Full text of communication expert Antoni Lacinai’s talk: 6 Communication Truths That Everyone Should Know at TEDxVasa conference. In this age of digitalization, are we at risk of losing our analog communication skills? This talk by Antoni explores that pertinent question in some detail.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
Antoni Lacinai – Communication Expert
Friends, I have a confession to make: I sometimes do stupid, stupid things.
For instance, when I’m at home, having made dinner for the family, and I want my kids to join us, I bring out the phone and send them a message: “dinner is ready.” This is really embarrassing, because they are not in another part of the city, they are in their rooms: 15 steps from where I’m standing.
And I can see on your face, you realize as well, as I do, that this is a crazy stupid behavior, but I still do it. Why?
You know why? Because I’m lazy, and it’s so easy.
Wouldn’t you agree that it’s much easier to inform than to engage? That it’s much easier to pretend that you’re efficient, when you’re just adding to the digital noise? And I should know better.
For the last 25 years, I’ve been studying the success factors of analog communication in an even more digital world. Things like, what you say, how you sound, how you look, how you listen, and also skills you need if you want to achieve results, when you cooperate, when you sell and when you lead.
If you want to be a great leader, you also want to be a great communicator. You want to communicate with energy, with clarity, and with empathy, energy, so that I believe that you believe.
Clarity, so you take away as many misunderstandings as possible. And empathy, so I feel that you get me. And this is really hard to do. It takes time to master this: effort, willpower. And it’s so much more tempting to just cruise down the digital highway, to enter the candy store of digital tools and digital toys where you can swipe left to right or like something or just spend time there.
So the question is: as we go down and as we wander deeper and deeper into this digital candy store, are we losing our communication skills? Are we risk losing at least? And the answer unfortunately is yes.
There are challenges that we should be aware of.
First, as the digital consumption goes up, the level of empathy is going down, especially but not only, among young people. And this is alarming but it shouldn’t come as a surprise, really, because the time you spend in your bed or sofa, or by your desk, interacting in the digital space, it’s time you don’t get to practice social skills in your analog space.
Second, we are more and more impatient. 25 years ago, the communication experts said that we had an attention span of about 20 minutes, which coincidentally is the maximum length of a TED talk. Recently though, I was told by a university professor that we are down to three and a half minutes. The change is staggering.
We are becoming the scanning generation: scanning for likes and executive summaries and nuggets of information, quick things, quick fix, instant gratification.
The third challenge is that we are constantly interrupted now, more than ever before. And just imagine yourself being in a face-to-face conversation with somebody, and the phone rings. You don’t have to pick up the phone, but you do have to pick up the conversation because you just got disconnected.
And this will only increase as we add more and more communication channels because here’s the thing, just because we add more and more communication channels doesn’t mean we add more and more communication quality.
You know, we used to only have two channels, couple of million years back: body language and voice. A couple of 100,000 years ago, spoken words: three channels. A few thousand years ago, we invented the written language: four channels.
Now we can even skip body language and voice. And then of course, it progressed. And with electricity came the broadcasting services, like radio, TV, newspapers. And then we have telefax, telephone, computers, SMS, email, mobile phones, video conferencing, chatting, PowerPoint. God bless us all. And then of course, social media with all the messenger services around it. Multiple channels.
So, what can we do in this situation? I say, we should reclaim and enhance our focus on analog communication skills.
Over the years, I’ve gathered some 12 – 15 communication truths or principles or lessons, and I’d like to share some of them with you right now. First three generic ones – universals – before we step into some more practical hands-on lessons as well.
So, are you ready? Okay. Fasten your seat belts because here we go.
Lesson number one: you cannot ‘not’ communicate everything about what you communicate: what you wear, what you eat, what you drive, what you say, what you do, everything. If you enter the office looking like that, or if you come to the school to pick up your kids looking like that, you might think that you are all so busy, all so cool, a top performer, but chances are that your colleagues or your kids will think, ‘Huh, whatever is on that screen is more important than me.’
I don’t know about you but I’ve been that person, you know, to my kids when I pick them up from candy or… and then they say; “Can you please turn off the phone when you pick us up, daddy.” It doesn’t feel so good when you hear that. First lesson.
Second: you cannot say what you mean. Our brains are not computers. We don’t have linear thought processes. We are messy, so whatever comes out is not exactly what you intended, and it gets worse because every one of you have your own interpretation, or what I’ve just been saying, and that goes for you as well. Everyone. And depending on your own filters, you will have different memories of what I’ve been saying afterwards.
Take that with you as well, and let’s go to lesson number three. You have a power; you can make people feel the way you want them to feel. What you think, what you say, what you do will affect not only how you feel, but also how they feel, which will affect how well they perform.
So, be careful what thoughts and words and actions you cultivate because they will make an impact. If you praise me, I’ll get happy. If you cry, I’ll get sad. If you show me 51 boring corporates’ PowerPoint slides, I’ll get sleepy. Cause-and-effect. So those were three universal ones, generic ones.
Let’s go into some more practical ones, hands-on lessons as well. Are you okay with that?
Okay, so now we have to look at, you know, what I mean with practical ones. Well, where do you really exercise your leadership on a day-to-day basis? If you’re a manager in an office environment, you spend at least half of your time in meetings. Am I right? Monday meetings, status meetings, project meetings, management team meetings, kickoff rallies, conferences, customer meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings all the time.
So, let’s put the next three lessons in a meeting context. And now you have to imagine, you have to imagine that you’re the head of product management for your company, and you just got an email from the VP of Sales and she apologizes and says; “Really sorry, I’m double-booked. In one hour, a new potential client will come to the office. Five people, the CEO, she will be there, the purchasing director, and some other people as well. And since I’m double-booked, you have to take care of this meeting. one hour from now.” That’s the scenario.
Okay. So one hour later, you’re at the reception. You have booked the conference room and you google down, you’re going to find out who they are, and now you’re standing there. You know, your heart is pumping, hands are a bit sweaty. They are running late, which is good for you because then you can control your breathing here, you know.
And then the entrance door opens, five people step in, it’s them. They see you. And unconsciously, when they walk toward you, at that moment, they will form an opinion of you, whether or not they like you and whether or not they perceive you as a threat.
Let’s do an exercise. Very soon here, you will see a person A, and a person B on this screen, and you can observe three things about them. And your task is to, within a second from when you see it, shout out which one you like the best. Do you understand the task? You cannot analyze here, it’s just, one, two, three. All right, good.
Are you ready? One, two, three. Most of you said A, right? But then you start to laugh, not because you say A, but oh! They’re just same. They are not the same. The order of your observation matters. This is called the primacy effect, but we know it; that’s the first impression.
And here’s the thing. Whatever first impression your client has, they don’t want to change their mind. According to the Center for Body Language in Belgium communication experts, 70% of all first impressions last.
So the fourth lesson is, first impressions last.
Now, you have done a great job because all of those five people perceive you as person A, isn’t that nice? Yeah. So, they like you unconsciously already.
Now, let’s build some more trust and take them to the conference room. Let’s go for lesson number five. It’s better to be interested than interesting. This is the number one trait for any good salesperson, but it’s also the number one trait for any good manager. People want their managers to see them, to recognize them, to be attentive, curious. Doesn’t mean that they have to agree on everything, it’s just a matter of respect that they see them.
How do you do this? It’s pretty straightforward, you ask questions and you listen, not to respond but to understand. Big difference. If your customer, in this scenario, this potential client trusts you, this is where you win the business. If your people trusts you, this is how you win their hearts. So, be curious, be interested, be present, which by the way is a big challenge.
If you forgot your phone on the table and it starts to buzz and beep and flash, because you can’t help but to react in real time, you just have to look at the phone. It’s the exact same reaction as your ancestors, ten thousand years ago, were in a forest, everything was calm and quiet, and a branch snapped, all their attention would go towards that sound: is it a hostile tribe member who wants to enslave me? Is it a hungry tiger wanting to eat me? Is it perhaps an attractive person who I can mix my DNA with, you know, prolong my lineage so I can become you, you know, in the future?
So, you look at the phone because you have to; you don’t have a choice. Of course, what you should do is to turn off the phone. what you should absolutely not do in this scenario is this; look under the table, like, swipe left, swipe right, good. You don’t want, and you don’t do this of course. You don’t do this.
But it takes me to lesson number six. Your body speaks louder than words. Now, let’s get really practical here and work on some nonverbal communication clues. We start with the… okay, this one.
You’re in this scenario, okay? You’re in with the client, this potential client, and you don’t want to look arrogant, do you? No, you don’t. But do you know that the difference is only one inch between looking arrogant and normal, one inch, 2.54 centimeters.
Let’s do a test. Pair up, two and two, face each other and say nice to meet you. And then you do it again, and you lift your nose 1 inch. Feel the difference. Go ahead. Try it now. Thank you.
Now, try to detect that with your head in your phone. That’s going to be tough. Let’s take a couple of more; it’s time for you to present to these potential clients. You stand up and you do this. What does this signal? This means that you’re comfortable, being vulnerable means that you’re inclusive and that you value other people’s opinions. Great.
You think I’m going to do this all the time? No, you’re not. If you overdo this, you come across as insecure and emotionally weak. Oh! I don’t want that. I’m going to do this. Okay, good. Now you’re signaling certainty. You’re stating a fact, not to be debated. If you overdo it, you will come across as rude and insensitive to other people’s feelings. Balance it.
Let’s take one more, eye contact. You have the client in front of you, five people. You know, the CEO, the purchasing director, some other people. How long should you look at someone before it’s time to switch? The general rule of thumb is three seconds, then you have time to establish a connection, get a nod, move on. You don’t want to do this.
If you don’t dare to look at someone, then you will come across as nervous and stressed and not very trustworthy. On the other hand, if you look eye to only the CEO, the decision-maker, very soon, I’m not even blinking here, very soon two things will happen. The rest of the people will feel excluded out from the meeting, including the purchasing director. Not good. And the CEO, she will also feel something, because I am signaling either aggression or lust.
So, from a nonverbal communication perspective, I either want to kill you or make babies. And I must say that neither of these two options are appropriate in a business context, would you agree? Try to detect that with a phone in front of your face. I know, I know, I sound like a grumpy old man. I get that, I get that.
But you know, I’m Generation X. I belong to Generation X. I’ve been through the transition from analog to digital, and I’ll tell you right now, I love technology and I love what innovations can do for us. I do never want to go back to the days of slow screeching modems and stupid computers with kilobytes of memory, and even more stupid phones without internet access. No, I don’t want that.
I just want us to realize that there are risks and challenges coming with the easy way of using digital tools and digital toys. So, we need to balance that and work with the other part as well.
Are you up for this challenge? I hope you are up for this challenge because this, for me, is not just an idea worth spreading; this is a call for action.