Deborah Gruenfeld on Acting with Power at Stanford (Full Transcript)

So her research assistants went out in search of these lines and their job was to approach the person who is next in line and ask if they could cut in front of them. And they were told to make this request in one of three ways: Either they said may I use the Xerox machine. This is a fairly straightforward request with no justification.

Or they said, may I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush. This is a request with a logical justification. Not a bad reason to let someone cut in front of you.

Or they said, may I use the Xerox machine because I need to make copies. Right, it’s a justification, not the most logical one.

So remember her question is which of these types of requests is going to increase the likelihood of getting a yes. And it turns out that giving a justification made a difference. So if you gave a reason for your request you are more likely to get a yes but the logical reason had no power at all over the reason that had absolutely no value. Right, it’s just another piece of evidence to suggest that people may not be listening as carefully to you as you think they are, as you hoped they would be and that the logic associated with subtleties of your argument may be lost on many people.

One final piece of data I want to share with you is that this is something I think most of us see in our organizations all the time, many arguments are not even heard until the right person makes them. So people are assessing your status before you open your mouth and depending on what they decide either they’re paying attention or they’re not.

So the upshot is that people are making decisions about whether to pay attention to you in a very short period of time. They’re going to decide whether you’re someone who is worthy of their attention in less than a 100 milliseconds. So we need to understand how people do this. If our goal is to have impact, we need to know what are people paying attention to that allows them to make these kinds of assessments.

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If you want to predict the content of the impressions that people form of other people, you can look at the independent effects of three different aspects of our behavior. You can look at the impact of our words, you can look at the impact of how we use our voices, independent of our words, and you can look at the impact of these very subtle nonverbal cues the way we use our eyes, the way we stand, the types of gestures that we use and what you’ll find over and over again in the research is that your words account for only 10% or less of the variance in the impressions that people form.

So the vast majority of social meaning, the vast majority of the meaning that people take away from their interaction with you comes from these physical ways of behaving and nonverbal behaviors that most of us are almost never thinking about at all.

Something you should know about this as well, I think is really important to understand is that in those circumstances where our verbal messages and nonverbal messages are misaligned. People will remember what your body told them. So it’s really important I think to develop a kind of conscious awareness of some of these things, which most of us don’t have.

I want to make the suggestion that there is actually a body language of power and we know it. But we know it so well we don’t know we know it. So what’s happened from the day most of us are born is that we’re socialized by the people who care about us to learn to use our bodies in ways that allow us to show others that we know our place. We learn how to use our bodies in ways to gain their respect of other people, we learn how to use our bodies in ways that tell people not to mess around with us, and it’s such a basic aspect of our culturalization and socialization that we learn to use our bodies to negotiate social hierarchy without any conscious awareness and the fact that this is what we’re doing.

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I want to make a suggestion that very small, subtle changes in our physical behavior can have a tremendous impact actually. Not only on the perceptions that other people have of us, but on our own psychology.

I don’t have time right now to go into all the different physical determinants or that the ways in which we display power and status or non-verbal behavior, I’m going to talk about that later today. But let me just address one very important and common differentiating physical activity.

If you look at the behavior of high and low-ranking group members, both in animals and in humans, one of the most striking differences is that you’ll notice that high-ranking group members use their bodies in much more physically expansive ways than lower ranking members do. So you can see in both these pictures what a high-ranking group member will do is make their body large, take up as much space as they’d like. They get — the high-ranking member gets to define the way space gets used. And you’ll see an expansive body postures basically where the arms and legs are held outside the body as a way of making the footprint bigger.

Lower-ranking group members do the opposite, you’ll see contraction of the body. So the limbs come closer to the body and you’ll see as you do in both of these pictures there’s often a bowing, nodding, a dipping down as a way of making a footprint smaller.

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