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The Table Video

Curt Thompson

Body Language

Psychiatrist / Author / Founder of Being Known
March 7, 2013

Curt Thompson M.D., author of Anatomy of the Soul, comments on the power of body language in interpersonal communication.


So when anyone, then, is beginning to pay attention more to their mind, it’s helpful then to pay attention to, what we call, both the mind’s structures, where things happen, and functions, those thing that correlate with those different things. Examples of this would be something like a memory that I have of my experience with my own daughter when she was about 16 years of age.

And we’re standing in our kitchen and I asked her, this was on a Friday evening, and it’s important because several days before this I had, knowing that she’s a teenager, I had warned her that we as a family were gonna have a work detail with our church that we were going to have to be at at 8 o’clock on Saturday morning.

This is not good news for a 16-year-old girl to hear. So I figure I would start this process early in the week. I introduced the subject to her on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. I figure I’m doing my job as a parent. Friday night, I ask the simple question, “What time would you like for me to get you up in the morning?”

The outcome of this conversation was just withering fire from her about why it just didn’t make any sense that we were doing this tomorrow morning, and so forth and so on. And I of course, was confused ’cause I thought I’d done my homework and had behaved right as a parent. What I wasn’t counting on was that as she started to talk, my becoming aware that I was becoming as rigid as a board standing in my kitchen.

And as I started to pay attention, literally, to my back, and my stomach, and my jaw, I became aware that something, I mean it was clear that something was not okay in the conversation. But it was the first time that I felt like I had a way to diffuse the conversation, not so much by paying attention to what she was actually saying to me, but by paying attention actually to what my body was doing.

And so I said to her, “You know, I think I’m not doing very well in this conversation”. This’ll be one of those rare moments when I actually parented in a way that would be reasonable. “I would like to go over “and sit down and have a conversation about this.” Now, mind you, it’s 10 o’clock at night, I’m headed to bed.

I’m not thinking about having a 20 minute conversation with my daughter to answer the question “What time will I get you up in the morning”. However, when we sat down, it was clear that everything our body postures changed. And the very act of changing our body posture, because it was one of those rare occasions where I was paying attention to my own, I noticed that I felt less relaxed. We stopped the conversation that we had.

We took a break. 15 seconds, walked over, sat down in more comfortable chairs. And that gave me enough breathing space to back up and begin to ask her different questions about why she was upset. It’s a practical kind of thing to do that begins with the question, “What am I paying attention to?”

Most of us, and I would admit myself included, often simply react in those conversations without being mindful enough of what other parts of our body are trying to tell us. Such that if we did pay attention to them, it can lead to making different choices that lead to longterm better outcomes in relationships.