BLUSHING SCREWS EVERYTHING UP! January 19, 2024 – Posted in: Advice, Confidence, Leaders and Teams, Personal Development

Meet Chris*, a former client who wanted help with public speaking.

Chris, a Marketing Manager in his late thirties, came to work with me a few years ago because he had to give a big speech at work and he felt he was “absolutely shite”. Chris was terrified about the task ahead but knew he had to give the speech a “go” to progress within his company.

Some digging revealed that what Chris was afraid of was blushing. He was a blusher and, at some point in the past had decided that blushing was a ‘bad’ thing.

Coach: ‘So, you’ve just said that ‘blushing is awful’. Is that right?’
Chris: ‘Yes, of course, blushing is awful. It’s horrid. It’s embarrassing. I hate it!’
Coach: ‘Can you tell me what it is about blushing that you hate?’
Chris: ‘Well, people can see that I’m nervous when I blush and that makes me seem weak.’
Coach: ‘To whom?’
Chris: ‘To them. I want them to think I’ve got my shit together, not be some blushing, nervous fool.’
Coach: ‘And does blushing mean you’re a nervous fool?’
Chris: ‘To my mind, yes.’
Coach: ‘So, when you see other people blushing you think they are nervous fools…?’
Chris: ‘Um… no, I think they’re nervous but not that they’re fools.’
Coach: ‘So, you just reserve the ‘fool’ description for yourself?’
Chris: ‘Huh! Yes, I guess I do. I just hate blushing, Jo – it screws everything up.’
Coach: ‘Yes, I understand that you believe blushing is a bad thing, but you’ve also just told me that when you see someone else blushing you believe they are nervous not that they are bad or foolish, just nervous, yes?’
Chris: ‘Yes, correct.’
Coach: ‘So, could it be possible that other people, when they see you blushing when doing public speaking, simply think you’re nervous?’
Chris: ‘Yes, I can get on board with that but it’s bad to be nervous. When you’re giving a public speech you have to hide your nerves, show them you’re in control and have it all together.’
Coach: ‘Is that true? Is that an objective, universal, life truth, Chris? That, when giving a public speech a person has to be in control, all together and utterly without nerves? Is that true?’
Chris: [silence] ‘I guess not. Lots of people must give public speeches with nerves and stuff. They must, right?’
Coach: ‘They do! I do. All the time!’
Chris: ‘You do?’
Coach: ‘Yes! I remember the first time I ever gave a speech at work to a group of people in my mid-twenties. My entire body was shaking with nerves to the point where I couldn’t read my notes because the paper was jumping around so much. My palms were sweating, my face was flushed and my voice was all over the place. Hardly the perfect ingredients for what we are told is a decent speech.’
Chris: ‘What did you do?’
Coach: ‘I kept going because I had to and people listened despite my very obvious nerves. And then something magical happened. After a couple of minutes, the shaking lessened and people laughed in the right places. And then I got a massive clap and cheer at the end mainly because (I discovered afterwards) my audience was genuinely moved by my attempts to have a good go when I was petrified. They also loved the content which involved lots of stories and funny anecdotes about the Queen Mother’s 100th Birthday parade.’
Chris: ‘You’ll have to tell me those sometime!’
Coach: ‘I will, but what I discovered that day, Chris, is so important for us all. I learned, by complete fluke, that nerves don’t last forever; they rise and crest and then fall (rather like waves) and the best way to handle them is to acknowledge they are there and then simply ride the wave. In this way, nerves can be overcome because they lose their power. My shaking lessened and disappeared in the same way that your blushing will if you just allow it.’
Chris: ‘Interesting.’
Coach: ‘I also discovered that, as a rule, people want you to do well and will, in a public speaking situation particularly, be attentive to your success. People literally ‘will you on’ when you give a speech because they want you to do well and they want to enjoy what you are saying. I learned all those years ago to somehow harness that goodwill and it completely spurred me on. I trusted in my audience, they believed in me despite myself, and that trust then blossomed into trust in myself.’
Chris: ‘Blimey! I think I assume people are waiting to see me trip up…’
Coach: ‘Yes, I think a lot of people can mistakenly assume that. The last, most important thing I discovered on that nerve-fuelled day twenty years ago was that fear doesn’t have to stop you from cracking on with something if you want to do it. Fear is just a feeling and if there is no mortal danger present then it’s probably a good idea to acknowledge the fear but to crack on anyway. Fear is a liar. It feeds you all kinds of rubbish to keep you small and stop you from growing as a person.  But—and here’s the magic—you do not have to believe what it says. When I gave that speech, Fear was telling me that I was in some kind of danger, which caused the fight, flight, freeze response to fire in my body which, in turn, exacerbated my trembling. When I carried on regardless and tuned into fear’s antidote—the goodwill in the room—the fear started to leave.’
Chris: ‘That’s amazing!’

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Coach: ‘I know and today I find public speaking pretty easy but the nerves still come! I’ve just learned to allow them and not give them any power. So, Chris, can you absolutely know for sure that to give a successful public speech you must be totally in control and experience no nerves.’
Chris: ‘No, I cannot.’
Coach: ‘And, what about blushing? Can you absolutely know that blushing is a bad thing?’
Chris: ‘Well, no, I guess for some people blushing might be less bad than it is for me.’
Coach: ‘Can you think of an example where blushing might be less bad?’
Chris: ‘Well… [thinking] when I met my wife for the first time and complimented her on her lovely dress she blushed and I knew that meant she liked me. I guess the blushing was a signal to me that my thoughts held meaning for her.’
Coach: ‘Did her blushing in that moment hold any negativity for you?’
Chris: ‘No, not at all.’
Coach: ‘Did you judge her as ‘bad’ or ‘weak’ for blushing?’
Chris: ‘No! It was lovely – she was real and a little vulnerable in that moment and I warmed to her.’
Coach: [Silence]
Chris: ‘Yes, I see that I’ve labelled blushing as a terrible weakness when in fact it might just be a leveller.’
Coach: ‘Based on what you’ve just told me it’s possible. So, in the past when you’ve done public speaking and you’ve blushed, what has Fear said to you?’
Chris: ‘That’s easy, it says, ‘Everyone is looking, they all think you’re screwing up and they can see that you’re scared. They’re probably laughing at you, they don’t trust in what you’re saying.’ Something like that.’
Coach: ‘Yes, that sounds about right! Now, what about your wiser voice, Chris? What does the voice you’d use to comfort a young child say about blushing during a speech? Close your eyes and ask your deeper self what it thinks.’
Chris: [Thinking] ‘It says, ‘Blushing is like blinking – it’s just the body responding to the environment it’s in. Blushing is just blushing.’
Coach: ‘That’s a wise voice you’ve got in there! It’s my experience that when we allow these things to be expressed they hang around for a lot less time than they would if we resisted them. I have to ask you, if blushing were not a problem how would you feel about public speaking?’
Chris: ‘I actually really enjoy the speaking, the teaching part, because I love sharing ideas. I’ve just always believed that blushing makes me a shite public speaker but maybe I’m a good public speaker who happens to blush.’
Coach: ‘Maybe you are. And maybe blushing is your authentic self’s way of inviting a real connection with your audience. After all, they are much more likely to connect to what you are saying if they can connect with who you are.’
Chris: ‘Yes, I see that, I see that now!

Can you relate to Chris? When have you been in a similar situation? What happened with him shows just how powerful a new perspective can be and what happens when we take time to do business with our negativity and fear. 

*not his real name

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