Rip up the communication rulebook.

In the 1960’s, UCLA Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Albert Mehrabian, conducted a survey that has led to thousands of articles and presentations stating that communication is made up of:

Words 7%
Tone of Voice 38%
Body Language 55%

It’s complete nonsense. As Richard Mullender, the hostage negotiator and one of our expert speakers pointed out, try watching BBC Question Time with the sound muted and see if you can make any sense of what’s being discussed. Maybe that’s not fair – Question Time is often indecipherable with the sound turned up, but try it with just about any programme or watch a news interview when you’re abroad and there are no subtitles and you’ll get my point – words are hugely important.

Another myth is the belief that asking questions is the best way to find out more from someone. Actually it’s not, indeed it can have the opposite effect and if you’re in the business of seeking to understand customers or colleagues, (or friends and family for that matter), then I’ve a suggestion that may seem counterintuitive and certainly will conflict with lessons from the past but will enable you to have much better conversations in the future that will yield far more information.

Every time you ask a question you change the subject. Let’s take someone telling you about their home that they’re thinking of selling. You might ask, “what sort of property is it?” to which they will start describing their home. But if you interject with another, albeit related question, such as “how many bedrooms does it have?”, this will change the train of thought – they might have been about to add something completely different, (and far more useful than the bedrooms answer).

Richard Mullender illustrated this by saying to one of our members: “I’m going on holiday next week” to which our member asked, “oh, where to?” and straight away changed the direction of the conversation. You see, had he just nodded, smiled or perhaps added a small grunt to acknowledge what had been said or replied, Richard would have added, “yeah, I’ve been a bit stressed recently so I’m going away for a bit.”

Rather than asking questions, use “minimal encouragers” instead. You might say, “and” or “go on” or “and after that” but often the most effective response is just a “uh-huh” or “ummm” sound.

In a hostage situation, every time someone opens their mouth they will share a secret or give clues. I believe the same is often true in business and many other negotiations. Let the client speak – and then speak some more, and then even more until the point where you both think they’ve run out of words and then say “and tell me more” and just see how much they continue to offer up that will inform you on what to do next.

(Richard Mullender’s Negotiation Masterclass, based on his experiences of high stress situations such as hostage release negotiations with the taliban and persuading hundreds of people to not jump in suicide situations, is one of 70 different sessions we run for our members all of which have immediate high impact to enable individuals and companies to be the best that they can be. How about attending one of the sessions and seeing if membership is for you? We have three trial events in March and April with a limited number of spaces on each – get in touch to reserve one.)

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