This past weekend I attended a dinner party along with several deaf guests. In addition to speech-reading, they signed; so I dug up from the recesses of my brain some American Sign Language I learned back in high school. One of the women asked about my siblings. As I signed my reply, I remembered the importance of using location in ASL. When I spoke of myself, of course, I pointed to myself. But my sister and brother weren’t present. I “set up” locations that would stand for them: I pointed to a specific spot on my left to represent my sister and a spot on my right to represent my brother. From then on, I simply pointed to “the spot” and everyone knew who I was talking about.
Even if you don’t sign, you know that location holds memory. One morning, over a decade ago, I reached into the back of my lower kitchen cupboard and pulled out a pie pan, only to discover an ENORMOUS spider running around inside of it. (It was “THIS BIG.”) Even now, after years and years of spider-free pie pan fetching, I anxiously hold my breath every time I get it, remembering that once it contained a terrifying arachnid.
Effectively using location helps us communicate more clearly and consistently. Nonverbally, we can help people remember what we want them to remember and help them compartmentalize (forget) negative news or interactions.
For example, last week as I rehearsed parts of the Nonverbal Classroom Management workshop for Sari, she would sometimes call out, “You’re telling a story! Move to your story spot!” By delivering content in a different physical location from where I gave illustrations, participants knew to tune-in to the subject matter when I stood in the “teaching” spot and to access the right side of their brains when I moved to the “story” spot. They were able to switch mental gears and remember more when I was systematic in my use of location.
We can do this on a daily basis in our offices, courtrooms, classrooms, or wherever we are. To make a strong point, detach negative information from productive work space, change subjects, or “mark off” any part of our message, we can move or shift location to create a separation.
The pie pan in the back of my lower cupboard will forever be associated in my mind with that giant spider. If I can find a place in an upper cupboard to store the dish, I will likely forget the whole incident.
Off to rearrange my kitchen cupboards…