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WINNING BODY LANGUAGEControl the Conversation, Command Attention, and Convey the Right Message—Without Saying a Word
By Mark Bowden
McGraw-HillCopyright © 2010 Mark Bowden
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCommunication Is More than Words
They Just Don't See What You're Saying The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. —George Bernard Shaw
In this chapter you'll learn:
The fundamental mechanism for all communication
How we all know what we all know
Why content is not king
Congruence and the key to losing trust and business
The most important person in the history of communication, ever!
Before we get deep into body language, it is important to break down communication as a whole into its basic parts and understand the fundamentals behind it. This knowledge, the understanding of how communication actually works, is the starting line from which your real competitive advantage can really take off.
Human communication, reduced to its simplest form, consists of a source transmitting a message to a receiver in order to achieve an intended result.
So, to make sure that your communication is really taking place, first you need to make sure that there is a source (you), that you have a way of transmitting a message (using your body or your voice, writing, or some other method), and finally that you have a receiver (someone else). Oh, and there's something else that is too often forgotten: you need a reason to send the message, an intended outcome, or it will be impossible to form the communication at all, or at best it will be nonsense, because if you do not know the intended end goal of any action, you cannot hope to select the best actions to perform in order to achieve that goal.
Thus, the basic linear model for human communication looks like this: the source encodes a message and sends it via a channel, to be received and decoded by the receiver. Of course, there is also the inevitable feedback to the source. For example, as you make your way to a business meeting, you notice that a car is about to pull in front of your vehicle; as a courtesy, you hit your horn to alert the driver of that car of the danger to him; he hears it and, to your surprise, flips you the finger in return!
Clearly one thing to look out for is whether your message has had the desired effect that you intended, or anything close to the desired effect, on your audience. As the highly influential American communication theorist Harold Lasswell described: Who (says) What (to) Whom (in) What Channel (with) What Effect.
If the specific communication has not had the intended effect, when you look for where your message has been let down, it is best to keep in mind the modern computational communication model described by the acronym GIGO (Garbage In—Garbage Out). This principle was perhaps first hit upon by the genius engineer Charles Babbage commenting in his autobiography, Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864), that when he was asked (by an eminent British member of Parliament, no less) whether the outcome of a calculation would be correct even when incorrect data were placed into that calculation, he could only reply, "I am not able to comprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question!"
The observation is that if the feedback appears to be nonsense, it could well be because you fed in a stream of similar nonsense in the first place! In all communication, pay attention to the fact that it is a two-way system with a feedback loop. In other words, "the phone goes both ways," and any message can easily escalate out of control and spiral into craziness, and when it does, everyone is to blame.
Understanding the Message
On top of all this, according to Shannon and Weaver's very popular model of communication, while the message is in transit, it is subject to all manner of distortion, and understandings and misunderstandings are influenced by factors well beyond the control of either the sender or the receiver.
To illustrate, a simple but relatively comprehensive diagram of human communication looks something like Figure 1.1.
You can see the possibilities for corruption of the message and its meaning at every point in this model, either in the mind of the receiver through generalization, deletion, or distortion; or during the transit of the message as a result of "noise" either interrupting, distorting, or creating an amplified resonance in the message.
So how do we ever get to understand a communication?
How We Know What We Know
Let's look at it from the viewpoint of an area of philosophy called epistemology, which deals in theories around the question, "How do we know what we know?"
At this point, you may be thinking, "Why should an area of philosophical study be so important to the business body language practitioner, who surely should be focused on the influential effects of physical action, the doing rather than the thinking?" Well, the answer is that if you know the exact mechanism by which people understand any communication, you will have a better ability to influence the mechanics of that conversation. By doing so, you will optimize your persuasive influence over the recipient's mind and the final outcome of the communication: bringing the receiver's understanding in line with your goals.
Simply stated, when you can comprehend the cogs and wheels of how we gain understanding, you can deliver understanding more effectively, just as a mechanic who understands the workings of an engine can supercharge it, or a programmer who understands code can hack it, or a bartender who understands the simple science of a martini can mix the best Manhattan in town.
So what, according to philosophers, are the major ingredients that make up the cocktail that we call "knowledge"?
Thought in this area is as diverse as you might expect from a discipline in which thinking is an end in itself. However, the debate tends to summarily lead toward two main ingredients: "belief" and "truth." Indeed, the great Harvard epistemologist and metaphysician Roderick Chishol defined knowledge as justified true belief. But what justifies the truth of a belief? Many would say that facts do the job—and as the eminent philosopher Edmund Burke once said of facts, "They are to the mind as food is to the body." So where does the mind get these nutritional facts, and why might some be more tasty to our feeling of knowing than others?
The word fact originally comes from the Latin factum, meaning "a thing done or performed." This definition provokes the question: how do we know, as certainly as we ever can, that anything has really been done or performed? The answer may be that we ourselves must sense it with one or more of our traditional five senses or potentially more than a dozen other exteroceptive and interoceptive senses. Certainly, this is the viewpoint of Aristotle and a line of thinkers who place our senses as the foundation of all fact and belief, and so of truth and knowledge. You might say, "We sense it, therefore it is." From this idea, we can understand that our senses, which form our impressions of reality, are our route to knowing that what is out there is indeed out there. Our senses are the exact tools that we use to form human understanding of what is happening in the world, and therefore what can be believed and held to be true and trustworthy.
However, in the business world, where the intellect is so often given the highest status, we would expect that we all know what we know because of how clever we are, not from what we sense outside of ourselves. In the top floors of an organization, those who occupy the "C-suite" are almost never referred to as the "sharpest eyes" or the "biggest ears," but as "the smartest guys in the room"—it is about brains and not body parts, isn't it?
If that is the case, though, then how do you account for Mehrabian's 7 percent–38 percent–55 percent rule? I'm sure you don't need reminding of it but for those who would like a quick review, here it is.
The Body Rules First, there are three commonly understood elements in any face-to-face human communication: words, tone of voice, and body language. The first category, the words, is known as verbal communication, and the last two categories, tone of voice and body language, are known as nonverbal communication (the focus of this book). The nonverbal elements have been found to be particularly important for communicating the information that forms a receiver's understanding of the feelings, attitude, or intent behind a communication. Indeed, this is true to such an extent that body language accounts for 55 percent of that understanding, tone of voice accounts for 38 percent, and the verbal content, the words, supplies only 7 percent of the perceived overall feeling, attitude, or intent that a communicator communicates. This implies, first, that the feeling, attitude, or intent that we might communicate is almost entirely dependent on the non-verbal message (93 percent), not on what we say.
What You Say
So, to put all of these psychological statistics on "silent messages" and the first insights derived from them into the context of business communication: when you are delivering any kind of business presentation, while your intellectual content may be delivered entirely verbally, the nonverbal cues are more than 10 times as important in your audience perceiving your belief or conviction concerning that material.
It's of very limited use for the chief financial officer to only say, "We've had a great year." To get close to convincing an audience of this, she needs it to sound (38 percent) and, most important, look (55 percent) to the audience like it is true. Indeed, it would seem from these statistics, first presented to the public by Albert Mehrabian (professor emeritus of psychology, UCLA), that in this case, when planning a speech, our CFO might be wisest to pay more attention to how she shows up looking like a good year has been had, than on the "It's Been a Great Year" speech she is going to make.
As American modernist poet William Carlos Williams wrote, "It is not what you say that matters but the manner in which you say it; there lies the secret of the ages." It appears that content is not king after all. But wait, there's more.
All Together Now ...
More important, Mehrabian's findings also conclude that to produce effective and meaningful messages the words, sound, and body need to support one another. In the case of any incongruence, the receiver of the message trusts the predominant nonverbal cues (remember our voice 38 percent + vision 55 percent) rather than the potential literal meaning of the words (verbal 7 percent).
Given this second insight from Dr. Mehrabian's research, it is fair to say, in the context of the earlier hypothetical CFO speech, that if the words of the presentation say, "It's been a great year," but the CFO's body stance and the cadence (rise and fall in tone) of her voice indicate, "It has been a lousy year," the audience is once again at least 10 times as likely to trust the perceived meaning of the messages coming through the nonverbal communication; listeners will come away with the feeling that it has been a lousy year. They will not trust the words over the voice, or even the words and voice over the body.
From these findings, we can quickly deduce that in the case of live human interaction, we know what we know because we see it. In short:
Yet the C-suite, board, directors, executives, shareholders, stakeholders, clients, customers, interviewers, and the public at large are not prone to making decisions purely based on faith in what they say—are they? Well, get this.
We now know from the scientific findings so far that if we see one set of clear physical signals from the body, we are far more likely to accept their meaning as fact than any verbal message to the contrary. However, if we already have a trustworthy base of knowledge in an area, and so the meaning of the words is considered factual, still without perfect congruence with the nonverbal message we experience a state of "cognitive dissonance," which is the mental anguish we experience when knowledge and belief collide and conflict. This is a point at which we often put our faith in how we feel above the intellectual data we have received.
As an example, let's say that we own shares in a particular investment, and figures show that the market is way down, our investment's share price is at rock bottom, and by all accounts the future is bleak. However, when we show up at the annual shareholders' meeting, we are served champagne in an atmosphere of jubilation. While we know that the picture is grim, and we have experienced information elsewhere to suggest that we should get out now, the feel-good factor we experience from drinking champagne in a party atmosphere, creates cognitive dissonance, potentially clouding our judgment given the feelings produced by the new physical experience. We may now feel that "it's going to get better," "there is some good news on the horizon," or "there is truly cause for celebration." And so we trust those shares further, perhaps unwisely and perhaps against our "better judgment," because of the feeling produced by the champagne reception. But of course, you don't fall for that type of manipulation ... do you?
Here's another illustration of cognitive dissonance from the world of health and wellness that some of you may have noticed or even experienced yourselves: cigarette smokers tend to experience cognitive dissonance around the issue of how bad smoking is for their health. Medicine tells us how and why cigarettes cause lung cancer and can shorten any smokers' life expectancy, yet many smokers may not have experienced the physical effects or seen any physical evidence of disease or a shortened lifespan. Furthermore, as they inhale the cigarette smoke containing nicotine and additives, these complex organic chemicals enter the bloodstream and most often produce a physical experience of pleasure for them, both in the body and in the mind—quite the contrary of feeling sick and in pain, they experience a pleasurable stimulation.
The intellectual understanding of pain of death from smoking is dissonant with the feelings of pleasure experienced during the act of smoking. The tension produced by these contradictory ideas and experiences causes the smoker to find ways of rationalizing the conflict between the intellectual concept of pain and the physical experience of pleasure: smokers conclude things like "everyone dies in the end" or "smoking keeps me from gaining weight, which is also unhealthy" or "I'll just have one last one and then I'll give it up!" in order for the physical experience to rationally take precedence.
Because a physical experience is often stronger than an intellectual one for the human brain, dissonance becomes a threat to our self-concept (the knowledge we possess regarding ourselves, which creates our own, most stable idea of exactly who we are), and so the intellectual facts are rationalized into an alignment with the physical experience; the smoker has faith that he is not dying from smoking right now.
Illogic Can Be Rationalized
Excuses are always easier than behavioral change. Everybody from the bottom floor of an organization to the very top is prone to rationalizing conflicts in an effort to align what she is hearing with the perceived fact, truth, and reality of what she may see communicated. All of us are constantly rearranging, reinterpreting, or simply creating things that have been said in order to fit them into the world that we see in front of us.
Thus, it is so easy, once we have become assured that what we see is the truth, to continue seeing it as so even when there is strong evidence to the contrary through other channels—and so we come back to faith. And while beliefs are hard to undo, faith can often be blind and is therefore dangerous to the survival of any business. As the modern evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins states, "Blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry."
This is why congruence between the verbal and the nonverbal is essential to the business communicator. Without a clear, consistent message conveyed on the two fronts of what we hear and what we see, a chasm of irrational thoughts opens up, potentially leading to some leaps of faith in the receiver that could produce some doomed outcomes.
Again, with our hypothetical CFO's speech: if the verbal says, "It's been a great year!" and yet we see a physicality that suggests just the opposite—that there is no cause for celebration, and therefore perhaps no real financial gain—then we might create an auditory hallucination that causes the verbal content to fit the nonverbal attitude we are perceiving, and hear that "It's not been a great year."
But let's even just imagine that we have some prior knowledge from the company's financial auditors that it has indeed been a great year, and what is more, the dividend check we received in the mail that morning from our shares in the company was a fat one. If the nonverbal suggests that it has been a lousy year and cognitive dissonance occurs between what we know and what we see and believe, then we are quite likely to rationalize the incongruity. "Oh no—perhaps the next check will turn out to be no good!" Your stockbroker may advise you against selling, but that advice may fall on deaf ears because the broker did not see the speech you just heard. Your broker has only read the report and does not have the feeling you have about this company's fortunes. Your broker still has faith in the stock; you just lost yours.
Excerpted from WINNING BODY LANGUAGE by Mark Bowden Copyright © 2010 by Mark Bowden. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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