Influence, Persuasion and Self-Promotion In A Low-Trust Environment

By David Nour

Olivia Fox Cabane of the Relationship Economics Coaching® Practice asks if you have ever thought about how your expressions are perceived?  What do you need to know when attempting to influence, motivate, or lead today?

Behavioral science shows us why those who keep pitching as they did before the crisis are headed straight for a cliff.  In times of crisis, when anxiety levels are high, our ability to respond rationally (i.e. through our cognitive brain) is short-circuited by our primal brain, which does not understand logic or reason.  Therefore, attempting to pitch your ideas before you’ve quieted down the primal brain is doomed to failure.

To convince the primal brain to take a backseat and let the cognitive brain re-engage, you need to establish trust on a visceral level. This can only be achieved by using a specific set of body language, voice tones, and words. Yes, this means doing things differently. But you could gain a significant competitive advantage over less enlightened competitors.

A Bit Of Science

In an anxiety-laden environment, our sympathetic nervous system activates, putting us on constant low-grade alert. People don’t necessarily realize that they’re thinking any differently; and yet a different part of the brain has taken over. This primal brain does not directly comprehend words or ideas, but immediately understands body language.

Did you know that over 80% of your interactions come down to your body language? In fact, an MIT study found that the outcome of negotiations could be predicted with 87% accuracy just by analyzing participants’ body language—completely ignoring words & negotiation tactics. So what affects our body language?

Let’s say you’re in the middle of a conversation; and you suddenly remember something you forgot to do at work. What’s going to happen to your face? You may wince at the memory; your expression may become tense. No matter how brief that negative expression, the person facing you is going to spot it, because research showed that people catch your expressions within less than a second—as fast as 17 milliseconds, to be exact.

Even when we control the main expression on our face, our true feelings will often show up, albeit for a split second. These split-second “micro-expressions” are what people pick up without even realizing it. On a subconscious level, they’ll get the feeling of a “mixed message.” It’s a gut-level feeling that there’s something off, something that doesn’t quite fit.  And if they see negativity in your face while you’re looking at them, what are they going to think? That it’s about them— what they said or did, or what you think about them.

Here’s another example. Have you ever felt as if only half of your mind were present in a conversation; while the other half was busy beating you up? Your face may have tightened in reaction to this internal attack, making you appear cold and distant. They may even take this tense expression personally, as a reaction to them. When in fact, it was just the outside manifestation of internal turmoil. This phenomenon, called the “inner critic,” is considered to be one of the worst killers of great business leadership; and learning how to handle the inner critic is one of the first things we help our clients with to ensure great performance.

So how do you ensure negative thoughts and emotions don’t ruin your body language? As you’ve probably realized, the vast majority of your body language is not something you control consciously. Like so many other aspects of your bodily functioning—heartbeat, blinks, etc—it’s controlled by your subconscious mind. An interesting quirk about the subconscious is that it does not distinguish between imagination and reality. Have you ever felt your heart pounding and your blood curdling during a horror movie? Consciously, you know it’s just a movie. Yet your brain sees blood and guts on the screen, so it sends you straight into fight-or-flight mode, adrenaline rushing through your system.

If you can get your subconscious mind to imagine the emotions you want to broadcast, it’ll assume “it’s for real” and your entire body language will fall into step. Instead of trying to control the entire output, you control just one thing—the source. Actors call this “getting into the character” or “Method Acting”–Sean Penn is a fan.

In sports, visualization has been considered an essential tool for decades, and 86% of American Olympic athletes it. Golfer Jack Nicklaus said that he never hit a shot, even during practice, without visualizing it first. Tiger Woods and Michael Schumacher also used visualization training throughout their careers.

Here’s one quick fix you can before key meetings for a quick boost of confidence: re-live one of your greatest triumphs. To be effective, visualization must be precise, vivid, and detailed. When this technique is used with Olympic skiers, they go through the entire course, mentally experiencing each swoosh and turn.

So involve all five senses—hear, see, smell, taste the experience as vividly as you can.
You can also learn high-impact techniques to use during meetings, to turnaround situations for instance. And you can also gain more than quick-fix techniques, solving this issue on a deeper level.


2 Responses to “Influence, Persuasion and Self-Promotion In A Low-Trust Environment”

  1. David, this is such an astute observation and one that we often forget in this (mostly) online world we live in. How do these thoughts translate into virtual relationship and virtual conversations? Would love to hear. I was thinking that most of my interactions are on the phone and I do exactly what you suggest at the end of this: I get myself in a peak state (usually using an emotional trigger to get into state) and remember someone telling me a long time ago that people can hear you smile – I think it is true – I also think that online and on the phone are also low-trust environments, until you allow others to see that you can be trusted, and that comes from being as aware as you suggest we should be.

  2. Sanket N says:

    Excellent article. Do you suggest a book where more details are available.

    Thanks & Regards

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