Were more connected than ever before. The ability to
reach out and communicate with people around the globe has
never been more accessible. But are we paying attention to
key signals that improve our understanding?
Successful people are great communicators who recognize that
conversations are part of an evolving social process. They arent
just skilled listeners; theyre attuned to subtle social signals
that are more revealing than words aloneand they use them to
Were more connected than ever before. The ability to reach out
and communicate with people around the globe has never been more accessible.
But are we paying attention to key signals that improve our understanding?
Social communication channels profoundly influence our major decisions,
even though were usually unaware of them. These signals are
produced unconsciously, so theyre supremely honest. As Alex
Pentland of MITs Human Dynamics Lab explains in his book, Honest
Signals: How They Shape Our World:
|Honest Signals comes from a new and emerging science, called
network science, that tries to understand people in the context
of their social networks rather than viewing them as isolated
Researchers are now using sensing technology (sociometers) to detect
key signaling behaviors in face-to-face conversations. Pentland and
his MIT colleagues developed the device, which is worn around the
neck like an ID badge. While it does not record actual words, it can
detect and/or measure:
We may not perceive these social signals unless were looking
for them. When we do become aware of them, they provide a very effective
window into peoples intentions, goals and values. Using the
sociometer, scientists can accurately predict the outcomes of social
situations, job interviews and even salary negotiations.
- Who you talk to, how often and for how long
- Whether two speakers are face to face or turned away from each other
- An interactions energy level
- Levels of engagement
Pentlands research reveals four key honest signals that can
be effectively measured: influence, mimicry, activity and consistency.
Influence is an indicator of dominance. Studies of negotiations confirm
that the person who holds the floor has an advantage (to a point).
Controlling the pace of a conversation allows us to influence its
outcome. We can speed or slow our speech, varying the pace by milliseconds.
We can create or eliminate gaps in conversation. These tiny time variations
are perceived by others conscious minds only indirectly (as
intuitions). Our conversation partners can tell that were insistent,
highly attentive and invested in directing the flow of conversation.
Can you remember a time when you were called on the carpet by an angry
supervisor? The boss likely raised his voice, rapidly fired questions
at you and demanded explanations, yet cut you off before you could
finish speaking. You felt pushed and pinned down by the barrage of
words. The boss, clearly dominating the interaction, used these verbal
pushing techniques to controland influence the outcome
We use our influence to assess others attitudes and interest
level. In one study of 46 salary negotiations, researchers found that
those who controlled conversation patterns were perceived as the influential
We mirror our conversation partners automatically and unconsciously.
The mirror neurons in our brains hardwire us to copy smiles, interjections,
head nodding, and vocal timing and pitch. Some of us mimic more than
others. Salespeople are often trained to use mimicry as a tactic,
but customers can usually tell when this wholly natural tendency is
exaggerated or faked.
Mirroring behaviors increase the degree to which conversational partners
like and trust each other. Unconscious and authentic mimicry
is a sign of empathy that can actually improve negotiation results
by 20 to 30 percent. No other factor in financial interactions proves
to be as effective.
The amount of energy we invest in a conversation signals our interest
and attention. Excitement is therefore an honest signal. Even when
we try to be smooth and subdued, outward signs of nervous activity
will emerge. We fidget, talk quickly and gesture when were sincerely
interested in a topic and the conversations potential outcome.
When two people are exploring the possibility of a relationship, they
signal interest in each other with rising activity levels. When observing
speed-daters, social scientists can accurately predict which women
will provide their phone numbers, based solely on activity levels
during these brief encounters. The same applies to other social interactions
and business networking.
Whenever two people gesture and talk energetically, the odds are very
good that theyll trade contact information to further their
relationship. Conversations partners seem to know this intuitively
and can sense when to follow up.
How can we apply this in business? If youve ever had a conversation
that lacked energy, you know theres a problem. Solve it by finding
a topic that interests the other person. Ask questions that give you
insights into what your conversation partner values. Youll further
the relationship when you raise your partners activity level.
Consistency refers to the variability of your speech and movements
during a conversation.
When youre focused, your speech and movements are smooth and
regular. When you experience multiple simultaneous thoughts or emotions,
your speech becomes jerky, unevenly accented and paced. Consistency
is a measure of mental focus, while greater variability may signal
an openness to influence from others.
| Better Leadership Communication
Successful people and effective leaders do more than just listen.
They recognize that observing patterns of unconscious social signaling
offers a window into a groups dynamics. They can detect when
a group is moving toward problems like groupthink or polarization.
Language and arguments matter, of course, but sometimes they matter
surprisingly little. Were not as rational as wed like
to believe. If youre not reading the social signals, you may
be missing out on important information.
The seasons change, our thoughts change,
and the world changes. Maybe this is the time you would like to
have a coach. I would love to help you find a coach that will help
you deal with change. Is this time to find a coach?
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