Paths To Success – Body Language Expert

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This year, I’ve been particularly interested in the paths that people take after education, especially following the increase across the UK in encouraging schools and colleges to embed employability into their lessons. The first time I tried this with students, I was met almost audible rolling of eyes – kids have genuine skills in detecting something that’s been “embedded”, much like a careers version of hiding vegetables in their spaghetti. They know.

So instead, with exam results fast approaching I decided to buck the trend of the many posts telling students that “results don’t matter” (they do, you worked hard), or “I didn’t need GCSEs” (no, but you had something else) and create a positive set of real careers stories to help motivate both my students and other teachers.

To start this Paths To Success series I had to accept that as a teacher my previous employment and growing businesses likely means very little to my students (and rightly so, I am just one person in an industry that they know). Instead, I’ve been talking to an array of interesting people about how education shaped their own employability skills and their often irregular paths to success.

This week, I’ve been chatting to Karen Hickton, a Resilience & Body Language Specialist who built up her own business working with an array of people and organisations including the National Trust.

karenHicktonHi Karen, could you tell me a little bit about your experience at school.

I was a shy introvert with dyscalculia*. I got through school on determination.

I remember dyslexia just starting to be mentioned, but never dyscalculia at school. With maths being quite a big thing running a business, what strategies did you use to cope?

I learnt to be very resourceful growing up and as soon as I hit a road block in life or in business I just immediately think; who or what have I got that can help me right now? For example I have a great accountant who has the patience of a saint in explaining things, my partner is self-employed and helped me to put an easy filing and book keeping system in place.

I use google and YouTube as resources if I don’t understand things and I usually have the solution quite quickly these days.  It is very different from when I was at school, college and university; biggest advise I was ever given when starting my business was to not even try and set a business up doing it completely on my own. Asking for help used to be a huge issue for me because I thought it reflected my inability to cope, I soon realized it was quite the opposite. It isn’t about knowing everything in life, it’s about knowing the questions; the rest follows from there.

With it being the end of the school year, I have to ask: do you have a particular teacher that you remember?

My Geography teacher Mr Palmer, he retired the year before we left and I still remember his grey messy hair, tweed jacket, infectious laugh and sense of humor. He was the wisest teacher I have ever known and I would even say life coach.

“People will only make you feel bad if you let them.” Was what he said to me one afternoon after a group of girls rounded up on me. He gave us a lot of room to learn, to discuss and debate and he taught us how to think for ourselves, to question and be okay with being who we were.

Mr Palmer was a teacher with boundaries though (another great lesson to learn), you crossed those boundaries then you were in for it. He would set you a Percy Pig story to write and it could be one side of A4 or 2 sides. The next day after registration you had to stand up at the front and read out the whole story in front of everyone. Each story also had to have a life lesson in there, they were funny but serious. His idea of consequences was more about taking responsibility and learning from it.

Lots of my students are in the process of applying to college or university right now. Could you tell me a little bit about your experience at college / university

University became obvious of my learning issue and I was also partially deaf however I discovered trail running which grew my confidence and I graduated with a rocking smile on my face and started my career in trauma nursing with a huge amount of life energy and potential.

I kept quiet at university, I had experienced a lot of bullying in school and college due to my differences and had developed a real sense of social anxiety and isolation. I’d moved to a university far away from home as well so I felt mixed emotions. I became anxious that if I spoke up I would somehow lose opportunities so it was my inner fear that held me back from being honest. I learnt to compensate, adapt and work as hard as my brain and body would allow, I became so determined that I would have my own wins one at a time which I did, over time my confidence and assertiveness began to improve and I began to trust in my life opening up more.

So university put you on a path to nursing, so how did you end up owning a business as a body language expert? That’s quite a change!

Although I spend a lot of my time supporting women in businesses to help them develop a sustainability using my resilience and communication models and training; I also work with women on a one-to-one level

At 23 I was diagnosed and registered with partial deafness but as we worked back on my time line, it had been there for many years. What a relief to have that out in the open and wear a hearing aid for the first time; I could hear again and my world suddenly became much bigger. A very emotional moment.

I had learnt to read the movements of lips, micro fascial expressions and body language growing up so I had a real knack for it, that was how I got by, I spent hours watching people’s behaviour and movements around me and this grew into a fascination of mine.

In college I studied a psychology, sociology and behavioural sciences which led me to wanting to learn so much more. I went into nursing to combine it all because I wanted to know HOW the body worked. I spent 15 years working front line trauma and my body language skills were essential on every level. I understood my patients, I could second guess, predict, deal with an emotional crisis, support families then immediately communicate with consultants then back to the patient again. I could adapt my body language and communication to whoever I was with at the time, I could negotiate services, read the situation and of course read and support my colleagues.

I became an education sister across two hospitals where I went into more teaching and mentoring of staff and students, there began my coaching career. So the connection between it all is very strong, I loved coaching and got great results and I do believe that the quality of our relationships is greatly influenced by the quality of our communication. Not just the communication with other people, but the communication within ourselves first.

I began working with women in business and the results were impressive, I watched many grow their business, refocus, expand and become much more connected with who they were and what they were doing so I knew I had a new role to take up and I have never looked back. .

Is there any advice you would want to give to students receiving exam results this year?

Every obstacle we see is actually an opportunity to transform something about ourselves so that we can live bigger, better and happier. Run your own race, live your own life. There are always different routes to get where you want to go, there are always options, resource yourself and know that you are never alone and that there is always someone who can help you in some way.

When I hit the floor and tell myself I can’t do something, I check in with myself, I resource and I find the way forward. I always find a way forward because there always is one. Losing my hearing made me listen more, being unable to work numbers and formulas made me connect with people and ask for help. I don’t personally consider that a disability for me and it’s what I see that matters for me. So, like I said; run your own race and live your own life.

Thank you so much to Karen for giving up her time to show my students that the path to success isn’t always as we planned, and that me banging on about positivity and resilience really is a vital life skill!

Karen can be found at where she has some excellent information about using body language throughout your career.

* Dyscalculia is a specific learning difficulty which presents itself as having difficulty with maths, but if more complex than maths anxiety. There is much more understanding of Neurodiverse learning styles in education now, but the most valuable understanding of what helps still comes from students and parents, so don’t be afraid to tell your teacher what works for you. For further information on dyscalculia, please visit The Dyslexia Association.

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