Non-Verbal Communication Isn't All That!

The Non-Verbal Hogwash

I've got a bone to pick with Annie, Fortune Magazine's job-hunting advisor. Speaking of phone interviews she says:

    Studies have shown that about 90% of human
    communication is nonverbal, so you're in a kind
    of limbo when the interviewer can't see you.
Right, Annie! Haven't you ever used the phone?. A phone conversation is not a neutral transfer of ideas. You get a real sense of what someone is like from the way he speaks.

Verbal Presentation Is Powerful

Unless a person is visually striking - in a positive or negative way - or has a peculiar smell, her verbal manner of presentation is going to be a very powerful factor in creating your impression of her.

And, unless you're looking for a romantic partner, once the person opens her mouth and you can see how well-informed and articulate she is and get a sense of her personality, other things fade into the background.

I work on the phone and although I can't see the people I sure get the feeling that I know them almost as well as if I actually met them.

Maybe even better because there are no concerns about all of the issues involved in physical presentations. I don't have to look a stranger in the eye. Or worry that my shoes aren't shined or that my zipper's undone.

And now I see that ol' Dave Teten agrees with me on this. Because according to him:

    Face-to-face communication is not essential.
Origin of The Face-to-Face Myth

How did the face-to-face myth get started? In 1967, Albert Mehrabian, a UCLA professor, published research showing the significance of non-verbal cues in communications. His conclusion:
    The combined effect of simultaneous verbal, vocal and facial attitude communications is a weighted sum of their independent effects — with the coefficients of .07, .38, and .55, respectively.

    (Albert Mehrabian and Susan R. Ferris, "Inference of attitudes from nonverbal communication in two channels. Journal of Consulting Psychology 31 (1967): 248-252. )
This implies that in face-to-face conversation:
- 38% of communication is inflection and tone of voice
- 55% is facial expression
- 7% is based on what you actually say.

The Inventor Said It Isn't So

But Mehrabian himself said, explicitly, that these statistics are not relevant except in the very narrow confines of a similar situation.

His study only addressed the very narrow situation in which a listener is analyzing a speaker's general attitude (positive, negative, or neutral) when there is no prior acquaintance and no prior context for their discussion.

The Job Interview Is Pregnant With Context

I think that last point is important in relation to job interviews. Because then the situation comes full of context.

You often know quite a bit about the person beforehand and even when you don't the context provides many doors that allow you to dive right in to a personal conversation.

The Phony Experts

Of course the Hustlers don't care about that. All they want to do is tell you that you're missing something so they can supply it. And if they can find scientific data to support their views, so much the better.

So, next time you hear some communication or image consultant barking about the importance of non-verbal communication, take a step back.

Yeah, you want to have your shoes shined and your shirt tucked in but unless you go to modelling school you're rarely going to seem more poised than you normally are.

Just look at the politicians when they make speeches on TV. Most of them look like robots or marionettes clumsily trying to move this way and that in order to do as they were told.

You can just imagine someone offstage signalling madly "Hands up! Turn to the left! Look sincere!."

Yes, yes, very impressive. I feel better now. I can trust him. Not.

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