Monday, June 25, 2012

The Chameleon Effect

In my Executive Presence and Body Language  seminars, perhaps the most frequently asked question

Does mimicking other people's body language 'really' help them to like us more?

Certainly self-help books and sales training manuals have advised us for decades that mirroring the body language of others can have a positive impact on rapport. Chartrand & Bargh (1999) set out to address, in a series of experiments, a slightly larger question.

Does mimicry actually increase liking OR do we automatically mimic others in our interactions with them?  

Two key sets of experiments were conducted.  In the first, people met with an experimental 'confederate' who was instructed to vary their mannerisms throughout the meeting.  Some smiled more, some waggled their foot more, others engaged in more face touching.  The findings? Participants naturally and unconsciously tended to copy the confederate, following and mirroring their gestural cues.  Face touching went up 20%, while foot waggling increased as much as 50%. This definitely indicates that we unconsciously will mimic the behavioural cues of others during our interactions with them.  Although not tested in this series of experiments, others have found that this unconscious behaviour occurs more when you want the other party to think favourable of you than when you do not.  (think interviews versus adversarial meetings)

This then begs the question...  can you get people to like you more by mimicking them?  In a follow up experiment, Chartrand & Bargh wanted to determine whether there is a true benefit to behavioural mimicry, or whether it is simply a natural by-product of our social interactions.  In this experimental series, instead of leading the behaviours and seeing whether the participants picked them up and mimicked them, confederates were directed to mimic the body language of the participants.

Afterward, participants were requested to provide ratings of the 'likeability' of the confederates they spoke with.  Participants rated those that mimicked them, through body language, higher than those that didn't demonstrate any mimicking  behaviour. The bottom line?
  • mimicry can serve to increase liking, empathy and rapport
  • we will unconsciously mimic the behaviour of others when we want them to like us
In order to build rapport with someone faster, consider mirroring any of the following...
  • Vocal volume, pace, pitch, pauses
  • Verbal phrases, tenses (active versus passive), references
  • Visual cues (posture, eye contact, leg crossing, gestures)
To test whether the two of you are 'in rapport'...  shift from mirroring (following the behavioural cue) to leading it.  If you find that shortly after you have demonstrated a gestural cue the other party also engages in the same behaviour, you are in rapport.  

In general, think of the 'Chameleon effect' as a component of our social interactions with others; behaviours that typically serve to heighten the pro-social behaviour of the other party.  But... bear in mind... there is a vast difference between mimicking/mirroring the behaviour of someone with the desire to connect with them and mimicking/imitating the other party to poke fun at them.  The first may serve to heighten your connection whereas the latter is sure to alienate the other party.  The intent that drives the behaviour often also drives the response.  

Monday, June 18, 2012

Doorways and Forgetfulness

We have all had the experience of walking into a new room in our home, on a mission to get something, and... we completely forget what we were looking for!  We look around, typically in vain,searching for something to jog our memories, something that will serve to remind us what we were looking for.  Before blaming the lapse on your misspent youth and the number of brain cells you inadvertently killed off in the pursuit of a party, research offers a unique perspective.

It was the doorway.  Walking through doorways empties your mind and causes forgetting.  Really!

According to research conducted by Gabriel Radvansky and his associates, doorways create a disruption in our situational models, our internal pictures of our environments.  In their experiments (both real and virtual) they asked participants to pick up objects and move them from one table to another, picking up a new object and moving it to another table.  The distance travelled from table to table was consistent and the participants could not see tables and objects left behind from one table to another.  Periodically they would be asked about the object they were carrying and the object they had just put down.  

Whether in virtual environments or the physical reality, when people walked through a doorway they had more difficulty not only remembering the object they had just put down, but the object they were carrying as well.  Radvansky also studied whether returning to the original room served as a memory jogger, re-instating memory.  As it turns out... not really.

It seems that we construct situational models of our environment.  They are not particularly specific because we are living in that environment currently.  We don't need to hold a strong mental map of it because we can check in with our environment at any time to pick up more details.  These situational models include not only information about the environment we are in, but also some vague information about ourselves within that environment (including insights into what we are carrying and doing).  Doorways though are entrances into new environments which require us to construct a new situational model.  This new model erases and over-writes the pre-existing model... causing us to 'forget'.

Changing the environment causes us to lose hold of the vague information that we have loosely been holding in our heads.  Walking through the doorway causes us to replace this vague concept with another vague concept.  Not early-onset Alzheimer's at all... just the doorway.  So... the next time you are walking behind me and I pause just before walking through a doorway...  know that I am not doing it to drive you crazy, just taking a mental note, reminding myself why I was going through that doorway in the first place!

Monday, June 11, 2012

6 Top Ways to Minimize your Stress at Work

We all face stress at work, if not also in our personal lives.  And, truth be told, that isn't going to change.  Some moments are more stress-filled than others, but stress is pretty much a given. Although we have heard about the differences between 'good' stress (Eustress) versus 'bad' stress (Distress), most of us could likely agree on the fact that we generally could do with less of it in our lives.

The following is a list of 6 key methods for reducing your on-the-job stress levels, though each could likely have a role to play in decreasing your stress outside of work as well!

1.  Learn to say No!  

Studies have shown significantly higher levels of stress in Managers who experience difficulty in saying 'no' more readily to others.  In this case we are our own worst enemy.  Our inability to say no leads us to take on more and more projects and tasks, until we are over-burdened, over-tasked, over-worked.  Bear in mind that saying No to someone may not mean that you are refusing to help them... Ever!... but simply that you are saying 'not right now'.  Just because they may have something that is a priority to them doesn't mean you need make it one of yours.

2.  Delegation.  

I'm all for being a DIYer (do-it-yourselfer) in the home... IF you derive pleasure and satisfaction from the doing.  If you simply derive satisfaction from having it done... hire someone else!  This DIY mentality carries over into the workplace where we also somehow feel that we need to take care of it ourselves to gain credit for it.  Trust me...  it only matters that it gets done.  Your facilitation of that process is all that counts.  Learning to delegate more allows you the time you need to take on more senior responsibilities, to have more time to plan and think pro-actively and strategically, all of which will serve you better in the long run.  In short...  you have to learn to 'give up' to 'move up'!

3.  Procrastination.  

Despite the belief you have created to justify your behaviour, research shows that NO you do NOT do your best work when under the gun.  Yes, you may finally get it done at the last minute, but that does not mean that it will be your best work.  Starting early provides you with more time to think and reflect on the process and steps, providing you with the opportunity to refine along the way, an option that would not be possible when in the midst of a time crunch.  If you know you are unlikely to heed this nugget and mend your procrastinating ways... then consider breaking your task down into smaller chunks and creating arbitrary deadlines for each along the way.  You will work to those imposed deadlines (last minute) but still find yourself ahead at the end.

4.  Criticism.  

Although we can't eliminate the amount, type and nature of the criticism we receive from others, we can reduce the stress impact of the criticism by managing our reaction to it.  Instead of internalizing and personalizing the criticism, dissect it instead.  Go on a hunt to find the one kernel of meaningful truth contained within it that will help you to improve, then toss the rest away.  you don't have enough mental cupboard space to house it all, so identify the piece worth saving and purge the rest.

5.  Be Proactive.  

The more you prepare, the less you have to repair.  Most time management experts agree that the preparation to execution saved ration is roughly 1:3.  Meaning, 10 minutes of preparation time will save you 30 minutes of execution time.  If you are looking to find more 'time' in your work day, start by spending a little more upfront time planning your execution of a task before taking action.  It might feel as though it is slowing the process down, but research shows us that you are significantly reducing the effort you need to expend on the back end.

6.  Play to your Strengths.  

High levels of stress are generally found in those that are working predominantly in areas outside of their strengths.  We often get so caught up in the perceived need to be 'better' at those areas we are weakest in that we overlook the fact that it is our strengths we enjoy using the most and in which we typically add the greatest level of value.  Playing to your talents means you are likely engaged in work that is stimulating and enjoyable (you're more productive then too) and that is less stressful because of it.  Sure... develop your weaknesses where it matters, but build your role and career around your strengths.  This is where your purpose is.  Find it and use it for great satisfaction.

Monday, June 4, 2012

'Reasoning' our way to Mediocrity

A great opportunity comes our way BUT we don't have the time available to take advantage of it... ... the money... OR... the expertise... OR... we're lacking the support from home we feel we'd need... OR... we'd have to move... OR... the dog's been sick and needs us... OR...

You get the picture.  There are never a shortage of Reasons for not doing something.  Few of us lack reasons for not taking on a new challenge, often because it seems scary or intimidating to us.  Perhaps we're afraid of trying something new because we don't want to fail.

Regardless of the reasons our conditioned mind created for us, the source typically stems from an underlying fear.

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of change
  • Fear of loss
  • Fear of alienation
  • Fear of risk...
The fear creates Reasons as to why we should not consider or attempt something new.  Our reasons will sound realistic.  Our reasons sound true.  Our reasons sound logical.  They serve one main purpose though.... they keep us in our comfort zone, and staying in that zone prevents us from learning, growing and expanding.

And... if we are not learning and growing, we become firmly entrenched in mediocrity.  We will be 'okay' but we will not be living an 'amazing' life.  If you are 100 years old, looking back on your life, how would you prefer to be describing the life you've lived?  Okay... or Amazing?
People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents".   Andrew Carnegie
If you find yourself always giving in, without question, to all of the Reasons for not doing or attempting something new, you are choosing the status quo.  You are choosing to remain firmly within your comfort zone.  Reasons don't get you there, only action will.  Therefore, you can have Reasons for not choosing action OR you can have the Results gained by having pushed through your discomfort and taking action.

Sometimes our reasons are justified, but all too often they are simply a knee-jerk reaction of our brain to the thought of change.  If you don't start challenging all of the reasons your brain gives you for not doing something, then you are going to find yourself stuck in the rut of mediocrity.

When next you find yourself confronted by a list of reasons for not taking action, tell yourself...
I can have Reasons, or I can have Results

And then... ask yourself...
What Results are these Reasons keeping me from achieving?

If you are unwilling to let that result go, then you need to see those reasons for what they are - Excuses - and push on through.  Few people looking back on their life are satisfied with all of the reasons for not living the life they desire.  Instead, we are satisfied and gratified to look back and see that our heart's desire was fulfilled.

What do you want to look back and see?