acting and voice and movement world. And I took down some notes so I can make sure that I capture this all explicitly, but I want to share with you the specific movement style. And then I’m going to connect to how can we use that to think about how we have conversations, to think about how are we using our voice? How are we using our body? What is the emotion that I want to express in this moment, and then I’ll share with you some case studies from again, my personal experience in working with clients, and how valuable this is. So the tool is called or the approach is called the Laban Movement Analysis, or LMA. And what it does is this body of work provides a vocabulary and a framework so that we can better understand how the body expresses emotions through movement. The Laban Movement Analysis, one of the ways to think about it, it’s a way for us to think about, to describe, to assess, and to embody the ways that humans move and exist in the world. And it’s very much used by dancers and choreographers. It’s also you know, as early as the 80s and 90s, was being utilized in the clowning space and the space of, and acting. And again, you might be thinking what does clowning have to do with difficult conversations? I’m going to connect this thread in a minute and I promise you, it’ll be really, really valuable. So first I want to give some background and honor the person who created this. Rudolph Laban, he first published his book, The Mastery of Movement, in 1950 and he was a pioneer of modern dance, sort of the modern dance as we know it, he was one of the pioneers of that styles. He’s also you know, he was one of the first dancers to really try to identify and give language to how do we communicate emotions through movement and, and voice and space and shape and all of those things. And so there’s a couple of different components to the practice of the the Laban Movement Analysis.
Now when I say analysis that sounds so intellectual for something that is such a kinesthetic experience, but basically the idea is to really understand and pay attention and name, how do you move through space? How do you use your body? How do you use your voice? How do other people move through space and use their body use their voice? Use tone and pacing and all of that? Eespecially from a dancing perspective, as well as an acting perspective, this character I’m embodying how do they move, so it doesn’t look and sound like Sarah, under normal circumstances. But the thing that is so powerful, is that what he did in his research and in again, this has been around since the 50s but it hasn’t changed. Because humans are beautifully predictable in some ways in how we how we move. So what he created and described is what he calls efforts. And, and basically, he identified eight different ways that movement happens and creates feelings. And these efforts, if you will, or styles might be an easier way of thinking of it. The styles are essentially broken into four components. The first is how do we move through the world? Do we move in ways that are direct? Or do we move in ways that are more indirect? As, as I’m listing off these different styles or types, I want you to think about for yourself, how would you, where do you fall? There are times when I can be direct, but I’m a very indirect communicator, right? I’ve kind of like I move my head, I move my body indirectly, especially if I get really excited, but my dominant form is to be very indirect in communication. And there are people in my life who are very direct, right? They’re very clear, you know, like, there’s literally a line from them to you, or whoever they’re talking to.
So the first way we can think about how we move and how we show up is through how we use the space. Are we indirect or are we direct? Okay, so that’s the first one. The second thing that we look at, is time or speed. Are you quick? Are you more sustained? Are you slower in how you communicate? Are you slower in how you move through the world? There are times when I’m very fast. And again, for those of you who have been listening for a while, you can tell that I’m a quick communicator, I’m quick in how I move typically, but there are times when it’s more sustained, or it’s more slow. And you can even think about people in your own life. I know people who do just go through life a little bit slower, a little bit more sustained. The way again, they communicate, the way they physically move, is more sustained compared to more quick. So we have direct or indirect. And we have fast or slow, quick or sustained. The third component we look at is we look at weight. And what this means is do I move through? Do I move in a way that is light, right? That I’m really light in how I communicate? I’m light in my energy, or am I more heavy, right. And so this has to do with weight. So again, my heavy, may not be as heavy as someone else’s, because I’m a pretty light communicator, and I move through this world with a lot of lightness, and quickness, and indirectness. And what you’re gonna love is in a moment, each of these categorizations, like each of these organized create a specific style with a very descriptive name. Okay, so the final one is what they call Flow. In Flow is are you somebody who exists and moves and talks in a way that’s very bound? It’s very tight, right? There’s a constraint almost. Or are you more free flowing? So we can think of this as bound or flowing. And for those of you who are like, wow, this is a lot to keep in mind, we’ll put in the show notes how these are organized. So for those of you who are, you know, like to have the visual cue, you’ll see these in the show notes. Here’s why I’m bringing this up when it relates to conversations. For example, if I am somebody who tends to be more indirect, that can impact my ability to be clear. It can impact my ability to be heard. It can impact my ability to communicate a sense of urgency. If I’m very indirect in my language, if I’m indirect in my movements and if I’m indirect in my vocal tonality, well, I don’t know, maybe we should try, right? There are times when that can be really unproductive for me to be able to get my point across or to be able to create a sense of urgency. Now I’ll talk in a little bit about how actually being indirect can be a very effective way to de-escalate conflict.
So let’s talk about the eight efforts. And I’ll go through them. I will see how this works but I might try to embody them a bit. And then I’m going to talk about what this looks like, in connection to conversations. So if somebody moves in a way that is indirect, quick, light, and free, right, so not bound, we call that a Flick. Flick, flick, flick, like oh, it’s like a little, you know, it’s like a squirrel, right? A little buzzing bee that’s going everywhere. When I get, my husband can attest to this and so can my colleagues and friends, when I get really excited, I’m in full Flick mode, like, oh yeah. And then there’s this. And then there’s this, and what about this? And now I’m thinking about this, and oh, yeah and then this happened and right. It’s very fast. It’s very indirect. It’s very light. And it’s very free flowing, right? So Flick. Okay, so my fellow flickers out there, I see you. Now, let’s say someone is indirect but instead of and they’re light in the free, but instead of being fast, they’re slower. They’re more sustained. We call this a Float. And you can think of literally a cloud just floating around, there’s no direction it needs to go. It’s light. It’s sustained. It’s indirect. And it’s free. Right? So just like a float of, yeah, that’s a really good point that you brought up right there. You know sometimes we can attach emotions to some of these, right? You know, a Float, a Float might be like, ah, I’m just sitting in awe of this. Floats can show up in a lot of different ways. So for my floaters, I see you. So indirect, slow, light, and free. We’re just floating along, right.
Now. Let’s say you’re somebody who is not indirect, but direct. So we’re going to we’re going to stay in the space of lightness. So you’re direct you’re quick, you’re light, but you’re more bound. We call this a Dab. So a Dab is direct. It’s quick, it’s light, and it’s bound. Dab, dab, dab. You can almost think of it as somebody poking someone like dab, dab, dab, dab, dab. Hey, I want to ask you a question right now. Hey, I’m really curious about this. Dab, dab, dab. It’s direct. It’s quick. It’s light. And it’s bound. Dab, dab, dab, dab, dab. A Glide? A Glide is somebody who is direct, who is sustained or slow, who’s light and who’s free. So a Glide is like, I always think of it as like, the words are moving from my mouth to yours. It’s direct. It’s light. It’s, it’s free flowing. And it’s slow. It’s sustained. So I’m going to go through all of these, but I want to come, I’m going to come back to Glide because Glide is my anchor when I’m struggling with being direct. Okay. All right. So let’s say someone is more direct, they are quick, there’s a heaviness to it, and they’re bound. We call this a Punch. Why did you do that? That is a Punch. It’s very direct, it’s very quick, it’s very heavy, and it’s very bound. And to be clear, there’s no right or wrong way to exist in the world. We just need to understand the impact that it’s having and also how we’re showing up right? And are we okay with that? And are we okay with how that’s being received? Because sometimes a Punch is necessary when we are setting a boundary. That is not okay. That is not okay, that you did that right now.
You know, one of the tools we use when working with teams is honor the emotion, coach the behavior. It is okay that you’re upset right now, what’s not okay, is that you’re doing this and this. You can feel that there’s, there’s more of a directness in my voice, you can hear that there’s a quickness, it’s heavier than when I’m gliding. And it’s more bound. Okay. So direct, slow, heavy, bound is what we call a Press. A Press is sort of like take the Punch but just slow it down. It is not okay that you just said that. And that is me pressing. Now again, my my heaviness is not as heavy as other people. That’s something I work on. But a Press is like, we need to talk about this. Can we just slow this down for a moment? That’s a Press. So think of like you’re pressing your body against, right? Whatever, whatever you’re talking about and what you’re communicating. So the last two, is we have what we call a Ring. So think about ringing a towel together. If you’re, like, squeezing it and ringing it. So a Ring is indirect, it’s sustained, it’s heavy, and it’s bound. Right? So — Ooohhh, I just… I don’t know that I want… I’m not ready for this yet. Like, you could feel the body contouring. I mean, there are times where it’s like, oh, I wish I hadn’t seen that. Right? And it’s tight, and it’s indirect, and it’s sustained, and it’s heavy, and it’s bound. Okay, and then the last one, they call a Slash. A Slash is indirect, it’s quick, it’s heavy, and it’s free. So think of slashing your hands. Like, I don’t know why we’re doing all of this! Why did you bring this up right now? Or whatever the case might be! We consider that a Slash.
So how do we use this? One, it is really helpful for us to understand what is our most sort of common default state. So for example, I shared with you that my default, I tend to be light, I tend to be really indirect, and I can be really fast and free, like I’m very much that Flick a lot of the times. But if I, if I am wanting to connect with someone, in a more maybe perhaps vulnerable way, if I am wanting to make sure my message gets heard, or if I’m wanting to make sure that I hear them, I will sometimes remind myself to glide. And just to glide and think about like I’m thinking about connecting with that person very directly. I’m thinking about connecting with them lightly. I’m thinking about connecting to them in a more sustained or slower way. But there’s still like a freeness to it. Right? We were just talking to a neighbor who had just lost his mother. And it was the first we had heard of it. And you know, and just a really, just a really terrible scenario, even if the circumstances were expected. And it can be easy in those moments to feel a little overwhelmed with what do I say, I don’t know what to say, in this moment. And in those moments, I try to anchor myself in a gliding place of just like, what are you, I just want to know, what are you doing to take care of you? Or at one point, I asked him if you ever need someone to just like, if you ever just want to talk about your mom, I just want you to know, you can talk about her with me. And it actually opened up this beautiful conversation. But gliding can be a really effective strategy for those of us who can be more indirect.
Understanding that there are times when it’s appropriate to Punch and there’s times when it’s appropriate to Press. That there are times when if I am, maybe I’m sharing feedback, and I can tell it’s being dismissed. They’re telling me it’s not that big of a deal. I might press a little bit and I am thinking about this, because it’s not my normal tendency to be direct. It is my tendency to be indirect. So a press might look like, I hear what you’re saying, or I’m not sure you’re hearing how important this is to me. I’m slowing it down. I’m being more direct. I’m bringing a little bit more heaviness into it. And perhaps there’s even just like a little bit more bound. Right, my energy’s a little bit more contained than then it might be normally.
Now the flip side is, so we can know what started all of this, eight or nine years ago, was the individual that I was working with, there were things that she was saying that were great, but sometimes they were coming out as a Slash. And there again, I want to be really clear, there are times where it’s like, I’m pissed right now and I’m angry, and I’m just going to say that. I think about the conversation, the earlier conversation we had with Katrina Jones, where she shared the story of like, “I just finally said, I’m mad.” And in that moment, needed to her to essentially slash. Be indirect, quick, heavy and free. Like, I am mad right now! In this particular case, what we were trying to do and work on was to explore ways that she could show up when people shared feedback differently and not to dismiss her needs, not to be demure by any means, but to just be like, have another tool in her tool belt for how she could communicate that. So this is, again, a tool that I use. And it’s really helpful, because if I’m really indirect, or if I am always heavy, and I’m always laying down a heaviness, there are times when a little lightness can go a long way. And there are times when we need to bring some heaviness to what we’re saying, so that we can help people understand, hey, you know, can we talk? I, you know, I want to talk to you about this, would you be open to talking about what happened back at that meeting? And, and it can help us so. So for those of you who are like, whoo, so how do we apply this? Sometimes I have to physically rub like, I physically imagined the words coming out of my mouth, in the way that I’m trying to communicate them. So if I’m gliding, I imagine them just gently coming out of my mouth and over to the next person, or sometimes I imagine it like heart to heart. If I’m pressing, I physically imagine that. Because again, you know, and I’m speaking from my personal experience, eye contact is really hard for me. Eye contact is really hard, because of my neuro divergent brain. And, and I understand we live in a culture that values eye contact, and I have lots of opinions on that and why that’s problematic and not necessarily inclusive. But I also recognize that there are times when it can just be effective when my communication is more direct, even if my eye contact isn’t, if my energy is. So as you’re thinking about yourself, I want you to do two different ways you can use this. The first is, I want you to identify what is your pattern? What is your core pattern? What is your default? And then when you’re coming into situations, perhaps think about, what does this moment need, for me, perhaps to show up differently to be even more effective? So again, that might mean if I need have more courage. If I need to speak and stand with courage, I am very much thinking direct, heavy, perhaps bound. I’m thinking direct, heavy and slow. A lot of times, like, how do I make sure I keep myself anchored and grounded in this moment? How do I make sure that this is communicated effectively? Or even, how do I make sure I receive what is communicating to me effectively? And I think that it’s worth exploring to like, what are the expectations of norms in your organization? We know that they’re, you know, having done a lot of work with cultures that are very conflict avoidant, they tend to be very indirect, which means that when people show up more direct, it can feel more severe than it actually is. So part of it, another point of reflection we can do is what communication style is different for me, and maybe feels difficult to me. Right? It’s not they’re not being difficult. It’s difficult for me. So I know for myself that there are times when if I am with somebody who’s very direct, who’s very heavy, who’s perhaps really fast and bound or you know, if they’re that Punch, or that, that Press that that can be difficult for me, but understanding that means it’s not a judgment on them. It’s an exploration for me to get curious about how do I want to show up in this moment? And what is it about that? You know, like, if it’s, you know, part of it is I’m just used to being indirect, I’m used to living in a very indirect culture. And so it’s a place for us to be able to get curious too of like, what is it about how someone’s communicating to me, that makes me uncomfortable? And in the spirit of curiosity, how do we get curious about that? Because it isn’t, it isn’t that that person’s difficult. It’s that it’s difficult for me. And so that’s another way we can use this tool.
So again, we will share each of the eight efforts. And you know, I’m curious to hear from you. I would love to hear from you. You know, what’s your default? What have you learned, as far as how you communicate, what’s effective? I, you know, for example, I know that there are some situations where being indirect is really effective. I know there are some situations where being light and quick is really helpful. There are times when being more direct is helpful. Being heavier, is helpful. Being slower, is helpful. Being more bound or controlled is really valuable. It really just depends on the situation, how you want to show up, and what’s the impact you want to make.
So I hope that this has been helpful. I would love to hear from you. What is your default? What are you learning about yourself as you think about how you can utilize the Laban Movement Analysis and how you show up and how you communicate? So drop us a line at podcast at Sarah Noll Wilson dot com. And we would love to hear the insights. Again, this is a tool that I often am using with people I’m working with, and I use for myself, that allows me to have more notes to play. That’s one of the things that, you know, when I think about how do we increase the impact of how we show up for ourselves and for others. One of the ways is we have more tools to use, we have, you know, if you think of a singer, you know, in the spirit of being theatrical for this theme of this episode, if you think of a singer, really great singers have a big range. They can play a lot, they can sing a lot of different songs over a variety of keys because they can sing so many different notes. But if we only know how to sing one or two notes, it limits us into how we can show up more powerfully for ourselves and for other people. And I hope that by talking through this tool, you can add a couple more notes to the songs you can sing for yourself and with others.
And so with that, that wraps up our mini episode, I realize it’s not so mini, we’re at 32 minutes. But that wraps up our mini episode. And again, I want to hear from you so you can reach out to us at podcast at Sarah Noll Wilson dot com. You can connect with me on social media where my DMs are always open. And if you’d like to find out more about the work we do and how we support teams and leaders to have conversations that matter, you can always check us out at Sarah Noll Wilson dot com. You can also pick up a copy of my latest book, Don’t Feed the Elephants! wherever books are sold. And if you’d like to support the show, consider becoming a patron. You can go to patreon dot com/conversations on conversations where your financial support supports the show and the amazing team that makes it happen.
And again, just one final ask that if you haven’t already, please rate, review, and subscribe to the show. This helps with us getting visibility, it helps with the algorithms, all of that. It gives us feedback so it’s actually a really significant gift that you can give us. I want to take a moment and thank our incredible team who makes this show possible. To our producer Nick Wilson, our sound editor Drew Noll, our transcriptionist Becky Reinert, our marketing consultant Kaitlyn Summitt-Nelson, and the rest of the SNoWco crew. And I just want to give a final thank you to you for joining me today as we explore and experiment with new ways that we can share information that will be meaningful for you. This has been Conversations on Conversations. Thank you so much for listening. And remember, when we can change the conversations we have with ourselves and others. We can change the world. Thank you so much. Please be sure to rest, rehydrate and we’ll see you again next week.
Sarah Noll Wilson is on a mission to help leaders build and rebuild teams. She aims to empower leaders to understand and honor the beautiful complexity of the humans they serve. Through her work as an Executive Coach, an in-demand Keynote Speaker, Researcher, Contributor to Harvard Business Review, and Bestselling Author of “Don’t Feed the Elephants”, Sarah helps leaders close the gap between what they intend to do and the actual impact they make. She hosts the podcast “Conversations on Conversations”, is certified in Co-Active Coaching and Conversational Intelligence, and is a frequent guest lecturer at universities. In addition to her work with organizations, Sarah is a passionate advocate for mental health.