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The senior living industry has a voice. You can hear it on Bridge the Gap podcast!

Episode 37: Dr. Donna Van Natten

Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas.

Today we have an exciting guest, we have Dr. Donna-welcome to the show!

Donna: Thanks so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here!

Lucas: So, we’ve got a little background noise here because we are in the lobby of a very active hotel right now and we are really excited to talk to Donna because she is the body language doctor and a keynote speaker at a lot of industry events.

Today we are sitting down with you because we’re involved with Leading Age Tennessee and you’ve been a keynote speaker here.

Donna: Yes, thank you! It was wonderful-had a great time.

Lucas: And the feedback has been really, really good. So, I think for our listeners in our audience, we’d love to know your background and what got you down this path.

Donna: Well, it’s kind of an interesting background. I love people- have from early on. Of course like many people say, 30 years ago I was a junior high teacher so I looked at the 14-year-old and I found that person to be fascinating and so when I look at adults I’m thinking, you’re 14 but you can drive. So, I just enjoy the dynamics of people and how they interact in social situations and how they really speak and they don’t have to say anything. So, a room like this is just wonderful to take it all in.

Lucas: Absolutely. So, I know that you know you’re a CEO and I am primarily in a business development role and so the topic of body language is really interesting to me because I’m constantly and maybe even over analyzing what I’m doing or on the flipside I’m not thinking about what I’m doing at all. So, I would love to hear like you’re speaking to an industry where seniors are being cared for and people are trying to build leadership teams just as they would in any business but it’s a very unique skill set.

So, what did you talk to them today about building their leadership teams and how that translates over into a care environment?

Donna: Well, we talked about several things. For example, when you’re meeting with families, how far do you sit or where do you sit at the table to make them feel comfortable or to get them to talk more because it’s a stressful situation, So, you know that the court is all is flying and then you throw financial in there and then you throw love and emotion in there and it’s tough. So, we wear it, you know, we wear it on the outside of our body or the color of our skin for what our hands are doing or how much we, are where we text somebody to build trust.

And trust is one-tenth- you either have it or you don’t. So, on a first impression you’re like, wow, do they buy? Do they buy me, all of me, or am I a fraud? Do they know that I genuinely care or is it just a job? So, it’s teaching things like that to build instant rapport. Yesterday, we did a deep dive on a pre-work session here at the conference and we talked about first impressions and just how powerful they are. Because first impressions are lasting impressions.

So, we also talked about what we do with our body from our elbows and how much space we consume- the study of proxemics, the study of touch and haptics- we didn’t really get into that- but even our tone of voice, even sitting here competing with the Starbucks machine, how do we talk to each other? How loud do we get? Or how fast do we talk? Or how long do we talk?

So, all of those elements make up communication which is how we navigate our world.

Josh: Fascinating. So, here at this conference, probably not a lot different to a lot of conferences that you go, we have a variety of different leadership from clinical teams to CEOs to ownership groups. Then we’ve got some blind staff, what we call line staff you know, that maybe have little college education and they’re going back to communities with a very diverse work group.

What are some takeaways- is this kind of a universal language where everybody can be taught at the same level and we’re all focusing on the same thing or do you have kind of a takeaway for the C Suite and how they take that and deliver that message a little different to maybe your housekeeper or a caregiver?

Donna: I would think so because at a CEO level, I think you’re watched, you’re under scrutiny all the time so how are you presenting yourself because you may not be in a direct service with a family however you’re out dealing with financial institutes and building trust that way or trying to bring a new partner also how do you make those type of relationships? Which have to do with maybe handshakes, the mastery of a handshake. And as we know, men, you know, sometimes we’re like- oh, that was a horrible handshake, what do we do? And you remember it every time when it’s a great one and when it’s a lousy one.

So, maybe that would be a little bit different but then how close you get to a senior in his or her room to make them feel comfortable, so very different. Or, how welcoming is your smile? Smiles are universal compared to some other nonverbals which might be culturally driven but can they see you kind of thing.

Maybe a CEO doesn’t think about that because they’re on a big platform to be seen. So, there are different takeaways depending on what role you play. But, at the end of the day we’re all humans and we all want to be social and engage with each other so in that part we share it.

Josh: So, really interesting. I got to ask you: so we’re in an interesting position because Lucas and myself we are getting to see behind the scenes of the show that we’re at, that you’re speaking at so we’re going in and out. We’re the media team and helping out with things. So, people are coming out saying, oh no I got called out for being on my cell phone and oh no, I’m afraid to go back in there. I don’t know what she’s gonna say to me but I’ve got to get back in (and) I’ve got to hear more.

So, it’s very interesting to me that people are so in tune, in touch and want to hear what you’re saying. It’s almost like they’re craving it but yet they’re scared to death to go back in there. So, tell me what that’s all about.

Donna: I think that’s one of those things that’s human nature- I want to be present but don’t call me out or some people don’t mind it. So, that’s kind of the nature of humans, if you will.

But the information part of it, kind of like you do the inform part of it, is critical whether or not the message of how it’s delivered- I try to deliver with a lot of humor and compassion and getting close- but if you think about it when I typically have 60 minutes I have to get a lot information and build quick rapport- do you believe what I’m going to say? And then there’s 200 people that you don’t want to offend but you’re talking about their bodies, you’re talking about their facial expressions. You might be talking about what they chose to wear so it really is about them and what they want to take away from it.

We all know you have something that’s called learning mode. Am I in learning mode? Am I receptive? And I’ve actually people come up and be honest, tell me what you think about my glasses. I had that in a conference one time with 600 women in the room and I’m like well-and they were big purple circle glasses- and I said well, I don’t wanna be the one to tell you. How about we let them tell you? And I said, do you think she should keep her classes? And it was a resounding, no! And her feedback was, I need to go to the store tomorrow.

So, she took it great. She was ready for it versus if I see somebody and I might be noticing something like cleavage. Cleavage is a sensitive but very obvious issue and we don’t like to talk about it but sometime it’s right there. And so, I tend to talk about what’s right there, whatever it might be.

And that’s what most people probably are comfortable with if they are uncomfortable is I talk about things that we talk about behind peoples back.

Lucas: We need like a Dr. Donna app. An artificial intelligence that just every single day you can
just check in with Dr. Donna and say, how does this look?

Josh: Well, speaking of that, I mean, so between the deep dive yesterday, the keynote toda- there’s a lot of content there and I’m sure you’re just scratching at the surface of this. For a CEO that has been at a conference, they’ve come and they’ve been overwhelmed with information in their like, how can I take this back? Where do I start? I’m feeling overwhelmed, I can’t possibly regurgitate everything she says- what would be your encouragement? Where is the place to start at implementing some of these just key things in your organization?

Donna: I think one of the things that we all have in common is that we read each other’s faces. So, what does your face look like as far as how it’s a groomed. I mean, look at your grooming, you know, it’s almost identical. You chose to make that a certain length or to stop it right here.

Lucas: I’m hiding a lot behind this.

Donna: That’s your mask. Yeah, you masked man you.

And I think the first step is an awareness- things that you didn’t notice before. You’re like, I never thought about that before or that my hand was here but like when you spoke just a minute ago your hand came up to reinforce your message. Are you aware that it did that?

Josh: I was totally not aware just like right now. Now I’m totally aware. What do I do with my hands?

Donna: Exactly, so the goal was to mesmerize and terrorize kind of thing. It makes you almost paranoid from where your glasses sit to how low is this now or is this watch right or how are my fingers groomed?

So, the first part I think for everybody, even at the CEO level, and they might have some mastery of it just by experience or being taught earlier is to, okay, I’m going to work on this today or I’m going to work on a tone element today or a word choice today. You know, people have the word apps to expand their vocabulary or how they might pronounce a word, if you will. So, all of those play into part of our communication but when it comes to the nonverbal part, it might be how you’re sitting just like how you asked me will I sit in the middle or will I sit on the end and I thought, well, I can see both of you if I do this versus-

Lucas: – a tennis match. The twins players of tennis.

And so, even when you walk into a room, what does that look like? Alot of times even at the CEO level, the hand crossing the body to check the cuffs or to go into the hands to the pocket, those are really telltale signs of what’s going on inside of all of us and we all experience that.

So, I think an awareness or being intentional or beginning to look at other people is a great place to start.

Lucas: Well, you bring up a good point that I would love to just selfishly talk about. So, I’m always constantly- and I think other people will resonate with this- I’m wondering like what to do with my hands. You walk into a room and a lot of times I’ll put them in my pocket, I’ll put them behind my back. I recently saw a photo online where it says six men in suits all standing there with their arms crossed in front of their body and it almost looked like they were in a line up, like they were in trouble.

Donna: Those are natural places, particularly for males, to go to fig leaf, if you will, or to go to the pocket. And if you think about it, because at our core we are Homo sapiens so our core safety is to protect ourselves from the neck area and we do reproduce and so we want to take care of our critical body parts, if you will, and so that’s a very natural. Particularly males are close to each other (and) they become very stiff and aware of where everybody is, you know, placement of people. And so, ideally, if you can get to the point where you rested at your side with a relax palm and relaxed wrist, straight down, but it takes a lot to do that because you’re like I feel awkward here. But then it’s practicing it so that it becomes natural, kind of like when you don’t think about how your hands should be or how far we should hold this from our bodies, if you will.

Lucas: Gotcha, gotcha. I notice for myself, a lot of times, I’ll grab my wedding ring with my other hand and spin it, kind of keep my hands up in front of me. This is very practical and tactical.

So, I have another question about photographs. In a business setting, if you’re taking a headshot or even just posing for, I mean, social media now, everybody’s getting their photo taken and there’s just a whole stream and feed.

Donna: Yes-

Lucas: What are we trying to communicate and what can we think about entering into those kind of candid photos that would send a message that is positive?

Donna: Well, what’s in the background is always a great question. Is it a brick wall in the background? Is it a tree? You’re conveying the entire photo within the frame and so what people want to pick up on is, oh is that a car I see- are they in a parking lot? Or where are they? Just like this is, you thought about where this would be from the hardwood table to put what’s in the background kind of thing, even from the ambient noise, if you will.

So, when it comes to things like that you, of course, your smile- people say they have a good side or I like the way I photograph this side better. In photos , here’s a power position on a photo. When you’re looking at the photo, the power position person is typically on the left and it has to do with the handshake coming around of a broken wrist on the right if you will versus handshake of ownership on the left.

So, you can look at politicians, you’ll see someone it give it up to that position or they take it kind of thing. And so, what clothing are you wearing? Is it an open shirt? Are you purposely putting on a tie? Are you are you wearing makeup? And men and women can wear makeup, we know it sends different messages, but some are okay depending on where you are. And, how your hair is for some instant matter, I just put a ball cap- well people notice that you put a ball cap on because either your hair wasn’t done or you’re going to sports game or you’re lazy.

Those are things that we infer, that we are hungry to make a connection so that’s one of the interesting things about social media is we may lose this people the people feel which we learned so much from- that’s what emoji’s came from, emoticons. We want to see a smile and eyes and laughing and then anything to animate because of being a social being.

Josh: So, I’d like to digress a little bit because we jumped right into the body language but I would kind of like to know about your why. What got you doing this? I mean this is a very specific field of study and you’re in a niche. So, you know, I’ve heard some little bits and pieces but I mean you’ve devoted your life to this, you speak all over the country- What brought you to this point and what was your motivation for doing this?

Donna: I think it helps having come out a formal education. So, my mother gave me some great advice years ago when I chose not to be in the classroom anymore- she said, this is your classroom. You know, a stage is your classroom. And have an innate- I am a teacher at heart so whatever the content is is something I want to teach but I have a natural desire to want to help people. So my intention is always helpful even though the message received may be, ah, that was kind of painful, you know, like in the sense of those glasses that time or somebody says, how does that look? Or what did you think of that? Even when the other people got up to speak, they were like, oh, Donna what do you think we are looking at me? And I’m like we could work on that because you may not know that your legs are crossed or that you’re looking smaller than you should be or you’re consuming, even at the table for breakfast this morning.

I feel like I love the fact that I can answer questions and it truly is humbling for me that getting to study this as a choice of sociology that I get to help people with whatever they’re doing. So, fortunately, it crosses all career fields. All ages, all stages. So from Leading Age conferences to banking to car and automotive industry, people are people. So that’s the best part about it is it crosses- as long as there’s people involved, I can be involved.

Lucas: Well, we love that. I mean our mission is to inform and educate and influence everybody in senior living and we want to make it better and that’s kind of our why-

Donna: -well, we’re all going to be in senior living in some capacity, you know. When they spoke this morning about, you know, that sandwich group. I’m a sandwich person, you know, I have the mom (and) I have the dad and I have kids. My dad passed a year and a half ago but I was right in the middle of all the topics that we’re talking about in the room today- compassionate care and what does it look like for resources and so forth.

So, the best thing to do is help each other along with this.

Lucas: Absolutely. Well, Dr. Donna, we’re so grateful that you spent time with us on Bridge the Gap podcast and I know this is going to bring a lot of value back to our audience. So how if people want to know more and they’re interested in this topic, I believe that you actually have a book?

Dona: I do. I had a book that came out a year ago November- Image Scrimage. And while it targets women with body language and it is really rooted in research- I think the back seven pages are in a complete citations- and that’s the researcher in me, the responsibility if you will.

It’s written in Donna speak. So I actually did write it, didn’t have a ghosted. And it was because people were asking and really curious about that there’s some great books on the market and this is my contribution for anybody. Particularly, I noticed a lot of times women in coming back to the workplace or entering the workforce, maybe they weren’t getting the equal consideration and so let’s talk about why and let’s make sure that you have an equal footing in this whole thing. Never at the expense of men but in the equality of men is what I say. And so whether you’re male or female or you have a mom coming back to work or a daughter you’re bringin up or a wife returning or just entering, it has some great takeaways. It’s extremely practical and the nice thing about it is you can jump in anywhere. Don’t start with chapter 1, start with the chapter that interests you.

Josh/Luca: Wonderful.

Donna: Thank you for that. It’s on my website; it’s on Amazon, Barnes & Noble the whole normal circuit like that at any place you want to get like that.

Lucas: And are you active on social media as well?

Donna: I am. The @donnavannatten or #ImageScrimmage #BodyLanguageDoctor. I have a website- bodylanguagedr., which is dr.com. Fortunately, it’s trademarked so I just worked hard on that as a business owner and fortunate that when I traveled people want to learn more about it so I hope that this opportunity helps you as much as it helps me.

Josh: That’s awesome.

Lucas: Well, we’ll be following along and we’ll make sure that we put all of this in the show notes so that people can connect with you on our social media pages and we just really appreciate your time. Safe travels today and I’m sure this won’t be the last time that we talk.

Donna: I hope to see you every year. How’s that?

Josh: That’s awesome.

Lucas: Absolutely, you can count on it. Thank you for listening-

Donna: -I’ll be watching you guys and you know I’ll see things and I’ll call in and I’ll say, ‘I see you.’

Josh: You could be our personal coach, please.

Donna: Absolutely. Would be more than happy to. You guys look fantastic though and you’re just wonderful to work with. I appreciate you.

Lucas: Wow, that’s a big compliment.

Josh: Yeah, I feel better already. Did my shoulders just raise up a little bit?

Donna: Your torso just elevated.

Lucas: I’m feeling super self conscious. I’m like the closest to you right here in the scene. But anyways, thank you so much for your time today. It’s been a great episode here on Bridge the Gap.

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Episode 37: Dr. Donna Van Natten