It's all in the way you move

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The Independent Online
WE ALL do it. Doubtless you are doing it right now as you read this. You are tilting your head slightly back, or you are leaning forward, with or without your legs crossed, or maybe you are sitting perched on the edge of your chair.

According to Bill Halson, that says a lot about the kind of work you are most suited to and the kind of team you would work with best. Bill Halson is a management consultant who specialises in an assessment technique called Action Profiling.

Action Profiling began life in a German ballet company, and was transformed into an executive recruitment tool via a factory floor in wartime Lancashire.

"Seventy years ago, Rudolph Van Laban, a Bratislavan choreographer working in Germany, developed a shorthand method for noting body movements, Laban Notation. It's still used in choreography today," Mr Halson explains.

"At the outbreak of war, Laban fled from the Nazis to England. He settled in Lancashire, where he adapted his notation technique for use in selecting women to be trained to operate factory machinery in place of the men who had been called up.

"The behavioural connection became very interesting to him, so he began to observe supervisors and managers as well. Watching people's movements very closely, in the course of everyday conversations, he came to realise that each individual had an inborn pattern of movement that tied in with the way in which he or she would address given situations and interact with others."

It was during the early Sixties that Laban Notation was further adapted and refined as an executive recruitment tool by a company called WD Scot.

"The whole idea of the Laban concept is that when the mind is occupied in doing something new, inadvertently, the body gets involved too. This link between movement and mental activity is a primal thing," Mr Halson says.

"If you can visualise primitive man wanting to find out about his surroundings, you can imagine him peering around, poking and prodding, essentially moving in the horizontal plane, dealing with his environment.

"When our primitive man wants to assert himself, he is almost literally going to plant himself, using the vertical plane, to take up a stance. Equally, deciding how to respond to what he has found, our primitive man will either go forward or get back, and this is what we call the sagittal, or arrow dimension. Thus we have three dimensions in which we move, and these indicate the way in which we tend to deal with situations.

"When we profile someone, we talk to the subject for two or three hours, videoing the interview. There's no pressure, they are just being themselves, and over that period they go through their repertoire quite unconsciously. This shows how they allocate their energies.

"What we are looking for is the almost magical moment when a posture or a gesture combines, and the whole body is involved in movement when what's called an integrated movement takes place it really does start to involve the whole person."

Action profiling can be a guide for the job seeker as much as it is for the recruiter, says Mr

Halson. "Some years ago I had a client who had been a buyer with a commercial company. The company had gone bust so he was looking for a job. He was having great problems trying to convince people that he was a skilled and subtle negotiator. It wasn't coming off.

"He was as subtle as a barn door. Short and stocky, he would have made a good front row forward. He just didn't look subtle. The profile showed quite clearly how he was going to operate, so I asked him to tell me how he would do a job if someone was trying to sell him something.

"He said: 'Well first of all, I'd find out all about their company and the product they were selling. I'd just listen quietly, and then when the chap who was offering the deal had finished I'd say that's not good enough.' I said: 'For God's sake next time you go for an interview, tell them that is how you would do it' - and it wasn't very long before he got himself a job.

"If he'd told me he'd like to get into subtle discussions, his body would have been saying 'but I don't do that'. That's quite often how we don't get the job - it's not what we say, but what we do that gives us away."

But isn't this all a bit wacky? Mr Halson agrees. "To be truthful, the first time I heard about it I was highly sceptical. When I was working for WD Scot I heard that there was this chap who assessed people by simply watching them. I thought 'oh come on....'

"However, my analysis proved penetrating. I learned things from it that I had not learned anywhere else. My first jobs were in industrial engineering. I felt suited to this field because I loved looking at a problem, coming up with the possible answers, and then implementing the decisions reached by management.

"I wasn't getting quite enough of this, so I requested a change, and they made me a production manager. What I didn't realise at the time was that this involved a lot of confrontation, standing up to shop stewards and other bloody-minded people; and that just isn't me. I can remember feeling stressed and thinking I was a failure. I didn't, at the time, know why and the analysis helped me to understand what was happening."

Training to be an AP practitioner can take up to four years, and having a profile done can cost more than pounds 2,000.

Is it worth that much? Among those who think it is are British Gas, ICI, Bowater, Scottish Hydro Electric and the Post Office, all of whom have commissioned action profiles.

Enquiries about Action Profiling can be made of Bill Halson on0171- 486 3817.

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