Friday, February 29, 2008

Nonverbals Matter.

Girls, girls, girls, this blog is for you. If you are white, 60ish, not tall, menopausally round and running against a tall, skinny, 40 something black man for President please do not pick what could be the most crucial television moment of your campaign to warm up your image. My dream (and it should be yours too) of a woman as the presidential nominee (party and politics aside) is about to go up in a fluff of brown bouclé.

Was it poor nonverbal judgment or was it bad advice; the latter being most likely. Did you know that we are wrong about our own image about half the time? And one of the principle reasons that we are so off the mark is that people bear false witness to all that we do. Not a malicious behavior and in fact just the opposite. Lying to people is born out of politeness. But now is not the time to be polite to Ms. Clinton. Nor is politeness (by the way, if you look up politeness in the dictionary, and I just did, the sentence used, as an example is “they thought she was wrong but were too polite to tell her.” Duh.) your friend if you are job hunting, dating, giving a major speech, arguing before the Supreme Court or reaching for a desk in the Executive Wing. So, I cast out being nice and here is the takeaway for us women from the most recent presidential debate.

Nonverbal behaviors matter. Why start with her suit, which seems superficial. Because the package contributed to overall image and the image is what people hire, vote for, fall in love with, befriend. Starting my blog in the middle of a presidential election year supplied me with great fodder to discuss the verbal, nonverbal and visual communication tactics that I am so passionate about. Nonetheless, I swore off the subject in a grand announcement to my staff insisting that the candidates had plenty of advice and that the pundits had more than enough opinions. Huh? Maybe I missed the mark on this decision.

All communication must be assessed in context. What was Hillary’s context? Obama? Being male and physically larger he set the context. Nonverbally, he was the ‘one to beat’. Ms. Clinton’s image can be summed up as: small, tired, anxious, lacking confidence, desperate. Contributing to this overall image were these nonverbal behaviors: posture, gesturing, space use, clothing, voice or laugh quality, rate of speech. There may be more but without going back to watch (a thought too painful) I cannot now recall. So what went wrong? As you read on remember the context.

Sitting posture needs to be ballerina upright using as much space as possible. Imagine pinching the pencil between the shoulder blades. This is especially true if you are over 50 and have begun to get a little of that back fat we all try to ignore. Using as much space as possible makes a person look confident. It also causes one to appear ready for a call to action. In the context of a bigger person, proper space use is huge. Huge may be the operative word. Make yourself huge. How? Master the posture and then dress for visual impression. A dark, well-tailored suit with a good set of shoulder pads would have served Hillary well and will do you justice no matter your stature.

See the photo below and notice how when Hillary Clinton was the listener and not the speaker she would fold her arms and use what in our business we call ‘self touch’. Touching yourself is not a good thing. It is read as a weakness, a self-protection, stress, and nervousness.

Don’t show skin. In spite of great jewelry on your wrists, skin shows vulnerability. Clothes are your armor. Compare Hillary’s bare wrists to Obama’s crisp white cuffs. Get it?

Rate of speech and use of silence gives the edge to the person who knows how to use both. When answering a question in an interview or on a date or on TV in front of millions of people, don’t act like you are a dog begging for a bone. Ponder the question for a second. I am not sure how many questions were asked of each person in the debate but let’s say there were ten. Those ten seconds would be better spent looking calm and contemplative than the twenty or so words that can be blurted out in that time.

Personally, I believe Hillary is smarter and prettier (her makeup was stunning) and as a fellow (?) woman I want to see her do well. I want all my sisters to do well. Nonverbals are not the end all/be all of success. That is, if you live in a cave, you communicate with smoke signals and all your neighbors wear buffalo hide. But in a society that feeds on the visual media, Facebook, YouTube and video messaging, what is a girl to do? If Hillary Clinton can’t overcome the “image” issue with her brain and brawn, then who can?

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more with your assessment!