Nonverbal Power: Frederick Douglass
Whether the goal is a new job or a new public policy, advocates tend to focus on words and facts. Here is a fact: If I ignore my nonverbal communication, then an important tool is sitting unused in my tool box. Or worse.
I’ll never forget the time I attended a public meeting on an issue I cared deeply about. As a very new advocate, I was excited to be there. That night I was watching the news and was horrified to see myself at the meeting with a look on my face that I could only describe as bored and bitter. Immediately I knew what had happened. I had been deep in thought. But no one else knew that. Only me.
Frederick Douglass was a powerful nonverbal communicator. It is well-documented that he was the most photographed man of his time.
He was determined to use nonverbal communication to advocate against slavery, racism, and discrimination. He knew that photography gave him an opportunity to influence how people perceived people of color. That is why every picture of Frederick Douglass shows him well-dressed, solemn, and serious. He was aware and consistent, never wasting an opportunity.
To me, his eyes are amazing. His clear-eyed stare engages the viewer, insisting upon respect for the strength, potential, wisdom, and humanity, not only within him, but within oppressed people everywhere. So that’s what I’m focusing on in my own life: What are my eyes saying to other people? Do I make eye contact with others around the work table? Do my eyes light up when my family members walk into the room?
The takeaway: Nonverbal communication is powerful, whether we are intentional about it or not. It pays to be intentional.
Do you pay attention to your nonverbal communication?
How can you better utilize nonverbal communication in your advocacy?