The word “stance” usually refers to some kind of motionless or standing posture. So it’s an interesting choice of word to describe three different ways of moving. Instead of stances, we’re actually talking about different approaches. But we’re sort of stuck with the vocabulary at this point—at least I am.
The stance we take—moving against (Aggressive), moving away from (Withdrawing), or moving toward (Compliant)—is basic to who we are and underlies our automatic responses and reactions to the world around us and to the other people in our lives. Although it’s true we access the other two stances occasionally, the stance our type takes is our “go to” stance—the approach we fall back on, especially under pressure or in unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations.
The Aggressive types (3, 7, and 8) generally take a direct approach,
moving against what gets in the way of what they want.
Moving Away From
Keeping to Oneself
The Withdrawing types (4, 5, and 9) turn inward to find fulfillment,
moving away from what disturbs them.
Giving in to Others
The Compliant types (1, 2, and 6) tend to seek a point of reference outside themselves, moving toward what will help them earn what they need.
One stance is no better or worse than another. We simply tend to over-rely on one, habitually falling back on it whether it’s appropriate to a particular situation or not.
The concept of these three different approaches isn’t hard to grasp intellectually. But each of us inhabits only one body (hopefully). It may be difficult for a Withdrawing type, for example, to imagine what it’s like to embody the Aggressive stance, given that the physical and emotional energy of those two stances is so different.
I taught a six-week Continuing Ed class called “Change Your Position,” in which participants used journal writing exercises to better understand their reliance on their preferred stance, and more importantly, to learn when and how to access the other two stances.
Once each person was clear on what his or her own stance was—but before we dove into the writing—I had everyone stand up and form two rows facing each other across a span of six or eight yards. The people in one row approached the people in the other row, coming from first the Aggressive stance, then the Withdrawing stance, and finally the Compliant stance. The rows took turns being the approachers and the approachees (to make up not one, but two words). That way everyone got to experience what it was like to embody each stance as well as what it felt like to be approached by each stance.
In terms of relationships, there are six possible stance combinations:
Aggressive / Aggressive
Aggressive / Withdrawing
Aggressive / Compliant
Compliant / Compliant
Compliant / Withdrawing
Withdrawing / Withdrawing
For the last part of the exercise, people paired up and attempted to embody each of these six relationship combinations. All the exercises were done without speaking, but after each part, people gave feedback to each other and to the group. I wish someone had videotaped these exercises. Some of the reactions were priceless. But there’s no way for me to convey what this experience was like for the people in the class—and that’s kind of the point. I can say that doing the exercises made it much easier for everyone to move into the journal writing portion of the class with a stronger sense of what it felt like to take each stance.
You can try this at home. All you need is a partner. But a word of warning for those who need it: thinking about doing this is not the same as doing it.