What Conversation were YOU Having? : The Real Story Behind Face-to-Face Communication

By David M. Schneer, Ph.D.

Communication contradictions. Whether we realize it or not, we’ve all experienced them in some form or another. A customer says they’re extremely interested in buying your product, but you never hear from them again. A job applicant confidently expresses their ability to fulfill a role, but two weeks into the job it is clear they are unqualified. A research participant has a positive verbal reaction to a new product concept, but somehow their body language is not quite so convincing.

Case in point: A research participant you are interviewing is presented a concept for a new product. You notice that her body language is screaming that the concept does not resonate. Her arms are folded. She’s leaning back. You look down and you notice that her feet are pointing to the door. One corner of her mouth quickly moves up, ever so slightly. A wayward index finger begins to tap to an unknown beat. She begins to pick lint on her blazer, but you notice there is no lint.

“So,” you ask the respondent, “Tell me, what do you think?” “Oh, I like it,” she replies. “I’d buy it. Certainly.”

You’re conflicted, because the unspoken signals you picked up on suggest her reaction is not quite as positive as her verbal feedback might suggest.

Fast forward to the end of the interview when you thank the respondent for their time, walk them to reception, and then head into the observation room where the clients are huddled in the dark with glowing laptop screens. “They loved it!” one client exclaims, backslapping the other. “Killed it!” yells the other.

You look at them the way a dog sometimes does when it is trying to understand what its master just said, one ear up and one ear down. You think to yourself, “What interview were YOU guys watching?” This is when you tell your client that it’s not only important to observe the signs. You also have to be able to interpret them.

Why would a person say one thing when their body language suggests something else? It is estimated that we hear as many as several hundred lies per day. Writes Paul Eckman in his seminal book on lying: Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage (Revised Edition): “Lies occur between friends (even your best friend won’t tell you), teacher and student, doctor and patient, husband and wife, witness and jury, lawyer and client, salesperson and customer.”

People are untruthful for all sorts of reasons, either consciously or unconsciously. For financial gain, love, power, to hide shame and often to be nice or not hurt someone’s feelings.

It’s easy to see how understanding body language would benefit research (for example, helping determine which ad or product looks promising and those that do not). But what about other professions? Besides researchers and focus group moderators, who else can benefit from the understanding body language?

Virtually anyone. Which is why we started the Merrill Institute for Body Language Training—dedicated to providing training and certification so you too can become a Micro Expression Practitioner or Micro Expression Master.

Just a few ways different folks would benefit from this training:

  • Experienced and new moderators will often miss the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle signs about what a person is really saying—paying too much attention to the spoken word and less to the non-verbal. Body language training is essential for every moderator.
  • Human Resource professionals can use body language to determine the best employee fit for their company; after all, it has been estimated that up to two-thirds of all candidates lie about their past.
  • Job candidates looking for that next big career move can learn how their body language sends messages that a skilled interviewer can spot.
  • Corporate executives and managers can improve their leadership skills by learning effective body language when communicating to employees.
  • Product managers who need to regularly communicate with customers would benefit greatly by understanding body language. Are their customers truly satisfied?
  • Coaches and trainers can offer new services to their clientele and help them be even more effective.
  • And of course, let’s not forget about sales professionals. Understanding body language can help them read their audience and adjust their communications accordingly, thereby developing stronger relationships and increased sales.

We believe we can change lives, improve business, and facilitate better communication by teaching others these skills. Come join us.

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