1. How You Appear > What You Say
Dr. Albert Mehrabian at UCLA proposed the 93% rule – only 7% of an interaction consists of the actual content, while the rest of the message is communicated through facial expressions, nonverbal gestures, voice, eye gaze and even appearance.
This is no myth. In fact, in making judgments, we rely on nonverbal cues twice as much as verbal ones (Lieberman & Rosenthal, 2001). Furthermore, a study comparing the separate effects of dominant demeanor and dominant content found that demeanor played a bigger role in negative evaluations a speaker. In other words, when speakers acted dominant, they were disliked regardless of the tone of their message.
What’s that, you say? Isn’t dominance the essence of leadership? Well…
What are dominance cues? A person who displays a dominant cues glares, intimidates, points, and speaks loudly. Together with a forceful message, this becomes an ineffective mode for influencing others (Driskell & Salas, 2005). Those who display such behavior to get others to comply are often disliked, seen as less competent, perceived as poor managers, and are just plain threatening.
3. Try Task Cues
Instead of employing pressure tactics to get things done, try the art of rational persuasion. Yukl and colleagues found that using logical arguments and facts to justify a request were generally more effective and socially acceptable.
Also, try enacting task cues. Maintain moderate but steady eye contact, use fluid and confident gestures and wear a calm expression on your face. Work on speaking fluently and more often with a forward and relaxed posture. These have been shown to be markers for competence and ability.
Two key factors of charisma are the intensity of facial expressions and smiles and a consistent gaze. To be charismatic is to “function with apparent confidence before an audience of eyes” (Lykken, 1995). Research has shown that charismatic leadership is effective in enhancing productivity and group satisfaction, thanks to the “emotional contagion” experienced by its observers.
In one study, participants smiled more often and held a longer gaze while watching clips of charismatic leadership behavior (Cherulink, Donley, Miller & Wiewel, 2001). The effect of leadership style was even more pronounced when the observers and speaker were of the opposite gender.
That being said, genuine smiles are more likely to be imitated than forced smiles (Cherulink, Donley, Griggs, Houtz & Morgan, 1995). So if you want to infect your followers with happiness, it helps to be happy yourself.
5. If You Must Be Sad, Be Empathetic
Displays of sadness are often incompatible with leadership because a sad face signifies appeasement and characterizes follower behavior (Stewart, Salter & Mehu, 2009). For example, Senator Edmund Muskie’s standing in the 1972 Democratic Party presidential nomination quickly plummeted after tearing up in response to negative media coverage of his wife. However, there are rare exceptions to this in the case of displaying empathy. In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, George W. Bush’s display of sadness was interpreted as empathetic and appropriate for the time and situation.
Becoming a leader is no easy task. It involves creating balance between dominating and affiliating with others. Though saying the right message is important, leaders should also be observant of the nonverbal cues they are projecting. As author Peter Drucker once told, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
Thanks to my friend, Aaron Cheong, who (sort of) requested I write about this topic three weeks ago. If you have a topic you would like to know more about, shoot me a comment!
- Blefari, G. (2010, October 7). Thoughts on Leadership: The 93% Rule: Nonverbal Communication. Retrieved February 8, 2013, from InteroMojo's website: http://interomojo.com/2010/10/07/thoughts-on-leadership-the-93-rule-nonverbal-communication/.
- Cherulink,P.D.; Donley, K.A.; Miller, S.R. & Wiewel, T.S.R. (2001). Charisma is Contagious: The Effect of Leaders’ Charisma on Observers’ Affect. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 31(10), 2149-2159.
- Driskell, J.E. & Salas, E. (2005). The Effect of Content and Demeanor on Reactions to Dominance Behavior. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 9(1), 3-14.
- Stewart, P.A.; Salter, F.K. & Mehu, M. (2009) Taking leaders at face value: Ethology and the analysis of televised leader displays. Politics and Life Sciences, 28(1), 48-74.