[Article] Body language is important, isn’t it?

I first published this article in 2010 but the subject came up on the recent NLP Practitioner programme and I thought you might find this interesting.  I’ve only edited it slightly…

The Well-Known Figures

If you’ve done any training in communications, public speaking or presentations there’s a good chance that body language has been part of the programme.  For many years, like hundreds, if not thousands, of other trainers I’ve dutifully passed on the wisdom that our communication has three components – words, tone of voice and body language.  Like many others I’ve attributed the work in this field to Albert Mehrabian and quoted the figures of relative importance – body language 55%, tone of voice 38% and words 7%.

I’ve explained on numerous occasions that if a person is incongruent in their communication and their body language is giving a different message from the words, then we’ll believe the body language and not the words.  I’ve helped lots of people develop awareness of their body language and control their tone of voice to create a more effective overall message.

But do you know what I’d never done until relatively recently?  I’d never read Mehrabian’s original work!

The Shock

That changed when I was on a course with Christina Hall – Meta Master Trainer of NLP and an inspiration to me in her ability with language.  Christina shared her long-standing dissatisfaction with the 55-38-7 ‘rule’ and her eventual quest for the original research.

Are you sitting down?  When Christina gave me the original paper to read the title alone shocked and surprised me:

“Inference of attitudes from nonverbal communication in two channels”  Albert Mehrabian and Susan R. Ferris (Journal of Consulting Psychology 1967 Vol 31, No 3, 248-252)

The study investigated the degree of positive attitude inferred from either facial expression or tone of voice using – wait for it – a neutral word.  There was no investigation of the interaction of the words and nonverbal communication and the 55-38-7 split is suggested in the discussion at the end of the document, not derived from any experimental data.  The experimental data that is included in the paper was taken from trials with 17 female undergraduates.

There is nothing wrong with the paper – it’s the inference that has been made and perpetuated that’s way off the mark.

So how is it that generations of trainers have been quoting these figures as essential to the proper understanding of communication?

I can only assume that this is a great example of people (and lots of them) believing what they’ve been told because the person who told them was a) a trusted source and b) believed it themself.

So, my apologies if you’re one of the people to whom I have perpetuated this myth.  Now, let’s review what we actually know to be true…

The Truth

Body language is a key component of face-to-face communication.  Some languages rely more heavily on it than others to help convey nuances of meaning.  Native speakers of English tend to be less reliant on body language to convey meaning, because the richness of the language enables us to communicate very precisely.  Native speakers of languages with a less extensive vocabulary are often masterful in expressing themselves through tone, pitch, facial expression and eloquent gestures.

It is true, as well, that if someone says, ‘I’m looking forward to working with you’ and at the same time looks at the clock and doesn’t make eye-contact, most of us will assume that the words were not an expression of what the person was really thinking.  In other words, we will believe the body language rather than the words if the two are giving different messages.  This uses an instinctive understanding of body language that we all possess, but may not be consciously aware of.

In the same way, if someone were to say ‘I’m looking forward to working with you’ in a low monotone, with a slight sigh at the end, you probably wouldn’t believe it for a moment.  Again, if the tone of voice is communicating something different from the words, then we’ll tend to believe the tone of voice.

The Key

If the tone of voice and body language are congruent with the words, then the words will be believed.  This is why it’s so important to master the non-verbal aspects of communication as well as learning language patterns.  It’s at this point that what you say can become VERY influential.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you again that the words are ‘only 7% of the message’.  It’s simply not true.

As well as being aware of conflicting messages in words, tone and gesture, we have an instinctive understanding of the meaning of a whole range of body language.  However, that doesn’t mean that we always interpret it correctly.  Individual bits of body language should be interpreted in context, and not assumed to have a fixed meaning.

For example, lots of people have heard it said that if someone folds their arms across their chest, it’s a defensive gesture.  That can be true – especially if you see it happen at a point in the conversation when the person may have good reason to be defensive.  However, there can be lots of reason why someone might fold their arms.  They might be cold; they might be sitting on a chair that has no armrests; they might simply feel comfortable that way.

If you’re going to observe body language, observe the whole picture and look for 3-4 aspects of body language that all indicate the same thing.

So, with Brexit looming in the UK, and political leaders all over the world having reasons to be seen on TV, there’s lots of material for us to study.  If the policy discussions are beginning to bore you, try watching the body language – it’s fascinating!

[Article] Is there any difference between personal and professional development?

Having come to the end of a 20-day NLP Practitioner training recently I’ve been reflecting on the development of the individuals as they worked through the five-month journey. It’s a big commitment – the 20 days include some weekends as well as taking time out from work. This means that most people arrive determined to get all the benefit of the training that they can.

One thing that became clear to each person at different times was that although they had originally committed to the course for the business benefits, they also stood to gain a lot personally.

Occasionally, this can be a problem for someone – usually the budget-holder! If a company pays for an employee to undertake training, the company wants to be sure of ROI, naturally. That’s easy to see for a lot of technical training, but less so for people skills.

What I’ve noticed with NLP training is that lots of people come to it because they want to understand more about other people. They want to build more productive working relationships and maybe to help when someone is struggling.  They get the tools to do that.

And so much more…

The thing that surprises a lot of people when they come on the NLP Practitioner training is just how much they learn about themselves. One HR Director told me, “I’d done practically every personality test there is, plus team profiles and inventories of strengths and styles. I thought I knew myself. And then I did NLP Practitioner training…”

In the early stages of this new awareness, sometimes the most obvious benefits are not related to work: it could be an improvement in diet or exercise, it might be a better relationship with certain family members or the resolution of a long-standing conflict. It might be a shift of mindset that leads to more personal confidence or even the end of a phobia that has limited life in some way. Why is the employer paying for this?

It seems to me, that it’s natural to practise something new in an environment where it is safe to experiment. Workplaces don’t always offer that. If you have the tools to improve relationships, you’re going to start with the ones that are closest and most important. And what happens is that those results build confidence in the tools and confidence in self.

With that extra confidence, it’s easier to take the new skills into the workplace. The approach is more assured and the results are more closely observed. So the new Practitioner has developed as a person and also developed as a professional. Is there really any difference?

My feeling is that – especially at senior level – the only way to develop professionally is to focus on personal development. Your relationships at work will never be better than your relationship with yourself…

[Article] Am I bothered?

‘Am I bothered?’ asked another, much more famous, redhead.  The implication being that she’s not and it’s a good thing.  Being bothered is uncool.

In that context, being bothered means allowing other people to have an effect on your state of mind. It means caring that someone is annoyed with you. It means being upset because you’re going to miss out on something. In effect, it’s a show of weakness.

So why have I chosen ‘being bothered’ as my motto this month?

I’ve noticed that when I’m busy I let some things slide.

During December I allowed email to pile up in my inbox to an extent I’d be embarrassed to reveal. But I couldn’t be bothered to file it all. I felt that I deserved a break.

There were also piles of papers, magazines and mail building up in corners of my office. An eyesore and an irritation. But I couldn’t be bothered to organise it all and put it away. I thought I’d earned a rest.

During the Christmas break, food was abundant and lots of it unhealthy. I snacked too much because I couldn’t be bothered to cook healthy meals. I didn’t want to spend my holiday in the kitchen.

Perhaps I’m not the only one.

The other aspect of this I’m very aware of, is that I became annoyed with myself for letting things slide. I was irritated by my disorganised office. I was bored with eating junk. So not being bothered to do certain things ended up being the cause of me being very bothered by the consequences!

It’s all a matter of values…

A Value is something that’s important to you like Family, Friendship,  Achievement, Challenge or Fairness. If you like, they’re the things you ARE bothered about. When your values are fulfilled, you feel good. When your values are violated in some way, you feel less good – annoyed, irritated, sad or stressed.

For example, one of my values is Order. I like my home and my office to be orderly and neat. I feel much more relaxed when everything is in its place and everywhere is clean and tidy. It ‘bothers’ me when it’s not.

That’s why I’ve decided to ‘be bothered’ this month. By being bothered to keep my office tidy and my email under control and I can save myself the stress that comes from disorder. In situations where previously I’d been telling myself ‘I can’t be bothered’ I’m now enjoying the feeling of ‘being bothered’ and getting things done that matter to me.

So, I’m bothered. Are you bothered?