What Does Your Walk Say About You?

“There is something about New York City that is so theatrical that I used to think … when I walked out of my apartment … that I was walking on stage. “ -Dabney Coleman

Posted on | Janine Driver | Comments ()

“There is something about New York City that is so theatrical that I used to think … when I walked out of my apartment … that I was walking on stage. “ -Dabney Coleman

Couldn’t have said it better myself, Mr. Coleman.

I spend a good deal of time in New York City – various work commitments bring me to this glorious concrete jungle several times a month.

Just last week I was filming segments with Dr. Oz – and as I hopped from one adventure to the next, I spent a good deal of time observing and interacting with people on the street.

And as many people know, there is no greater spot for people watching in the world than NYC.

And you much know how much I love to people watch. It’s what I live for.

It never ceases to amaze me what you can understand about a person (their feelings, thoughts, hopes and dreams) by simply observing them for a few minutes.

I have spent years cultivating my understanding of human behavior, and how it relates to every aspect of our lives. I believe in using this knowledge to improve our interactions across these facets – from the bedroom to the boardroom as I always say.

But the truth is – it does not take years to become more astute in your ability to understand another human being. It simply takes a willingness to learn and the capability to focus on another.

Which in today’s hectic world, is often easier said than done.

But just imagine for a minute how paying closer attention to seemingly minute behaviors can provide valuable insight into the thoughts, feelings and concerns of others - and might in turn have a profound effect on your relationships.

  • You’re fussing at your daughter for relentlessly biting her nails – do you wonder what could be troubling her so badly? Or do you simply threaten punishment in desperation?
  • Is there trouble with your significant other – but can’t figure out what it might be? The signs are there; you just have to acknowledge them.
  • Are you miserable at your third job in as many years – and still think it’s the job? Sorry, its time for some introspection.

As I observed harried New Yorkers rushing to and fro on a blustery March day – I began to wonder – what is it that they are telling us with every step they take?

After just a few minutes, I found I learned plenty. And you can too. Here are a few tips to understanding their strut – and how you can help advance, not break, their stride.

Fast Walker – We see you Mr. 5th Avenue – practically running everyone else over. We get it! You're the boss! You have places to go and people to see – and the clock is ticking. Sure, it's essential to have a purpose and be productive, but beware – this type of stride can be damaging to relationships. People around you may feel you have little time for them. Try to match their slower, more relaxed pace from time to time. It shows consideration and a cooperative nature.

Walking Buddies: Fast walkers enjoy facts, figures and clear-cut information. Speed up your presentation skills, litter your requests with factual documentation and watch the “Yes’s” roll in.

Short Strides/Slow Pace – You are laid back, calm and understanding – all great qualities for many situations. However, research has shown slow walking with short strides can be dangerous. The Journal of Nonverbal Behavior (2006), reported that researchers screened clips showing women walking at various speeds. Male participants were more likely to rate those with relaxed paces as vulnerable targets for inappropriate advances. Keep the laid back attitude when its beneficial – but be alert on the street. Keep your eyes up, back straight, and please, no phones or earbuds.

Walking Buddies:  Slow walkers are more likely to be emotional learners or decision makers. Use this approach in discussion, decision-making or the business world to build rapport or solidify a relationship. Be sure to teach your daughters how to walk when in public – upright, aware and confident – it could literally save their lives.

Gliding vs. Stomping - Unless you're trying to annoy people around you, there's no reason to go stomping about your home, office or local coffee shop. Stomping gives the impression that you are angry or upset. Think that cutie sipping his skim-mocha-latte wants to take you out on Saturday night? Think again – all that stomping is sending the message that you are NOT interested in talking – let along accepting dates.

Instead, try and glide. Imagine a kite string coming from your breast bone, pulling you gracefully along. You'll instantly appear more cool, calm and collected, instead of frustrated or upset.

Walking Buddies: Directly pointing out this strange stomping habit may embarrass your buddy. Instead, simply ask: “Is there any reason why you are so heavy-footed? It feels as though you may have something on your mind. Is that true?” Chances are, simply drawing their attention to this undesirable habit may lighten their tread. And lead to increased intimacy and improved communication in their interpersonal relationships.

Depression – In the American Journal of Psychology (1982), researchers analyzed video footage of the ambulatory motion of individuals diagnosed with depression, and those who were not. They concluded that the depressed used more of a leg-lifting motion whereas non-depressed individuals tended to propel themselves forward. 

Walking Buddies: An interesting tidbit for those harboring concerns about a friend, family member or co-worker. Taking a brief look at their stride may clue you in to their frame of mind. Not a diagnosis tool, of course, but a way to astutely observe those around you. Think of how you might approach this individual differently during confrontation or conversation, given the likelihood that they are depressed. Approaches to your communication style must be changed – in order to benefit the person you want to help. 

We can all probably name a few people in our lives that fall into each of these categories without even trying. At one point or another, you probably got irritated with your husband for being a speed demon, or annoyed with the upstairs neighbor for clearly being more elephant than human.

Using this knowledge can be beneficial in helping to interpret another’s behavior. In turn, we can make alterations to our own behavior to more effectively communicate in all manner of relationships.

I don’t know about you – but my boots were defiantly made for walking – and I hope that walk exudes all qualities I want to portray.

Now … if I could just catch up with that husband of mine…

Blog written by Janine Driver
Janine Driver is the New York Times best-selling authorof YOU SAY MORE THAN YOU THINK: A 7-Day Plan on Using the New Body...