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Obsession With What is Left Unsaid

Obsession With What is Left Unsaid Julie Roehm
Last week I wrote a blog entitled "Fake it 'Till You Take It...On" where I talked about the effect that power poses, held for as little as 2 minutes in advance of key meetings, interviews, or presentations can have on the outcome of those events, and your life in general. The findings that I wrote about really piqued my interest and as a result I have become even more fascinated with the science of things that have less to do with what we say, and the clever way we say them, and more about the manner in which we say them.

The latest tidbit of science that came my way on this topic was via my boss, Jonathan Becher, who wrote about this in his blog. I checked out the source of his information which came from a guy named Mark Buchanan who wrote a lengthy article/research piece entitled, "The Science of Subtle Signals." Here is an excerpt in which he shares the outcome of a study done with telephone operators/telemarketers and the differences that they found when they analyzed the behavior, non-verbals, and other mannerisms of those operators/telemarketers that were the most successful:

"Successful operators, it turned out, speak little and listen much. When they do speak, their voices fluctuate strongly in amplitude and pitch, suggesting interest and responsiveness to the customer’s needs. Operators who speak with little variation come across as too determined and authoritative, but by speaking invitingly, being responsive but not pushy, a skilled operator can let callers find their own way to a sale. “Like a mother speaking singsong to a baby,” says Pentland, “variation sounds perky and inviting. If operators do it right, they’re almost certain to be successful.” Armed with this understanding, a company like Vertex can train its operators to converse more effectively, and can seek new hires who exhibit these speech patterns. If a call starts going badly, a supervisor can detect the signs quickly enough to switch it to another operator. Early experiments have suggested that these insights can improve a company’s telephone sales performance by 20 percent or more. And the same is true of other forms of corporate communication. “In pitching business plans, for instance,” Pentland points out, “consistency of tone and pace is key to getting your plan rated highly.”

So, a one-size-fits-all use of tone and manner is not necessarily the formula, it varies depending on the audience and their need. In fact, Jonathan pointed out that, "Traditional models of human behavior assume people are primarily influenced by reasoning and logic. In other words, “it’s what gets said that matters, not how it is said.”  However the MIT researchers have shown they can predict the outcome of sales calls with 87% accuracy – without hearing a single word." He also pontificated on the application of this theory to marketing tactics. "In marketing we could apply subtle signals to focus groups, consumer surveys and product design. Rather than relying on participants’ written or vocal responses, the sensors (on the devices that are used to measure these non-verbal activities) could be used to understand how people physically respond to a product.  This might dramatically improve accuracy, as participants tend to self-report skewed results. However, using sensors to track subtle signals would likely cause some privacy concerns which reduces their practical use.""

Personally, I think there are a lot of cool insights to be gained when we can capture those non-verbals and analyze the behavior at the same time. That said, it is not very practical to ask people to wear these monitoring devices 24/7. It's not fashionable, hard to remember, and above all it is creepy. Today, the latest innovations, think Google glasses, might make this far more possible, without the "researchy" element but it doesn't alleviate the potential "creep" factor. Still, whether it is the glasses, phones or some other device, it seems that we are right around the corner from being able to have far greater insight into what makes people choose the products and services they choose without ever having them utter a word.

Julie Roehm is SVP Marketing, "Chief Storyteller" at SAP. Formerly, as a Marketing Strategy Consultant she served companies in all industries, of all sizes. Her client list includes, Credit Suisse, Time Inc., BIAP, Acxiom, ad agencies, and...

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