As well as both working for red10 , Will Sudworth and I help run a youth hiking centre in the UK, where at the final level a young person receives their award from royalty.
In the midst of organizing training on maps and tents, a parent dragged a distressed teenager into the community centre, desperate for someone to talk some sense into her daughter after some reckless decisions she’d made earlier in the day.
Out of hearing – but in sight of her mum through the glass-partitioned door – the uncommunicative youngster would only tap her foot as Will tried to speak with her.
Given that it doesn’t look like this situation will work out well, let’s pause the story to explore some insights into communication for a moment…
Unless you’re ‘Connected’, you can talk as much as you like…
Practitioners of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) say that you can talk to someone as much as you like, but it’s pointless unless you have a connection with them, as little of your message will get through to them and vice versa.
Which begs the question: how do you establish a connection?
Connection normally happens naturally
Have you walked past a café and observed people enjoyably chatting over a coffee?
The chances are that they didn’t need help ’connecting’ with each other. Did you notice the similarity of their body language and how they spoke at the same pace? Maybe you even overheard how they used the same sort of words?
It’s when people don’t know each other at all that we need help ‘connecting’; or when we feel intimidated or even angry. Any type of negative emotion reduces our chances of connecting with someone as we unconsciously break any natural link that would have occurred between us.
We can increase our chances of connection
In his latest book, Pre-suasion, Prof Cialdini describes a number of synchrony studies including one where participants were paired up with strangers and asked to tap to the beat whilst listening on headphones.
The audio matched for some of the pairs, which meant that the two strangers saw each other tapping to the same beat.
For other pairs, the audio did not match, which meant that the strangers would have been tapping at very different times to each other.
Regardless, one from each pair was told they were free to leave whilst their partner had to remain to answer a lengthy series of math and logic problems.
The interesting thing was what happened next…
49% chose to stay and help their partner when the audio matched, compared with just 18% where the audio didn’t match.
Just being connected to the same audio, seeing each other tapping to the same beat, created a connection between strangers that altered their commitment to each other.
Which means that there are techniques we can use to improve our communication with the people we work with…
Flexing to their style
Have you noticed how a fast-talker appreciates another fast-talker but often gets frustrated by someone’s slow drawl?
Then here’s a simple technique to use: if it helps them, and helps both of you communicate, why not change the pace of the words you use to match their pace?
In his Universal Rules of Human Influencing Behaviour, Cialdini called this the rule of Liking: that we are more likely to be persuaded by someone we think is like us.
There’s more ways to flex your behaviour to create connection than you may realise, using what NLP calls Matching and Mirroring.
Is it manipulation?
These approaches are powerful.
Which then begs the question: where is the line between flexing your style and manipulation?
Cialdini has an entire Pre-suasion chapter devoted to ethics, and red10 invests time in talking through the pros and cons in our Skill Masterclasses, with the group normally coming to the same conclusion: it is all about positive intent, wanting a win:win and having the other person’s best interest at heart.
Returning to the community centre once more
Let’s return to the story we opened this article with…where the teenage girl remains silently sat on the floor, tapping her foot.
Will sat on the floor too and started casually tapping his own fingers against his leg with a rhythm that matched her foot.
Gradually, Will slowed the pace of his finger-tapping. The girl matched until both had stopped.
In the calm that ensued, they then began to speak.