When I was a young and fresh-faced student, I spent my placement year working in the HR Department of a large food manufacturing Company. For the most part, I was working in the background on projects and reports, but I was brought out into the limelight when it came round to the ‘seasonal recruitment’ period and I was given my first opportunity to conduct a number of interviews to recruit large numbers of seasonal staff…
It was during this process, that I first developed a fascination for ‘people-watching’ in different scenarios… Not in any sort of creepy way, I hasten to add – but observing the relationship between the ‘spoken word’ and ‘non-verbal communication’ i.e. body-language. The interviews I was conducting at this time were quite simplistic and consisted a standard list of questions – the purpose being to recruit volumes as opposed to a more sophisticated recruitment process designed to recruit into a highly skilled role.
One of the first candidates I saw walked into the office wearing ‘double-denim’ (well, it was back in the early 1990’s!!) and that in itself wasn’t a problem – but the fact that the individual was coming for a job in a food factory, wearing clothes that were so dirty they could probably have walked to the washing machine themselves given the opportunity was. The guy then promptly reclined in his seat to a point of being almost horizontal and spoke in a completely off-hand tone when responding to my questions. The Company recruited seasonal staff in such high numbers, he was obviously of the opinion that the only selection criteria was turning up and breathing – boy, was he wrong!!
Back then, as a naïve student with no HR experience, I went through the motions of finishing the interview as I didn’t have the confidence to ask him to leave – it would be a very different story today though!
The point of this flashback into history is about understanding the importance of presentation and personal impact – not just in a recruitment scenario, but in all situations where you have to sell yourself – be it to a client as a self-employed person, on a date or in a workplace situation e.g. meetings, presentations and interviews… Generally speaking over 90% of communication is non-verbal and is delivered either through body language or through the tonality of the voice. Through his research, Mehrabian came up with the following breakdown of the different modes of communication in the delivery of a single message:
It’s interesting then, that when doing preparation, the vast majority of people will focus only on what they need to say and not with their style of delivery… A wake-up call for me some years ago was doing a ‘Train the Trainers’ course; at the start of the programme we were videoed delivering a short presentation, which we then had to watch and learn from. My first video made for quite horrendous viewing – I was frozen to the spot and spoke in a monotone – akin with the history teacher in ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ (sorry – flashback to the 80’s!). Needless to say, the message I was delivering in that presentation was totally lost…
Over the course of that week, I learnt that only small changes were needed to my presentation style to make big differences in my presentation delivery… By introducing slight movement – both in terms of walking around a little and with my arms, my tonality completely changed allowing key points to be emphasised and the message delivered effectively.
I would add that there is a fine line to be drawn between subtle movement and wild gesticulation – the latter being distracting to the audience and will prevent your message from being received for different reasons…
There are other scenarios where the way in which you present yourself is under scrutiny and which may not necessarily be viewed as a ‘presentation’… For instance, employees in a disciplinary scenario are delivering a ‘presentation’ of their version of events to a hearing panel and how they deliver that presentation can support the panel in undertaking their deliberations and reaching a decision. To illustrate this; an employee who has been ‘charged’ with aggressive behaviour, will do themselves few favours if they deliver their case using a tonality which could be viewed as aggressive, sharp or abrupt and even less so, if they then use aggressive gestures such as ‘pointing’ at participants or ‘banging’ on the table… And yes, I have seen such behaviour in many disciplinary hearings – never with a particularly good outcome for the individual concerned!!!
Another area of fascination for me is ‘incongruences’; where a persons’ body language or non-verbal communication is at odds with what is coming out of their mouth. Classically, this tends to emerge in scenarios where an individual has to ‘congratulate’ another person for an achievement, be it a promotion or award… The words coming out of the mouth are along the lines of ‘congratulations on your promotion, it’s an amazing achievement…’; where the tonality of the voice and ‘closed’ body language displayed, is often saying ‘how on earth did you get that promotion – I so deserved it more than you!!!’.
Finally, to present yourself in the best way, you have to have ‘self-awareness’ of how you and your behaviour are perceived by others. Based on no research whatsoever, just years of observation; one thing I have noticed over the years is that people who are lacking in self-awareness, will more acutely notice in others, behaviours that they themselves are either lacking or are not so good at… I used to have a Line Manager who suggested during the formation stages of our team that working together would be better if we all made the effort to say ‘good morning’ and ‘good evening’ to each other at the start and end of the working day ~ sounds too basic to be true really; but bizarrely she was the only person who would find a way to get into and out of the office each day without having to encounter anyone and greet them in this way. What was more interesting though, when a new manager came into the team who would walk past my Line Manager’s desk on a daily basis without acknowledging her – it was one of the first things my Line Manager spotted and commented on!
Comic strip by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.| www.dilbert.com
Are you a people watcher?
If you listen to the audio version of this blog then you hear me talk about today's “tool of the day”. I always try and give a tool that has some relevance to the article above, and today's is no exception. I would like to share with you a book that I read last year called Influence, Science and Practice by Robert Caldini. It is a world famous book and has been on my list of books to read for a lifetime. I was not disappointed when I read it and certainly picked up loads of new ideas as to how I can communicate better with people. Cialdini organises compliance techniques into six categories based on psychological principles that direct human behavior: reciprocation, consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. A must read!