In our previous blog article we said that without the ability to communicate effectively – in whatever form – a dealmaker loses a lot of power. We mentioned two forms of communication – verbal and non-verbal and examined conscious and unconscious verbal communication in the context of dealmaking. In today’s blog, we’ll look at non-verbal communication.
In summary, verbal communication is all about words whilst non-verbal communication is wordless interaction through gestures, body language, posture, facial expressions and eye-contact. It includes the unintentional and subtle clues, cues or signals that are dropped into a conversation.
If you have a choice between body language and verbal communication in dealmaking, trust the latter. Unless you are a body language expert, relying on your ability to correctly interpret body language at the dealmaking table can be tricky and you can be far too easily misled. Body language is strongly tied to culture, gender and generational differences, amongst other things, which suggests that it is learnt, not a reflex behaviour.
Imagine … you’re sitting at a bar and you see a woman across the room flick her hair and lick her lips whilst looking at you. Do you interpret this as an act of flirtation? The books on body language suggest that this assumption could be correct.
What if you decide to go over and offer to buy her a drink? How is she likely to respond? If the woman is trying to seduce you, you might be alright. But, if she just happened to be looking in your direction whilst getting the hair out of her eyes and licking the margarita salt off her lips you could find yourself in a bit of a pickle.
The cliché of the girl in the bar giving off physical signs of seduction is, like much of body language, subject to variations in culture. To successfully interpret body language you need to know a person’s normal behaviour, observe the change in their behaviour, and then decode that change. In addition, skilled operators can manipulate their body language to give off the signals they want you to receive. Therefore, relying on body language in dealmaking is about as effective as relying on it when playing poker.
Even though micro-expressions are extremely hard to read, they are a valuable form of non-verbal communication.
Micro-expressions are brief, involuntary expressions, usually on the face, indicating emotion. Unlike regular facial expressions, micro-expressions are difficult to fake. They are recognised by tiny changes such as pupil dilation or contraction, muscle twitches, blushing or blanching, and similar. While body language in the main appears to be learnt, this is not the case with micro-expressions. They are instinctive and reflexive.
As micro-expressions only last 1/15 to 1/25 of a second, very few of us (only about one in 400 people) have the conscious ability to observe them. I do believe, however, that we pick up these signs at the subconscious level.
The seminal research into micro-expressions has been conducted by Dr Paul Ekman (American psychologist, named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2009). It is possible to learn to interpret the clues that micro-expressions offer through Dr Ekman’s institute which offers training programmes for this.