[00:00:06.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success with your host, Matt Bodnar.
[00:00:12.4] MB: Welcome to The Science of Success. I’m your host, Matt Bodnar. I’m an entrepreneur and investor in Nashville, Tennessee and I’m obsessed with the mindset of success and the psychology of performance. I’ve read hundreds of books, conducted countless hours of research and study and I am going to take you on a journey into the human mind and what makes peak performance tick, with the focus on always having our discussion rooted in psychological research and scientific fact, not opinion.
In this episode, we discuss how school gives you zero of the social and interpersonal skills necessary to be successful in life. The best starting point for building nonverbal communication. How to read facial expressions and body language, discover hidden emotions, how to become a human lie detector, the secrets that super connectors use to work a room, and much more with Vanessa Van Edwards.
The science of success continues to grow with more with more than 900,000 downloads. Listeners in over 100 countries, hitting number one new noteworthy and more. I get listener comments and emails all the time asking me, “Matt, how do you organize and remember all this incredible information?” A lot of our listeners are curious about how I keep track of all the incredible knowledge you get from reading hundreds of books, interviewing amazing experts, listening to podcast and more.
Because of that, we created an epic resource just for you, a detailed guide called How to Organize and Remember Everything. You can get it completely free by texting the world “smarter” to the number 44222. Again, It’s a guide we created called How to Organize and Remember Everything. All you have to do to get it is to text the word “smarter” to the number 44222 or go to scienceofsuccess.co and put in your email.
In our previous episode, we looked at what rabbit populations, craters on the moon, files on your hard drive, and the GDP of countries all have in common. We discussed the power fractals, the math of chaos theory, and what it all has to do with the 80/20 principle. How your understanding the 80/20 principle is only the tip of the ice berg. How to generate 16 times more leverage to achieve your goals. We went deep into sales wisdom from one of the world’s top marketing consultants and much more with Perry Marshall.
If you want to achieve massive leverage in your life, listen to that episode.
[0:02:27.9] MB: Today, we have another awesome guest on the show, Vanessa Van Edwards. Vanessa is the lead investigator at the Science of People, a human behavioral research lab. She is a Huffington post columnist and publish author. Her work has been featured on MPR, business week and USA today. She’s written for CNN, fast company and Forbes. Her latest book, Captivate, was chosen as one of Apple’s most anticipated books of 2017.
Vanessa, welcome to the science of success.
[0:02:54.8] VE: Thanks so much for having me.
[0:02:56.7] MB: Well, we’re very excited to have you on today. For listeners who might not be familiar with you and Science of People, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
[0:03:05.8] VE: Yeah, well first of all, I cannot help but say that the title of your podcast, Science of Success, is possibly one of the best titles ever because those are two of my favorite topics, science and succeeding. I was thrilled to be on here with you guys.
[0:03:19.7] MB: Awesome, that’s great! Yeah, I mean, you know, it’s funny, very similar to the purge you take, we try to have every guest that’s on here, we really want to focus on is this data back, is this sort of research validated or is this just kind of somebody’s talking points. I think everything that you’ve done is so grounded in the research, that’s why I’m really excited to dig in and explore a lot of these topics.
[0:03:40.4] VE: Yeah, that’s the perfect kind of segue into what got me started in this crazy career. So, you know, as you mentioned, I run a human behavior lab in Portland, Oregon and what got me started is actually, I felt like school did really well by me. It taught me all the technical skills that I needed for a career but it taught me zero up to people skills. So when it came to interviewing, negotiating, making chit chat with colleagues, networking, heaven forbid, dating, flirting and trying to be emotionally attractive like those definitely not.
So I realized that I felt like there was this missing skill set that most people kind of think will just happen, right? Adults always say, “Oh, she’ll pick it up, she’ll figure that out in the playground or she’ll eventually pickup how to ask for more money in a negotiation.” But those kinds of skills, unless you’re lucky enough to be born with them, which most people are not, you do have to learn them and that was the case for me. I kind of created the text books, the courses that I wish I’d had in school.
[0:04:43.0] MB: That’s awesome, and your first book started out digging into body language and how to determine if people are lying and a ton of the components of nonverbal communication. As a starting point, how much of our communication is nonverbal? You hear a lot of different stats thrown out about that and, you know, what’s kind of the research really say about how important nonverbal communication is and what kind of what proportion of our communication is made up of nonverbal queues?
[0:05:10.8] VE: Yes, there’s two important things to keep in mind when it comes to nonverbal, the first is, it’s far more than we think about, at a minimum, 60% of our communication is nonverbal and some research says it’s up to 90%. You might have heard the famous Mary said a 93% that actually has not been backed up so that 60% is still a lot, not quite as much as the 93-myth that goes around but what’s important is that we put all of our eggs in a verbal basket.
If you talk to someone who is about to go into a pitch with investors or about to go on a date or about to go into an interview, they usually think about what they want to say, you know, the questions that are going to answer, they practice their verbal responses. We very rarely think about how we want to say something.
That basically is coming out with 40% of our ability and so that’s the first thing is that 60% is sort of a missing ingredient, it’s this un-utilized super power that I think we have and the second thing is that we give more weight to nonverbal. What I mean by that is, when you think about how we are evolutionarily, we have developed the ability to be very persuasive verbally. It’s relatively easy to come up with a story quickly especially for highly creative people.
There’s some science that say that highly creative people are better liars. But nonverbally, it’s very hard to be convincing with your body language. It’s hard to control your facial expressions, it’s impossible to control your micro expressions, it’s very hard to think about, “How can I lie convincingly with my words and look like I’m telling the truth as well?” We tend to look at someone’s nonverbal as a more important indicator of honesty, which means that if you go into a pitch and you have the perfect script but if you are not congruent with your words or your nonverbal does not support your words, it actually comes across as inauthentic.
When I think people talk about this idea of “be more authentic”, “be yourself”, “be passionate”, those phrases always drove me crazy because I never really knew what they meant so I think that learning that nonverbal has more weight, it was like, “Oh, I get it! An inauthentic person is someone who is saying one thing but showing another.” I think the most important thing that we can do from a body language perspective is to align our words along with our body.
[0:07:29.0] MB: Nonverbal is obviously something that, as you said, it’s hard to control, it’s difficult to master, and it’s a very complicated topic. Where do we begin, what’s the best starting place to begin to build this skill set?
[0:07:42.6] VE: That’s a good question. I would say that the first thing that I would encourage people to think about is the two things you heard most since you were little, but a little bit defined. We’ve heard most — when I tell people like, I studied body language, they tell me, “Oh, good eye contact and a good handshake.” That’s great.That’s like a really good start however there’s a little bit more to the story when it comes to good eye contact.
For example, in western cultures, we make about 60 to 70% eye contact in the ideal conversation. What I mean by ideal conversation is when we make eye contact with someone, we produce oxytocin and oxytocin is the chemical of bonding. A researcher Paul Zack, if anyone is interested in sort of the chemistry of love, I highly recommend his book. I actually a meeting with him next month that I have a little oxytocin necklace that I wear instead of a heart because I think that’s the true expression of love and what he has found is that oxytocin is what makes us feel that warm and fuzzy feeling of belonging.
So if you’re with someone and you’re having this deep conversation and you’re making great eye contact, you actually begin to produce oxytocin, mutual gazing produces oxytocin. If you don’t hit that 60 to 70%, the body doesn’t get as much oxytocin as it would like. So if you’re looking around, you’re looking at your phone, you’re looking at your watch, if you tend to process up — some people tend to have a very wondering gaze — the other person is going to feel like, “I don’t know if we’re on the same page here.” Or, “I don ‘t know, I’m not really feeling it with this person.”
That’s where that comes from, it’s actually a chemical feeling. That’s why we say that liars look us in the eye less because that shiftiness makes us feel really uncomfortable, the funny thing about liars is they actually look you in the eye more because they’re trying to see if you believe them. So eye contact is this really funny beast but what you want to know is that in that 60 to 70%, that is the sweet spot. So eye contact is not just good for you because it feels like you should be doing it, it’s actually good for a chemical reason. It’s a chemical reason we feel connection.
[0:09:43.2] MB: I think that’s great and you hear all the time that it’s important to maintain eye contact but the fact that there is a sort of neurological, neurochemical reaction that actually makes eye contact so effective is fascinating.
[0:09:56.5] VE: Yeah, and I think it helps, so whenever I do corporate trainings, I do a lot of corporate trainings and my favorite group is highly technical people. I would even say geniuses, I would go as far to say that. You know, amazing engineers, programmers, graphic designers, very technically brilliant. And I was just doing a training at Intel and I asked them, I have a little slide in my presentation that says, “What is the ideal amount of eye contact, is it 30% of the time, 50% of the time, 60% of the time or 65% of the time, or 90% of the time?”
Without a doubt, whenever I have highly technical groups, everyone in the room raises their hand at 30% of the time. That hurts them, right? They’re undermining their credibility without realizing it when they are in their own heads about a process and not focusing enough, giving that other person the chemical reason to pay attention to them.
[0:10:44.9] MB: I think the interesting point and it just segue’s into some research that you talked about in the past but these are things that are biologically rooted in our bodies and things that, you know, regardless of somebody’s disposition towards you, the more eye contact you have, it shares literally a physical reaction in them.
The research you’ve talked about previously about how babies develop facial expressions, can you share that example? I think that’s a really interesting instance of another example of how this are sort of universal and not kind of culturally driven or individual?
[0:11:16.6] VE: Yeah, so of course there is some nonverbal that’s cultural, we can talk about that if we want but a lot of the principles that I teach as much as possible, I try to make them universal and this baby study was sort of — I read this and I was just like, I was amazed at the amount of our body language or our nonverbal communication that’s genetic or coded.
In this research experiment, they looked at congenitally blind babies. Babies who have been blind since birth, and back in the day we used to believe from anthropologist used to think that we learned nonverbal that we would look at our mother and father’s face, we would mirror or mimic the facial expression, that’s how we learn facial expressions. Or we watched how our mother flipped her hair and that’s how we flipped our hair. But actually, what they found is that congenitally blind babies make the same facial expressions at the same time as seeing children.
What this means is that we are somehow genetically coded to make these expressions and they’re not learned. They are the same across genders or races. They also found that there was, I think it was done at the University of Edenborough, where they looked at twins and they found that twins who were raised separately showed very similar nonverbal affectations.
So like flipping your hair, how a woman flips her hair over the side of her shoulder, how she laughs, how a man walks, how a man scratches his nose, they found that twins actually do the same thing even though they had different parents, they were raised in different houses, they were raised even across the globe. This was really surprising for people because it legitimized nonverbal science as a way that we can study something because if you know that something has universal application, it’s much easier to study and it’s not just cultural. So that study I think was the first of many that indicated that there could be an algorithm here.
[0:13:05.9] MB: How do you — I know one of the things you’re an expert at is micro expressions and talking about babies and their different facial expressions, how do you read somebody’s facial expressions to determine their emotions or their reactions?
[0:13:19.1] VE: Yeah, so a micro expression is a really fancy word for a very short facial expression. So technically it’s a brief facial expression that is involuntary that we, as humans, make when we feel an intense emotion. We like to think as adults that we’re pretty even keeled that we don’t have intense emotions, that we don’t show, we’re stony faced, right now. Stoicism is so hot, everyone’s trying to be real stoic but we are actually quite emotional creatures, very emotional beings and we tend to show our emotions on our face, involuntarily.
The reason for this is because it helps with our empathy and most people don’t think of facial expressions this way but there’s something that’s called the facial feedback hypothesis and this basically says that when we feel an emotion, we make a face. But when we make a face, we also feel that emotion.
So there’s this really interesting feedback loop that happens with our emotions and why this is important is because when we meet another human being and they show us a sadness micro expression, our body has neurons and begins to mimic it without even realizing it. If you look at a face of someone sad, you usually will begin to form the sad face, we can’t even help it. So as you make that sad face, you begin to feel literally feel the emotion that they feel.
This is why humans are empathetic, it’s because we not only mirror the people around us but that mirroring helps us feel like them. So that’s a very body sensation intuitive feeling based way of interacting but we typically interact in our head, we don’t think about this kind of emotional expressiveness that’s why facial expressions are so important and that’s why we talk about empathy being so important. That’s a very different explanation for empathy.
[0:15:02.4] MB: What are the different micro expressions and are they cross cultural?
[0:15:08.8] VE: There are seven different micro expressions. They are — let’s see if I can do it all off the top of my head. They are fear, happiness, anger, disgust, contempt, sadness and surprise. Yay, I’m so happy I was able to do that for memory is smooth. Yes, those are across cultures.
Dr. Paul Eckman is the researcher who coined, I think he discovered the micro expression, I don’t know if he coined the phrase. That might have been Darwin. Don’t quote me on who coined that phrase, but Dr. Eckman is the one who pioneered this concept and what he found in the back of the 1970’s was first, he was working with a mental institution on patients who lie to their doctors and this always has been a huge problem that it was particularly a problem there because they had patient who lied about being okay.
So she was very depressed and she went into the doctor and said, yes, I’m so much better, can you give me a weekend pass to go home. Thank goodness before she left, she admitted she had like a breakdown, she had admitted that she had lied that she was actually planning to go home and harm herself.
This really rattled the doctors in the hospital because they believed her. They had issued her with a path, they were going to let her go home, and they thought she was so convincing and this happens, it happens a lot where patients will lie to the person who is looking out for their best interest. People go to the doctor’s offices, they lie at what medications they take, they lie about their eating and exercise habits and so Paul Eckman was watching the video of this patient over and over again.
He eventually slowed down the video, he was watching it on slow motion and he noticed that right before the patient lied to say that she was really looking forward to seeing her family and being home, she made a very brief sadness micro expression and he realized that there’s something to reading facial expressions to discover hidden emotions.
So he took this research and he traveled to remote regions in Papua New Guinea, and forgive me if I don’t get the exact science right. I think it’s chapter six of my book, if you want to dive into the deep stuff but it’s a high level. He went to Papua New Gene and he found a tribe that was not very exposed to the outside world. So they hadn’t seen a lot of television, they hadn’t seen a lot of movies, they weren’t exposed to western culture and he asked them to make facial expressions based on different emotions with the translator.
He would say, “What’s an angry face? What’s a sadness face?” I think he actually did it with situations. So I think he said, “If your friend stole your food, what face would you make?” He found that the faced they made were strikingly similar to when he asked Americans that question. Basically that we somehow have these universal responses to this emotions and he was able to repeat this study and found seven universal ones. There are over 10,000 facial expressions, but there are seven universal micro expressions and by studying them, you can learn how to spot emotions across cultures and genders and races.
[0:18:05.3] MB: Speaking of somebody who, for the example of lying to their doctor and being able to discern that, is it possible to tell if somebody’s lying solely based on their body language?
[0:18:16.2] VE: Yes, it is possible. Of course it’s possible. So we do a lot of human lie detection research in our lab. I’ve always been fascinated by it. I’ve been fascinated by the real science and the fake science. Let’s bust some myths, first of all, some of the fake science. So fake science, liars have shifty eyes or liars don’t look you in the eye.
That is completely false because research has found that actually liars look you in the eye more, as I mentioned, because they want to know if you believe them. They actually make a lot more eye contact, they go over the 70% into like the 80 and 90% range, which is interesting because we also don’t like that. So as humans, not only do we not like below 60% because that isn’t enough oxytocin, we also don’t like above 80%.
There is like a sweet spot in the middle and the reason we don’t like above 80% is because one, our instinctively we know that that means that someone is kind of checking us out and it’s a very invasive queue, it’s almost too much oxytocin. Like when two men are about to get into a fist fight at a bar, they usually are intensely gazing at each other. It’s a very territorial invasive gesture. We don’t like being looked at that much. So that’s the first myth to bust.
The second lie detection myth is you probably have heard this silly NLP “study”, which wasn’t even really as study about when people lie, they look up to the left and people are telling the truth, they look up to the right. That has not been backed up. In fact, it can often be reversed based on if you’re right or left handed, it can be reversed based on how you access memories, not everyone accesses them the same way. What’s hard about lie detection is there is no Pinocchio’s nose.
There is no one thing that means someone is lying, there are statistical queues to deceit. So there are things that we have found, liars most often do, like 76% of the time, liars will do X but those are not foolproof; they’re not 100%. so what we’ve developed is a framework, there are seven steps of lie detection to help you be an ethical lie detector and an accurate lie detector. So it takes a little bit longer but it makes you much more accurate and also make sure that you’re not assuming guilt where there is none.
In fact, the more optimistic you are about humanity, the better lie detector you are. It actually serves you well to not be skeptical. Skeptics actually do worse on lie detection quizzes. I think we’re just putting up, it’s not up yet, but if you want to see how you do on a lie detection, we have a free lie spotting quiz at sciencepeople.com/lies and you can test your ability because we are looking in our lab, we’re constantly doing research experiments and I really wanted to know if there was such a thing called “truth wizards”.
Dr. Paul Eckman and Dr. Maureen Sullivan found that there was a very small percentage of the population who can detect truth with 80% accuracy. That’s very rare, most of us, average people, detect lies with about 54% accuracy. We are terrible lie spotters. We are starting to run this lie detection test to see if we can find people who can get all five of the lies right. On our little quiz, it’s five lies, you watch five real people lying and we see if you can spot them. We’re also trying to back up the idea there’s a truth wizard behind lie detection.
[0:21:32.1] MB: What are some of the statistical queues that give away that someone’s lying?
[0:21:35.9] VE: Well, I can’t teach you just statistical queues because remember that they’re not 100%. For example, one of the statistical queues is nose touches. In Bill Clinton’s testimony, they — I believe it was Allen Hirschberg researcher, I think? Who counted the amount of nose touches during the Bill Clinton trial and he found that, Avana Colinsky, and found that when he was lying on the stand, he touched his nose, something like 46 times and when he was telling the truth on the stand, he touched his nose twice.
They think that the reason for this is because we have a very special tissue at the very tip of our nose that slightly inflames or slightly increases when we feel guilt or intense guilt and so our nose very slightly itches, which makes us want to touch it more. They think that maybe the writer of Pinocchio had this sensation. Some people, by the way, in our lab have said to us, “I feel my nose itch when I lie.” So some people can even feel it. You might want to pay attention to it the next time you’re lying and so that is one statistical cue to deceit.
However, what if someone has allergies? What if someone always constantly touches their nose? So you can’t take that clue alone. You have to make sure that you are hitting the 100% with it. So that would be an example of one of the queues and why you have to be a little careful with it.
[0:22:50.0] MB: And does that tie into the concept of base lining and figuring out what someone’s default behavior is before you can assess how they’re thinking or feeling or reacting to you?
[0:23:00.6] VE: Yes, so that’s exactly what that ties into. Base-lining is half of it, you also have to make sure though, and this is I think the biggest mistake that a lot of rookie lie detectors make is that they think, “Oh I will baseline someone and then I’ll look for statistical cues of deceit.” But there are additional precautions that you have to take to make sure that you are not mistaking guilt from nerves.
So that is the biggest mistake that people make is truth tellers can be nervous too. Nerve does not indicate lying or guilt. In fact if you accuse an innocent person of doing something terrible, they will often be very nervous because they don’t like to be falsely accused. We hate it. Actually, being falsely accused can often make us angrier and more nervous than being accurately accused. So you have to make sure that you’re knowing how to differentiate nerves from guilt, or emotions and anger from guilt.
[0:23:50.7] MB: What are some of the other steps that people can use to become human lie detectors?
[0:23:55.3] VE: I would say that the most important thing that would help is learning the seven micro expressions. So when you learn how to spot these and they’re a blessing and a curse. Micro expressions is where I started my research many, many years ago because I found them fascinating and what’s great about them is once you know how to see them, you see them everywhere. I joke with my students that once you learn them it’s like turning on the world in HD. Like, all of a sudden you see the world in high definition.
So what you are looking for in lie detection is you’re looking for congruency and this is the same thing for authenticity. So in body language, you’re talking about two different sides, decoding and encoding. Decoding is spotting queues, looking for hidden emotions, looking for emblems of someone’s emotions or feelings. Encoding are the signals that you send off to the world. So saying “I want to look confident on this date,” and then knowing exactly what to do to look confident.
Or saying, “I want to look friendly in this corporate board meeting. How do I look friendly?” A lot of people struggle with the encoding piece but it’s actually very different than the decoding piece. So with congruency, there’s both decoding and encoding. You want to encode signals that are correctly aligned with your words. You want to demonstrate the words that you are using and you also want to decode people when they’re speaking to you to make sure that they are being congruent.
So with the seven micro expressions, what you’re looking for is you want someone to look like the words that they are using. So if someone says they are angry, they should look angry not afraid. If a woman or your wife says, “I’m fine,” but shows contempt, she is not fine. That is not congruent words. You want to spot the differences. The other aspect which I think is interesting is we did a huge research experiment last year and the year before on TED Talks and what I was looking for was I wanted to know if — I love puzzles, and so I noticed that on TED there was all these amazing TED Talks but the same 20 went viral like they got viewed millions and millions of times whereas hundreds of other talks barely got noticed.
I was searching on the TED website for leadership and there was two talks that popped up, one by Simon Sinek, which had 45 million views and one by Fields Wicker-Miurin, which had I think was under 40,000 and both of these talks were on the same topic, they had almost the same title. When they first came out they were both given by relatively unknown experts and they were both 18 minutes long and it came out the same month of the same year, September 2009.
I was like, “Why? Why is it that one of these talks went viral and one didn’t?” What I realized after doing the TED Talk research, we analyzed thousands of hours of TED Talks and found five main patterns from the most successful to the least successful TED Talkers. One of them was this idea of congruency that the best TED talkers speak to you on two different levels. They’re speaking to you with their words, but they are also speaking to you with their hands and their body and their face.
The worst TED Talkers were so memorized that their non-verbal was almost neutral. So it was almost as if the people who had rehearsed too much had rehearsed their emotions and their passion out of their TED Talk and so they were delivering this talk that was great verbally. It was every word was hit spot on, but from a facial perspective, they were showing no happiness. From a body perspective they were showing neutral or low power.
From an expressiveness standpoint, they were not aligning when they would say, “I am so angry about this cause that I work for,” and not showing any anger the audience didn’t believe them because they were like, “Where is the manifestation of the anger? You’re just saying that,” and so I think that the best place to start is looking for those inconsistencies is understanding the nuances of body language so that you know where to look or spot things.
[0:27:52.1] MB: So encoding is the process of getting congruent with our own emotions and our own body language with what we are trying to communicate and decoding is the process of trying to decipher what the rest of the world is saying and what other people are saying and reading through, are they congruent in their body language and their behavior?
[0:28:11.8] VE: Yeah and what’s interesting is, if you think for just a second, I always have my audiences self-diagnose. So on a scale of one to five, one being terrible, horrible, awful and five being amazing rock star perfect, how would you rate your decoding ability? The ability to spot hidden emotions. So if you want to give yourself a little self-rating.
[0:28:32.5] MB: Oh sorry, were you asking me to rate or are you just talking?
[0:28:36.0] VE: Yeah, please.
[0:28:36.9] MB: I mean I am familiar with some of this stuff, so I would say probably three out of five, three and a half out of five maybe.
[0:28:42.1] VE: Cool. Okay, so now encoding, how would you rate your ability, one being awful, horrible, abysmal, five being amazing rock star perfect, your ability to control your non-verbal?
[0:28:53.5] MB: Let’s say probably like two and a half or three.
[0:28:56.2] VE: Okay, cool. So what’s interesting is that will tell you exactly where to start. You want to start with the lower one, the lower number. Most people have a strength and a weakness. Most people are better at decoding than encoding. So if you’re not as good as encoding that’s where you would want to start because that will automatically help you with your decoding anyway. So if you think about that, for those who are listening, about whichever your lower number is that’s where you want to start.
[0:29:19.4] MB: That was the next question that I was going to ask is which one of these should we start working on first. So let’s get into since encoding is the one that I needed to do more work on, we’ll start there. Tell me what are some of the secrets or some of the best places to start if you want to improve your ability to encode?
[0:29:33.9] VE: Yeah, so remember that we cannot cover up what we feel. So I think the body language teachers or even the people skills teachers that make me sad are the ones that try to tell you to fake it until you make it. I do not believe that that works. I think that it is an extremely inauthentic way of acting and the problem is our emotions are catching. So we can pick up on people’s emotional cues.
So if you are trying to learn to encode and you want to show confidence and you walk into a networking event where you feel extremely uncomfortable, even if I teach you the best power body language moves there are, your feelings of lack of confidence are going to leak through or come through and so that’s where you get people who are really rubbed wrong. I would say if you think about it in your life the people who have really just like — where you were like, “Oh I do not get along with this person. I don’t like this person,” it was probably because they were trying to use power queues, confidence queues, attraction queues but didn’t actually feel them.
So the very first thing with encoding is actually making sure that you are showing up in the places that make you feel amazing and making sure that you are getting your mindset right before you actually walk into an event. So researcher Dr. Barbara Wilde found that when people look at a picture of a smiling person, they actually begin to feel happier. It improves their mood. When they look at someone with a neutral expression it doesn’t change their mood at all.
The reason I share these studies is because I think that we often think that we can cover it up or we can make it work but I feel like if you don’t like networking events, don’t go to networking events and then I call these thrive versus survive locations. So I personally do not like nightclubs or loud bars. I have a really hard time even at concerts, and that’s because my favorite way to interact with people is having very deep conversations where I’m exploring, they are exploring. We’re talking about a topic deeply and in a really loud concert venue you can’t do that or in a loud bar you can’t do that.
So I really like learning places like conferences, classrooms, networking events. I really like barbecues, smaller parties, one-on-one coffees, you should think about what are the different places where you actually can set yourself up to succeed because that’s the best thing that you can do because our emotions are naturally contagious.
[0:31:55.7] MB: How can we, let’s use the example of the networking event or something like that, how can we spark up a meaningful conversation with a stranger? What are some of the secrets behind the science of having really powerful conversations?
[0:32:10.1] VE: We did an experiment where I partnered with a bunch of local organizations and what I was looking for were the secrets of super connectors. I wanted to know, you know, I’ve heard this phrase “work a room, how to work a room” and again, me being not naturally people inclined I was curious about what that actually meant, I had no idea. So I was like, “Okay, let’s actually map up a room and let’s follow people who are really good at working it and let’s see what they teach us.”
So we partnered with a bunch of organizations. We tracked all the networking events, basically at each networking event we set up cameras in every corner of the room and as people entered, we had them do a little pre-survey. On the pre-survey we asked them their name, we asked them for their business card, we asked them what their goal was for the evening, we asked them how much they liked networking. We felt like we could sniff out the people who hated it and who were just there because they felt like they had to be there, and their goal for the event.
Then we tracked every single person throughout the room. So we watched movement, we looked at how many handshakes there were. We looked at how many connections were made and at the end of the night, we had people do a post survey where we had them answer questions like, “Did you have a good time? How many business cards did you collect? How many contacts did you make, and what’s your LinkedIn profile?” and then we went online and looked at their LinkedIn contacts to see where they unemployed, were they employed, how many connections do they have on LinkedIn.
We ended up specifically paying attention to what we call the super connectors. These were the people who had a lot of connections in LinkedIn but also really felt like they benefited a lot from the event. They collected the most business cards, they had the most handshakes and non-verbal interactions with people in the room and they collected the most cards. We looked at those people and we found that they had very specific patterns in the room. So one of the things that they did really well was they tended to plant themselves in the right places. So, can you guess where is the best place to stand in the room?
[0:34:05.3] MB: Maybe just off the bar like when people are getting a drink and then wondering on what to do next?
[0:34:11.7] VE: Yep, exactly. The perfect place to stand, actually just to really get detailed on what you just said is, it’s right as someone is turning, they have their drink in their hands and they are turning to the room with that look of like, “Who do I know? I have no one to talk to. What do I do next?” That is the perfect opportunity to come in and be someone’s “social savior", that’s what I call it because that is the most high anxiety moment in an event, when you are standing there with your drink and you are like, “What do I do?”
So I like to plant myself right as people exit the bar and are specifically turning around to face the room and the best thing you can do here is make context conversation starters. So, “How’s the wine? I was thinking about getting another wine, is it good? Have you ever been to this place before?” Even just, “Hey I’m Vanessa,” works so well in that moment because they are so grateful that someone was there to talk to them that they don’t even care what you say, they’re just excited to be able to talk to you.
[0:35:13.7] MB: What was that phrase that you used, context conversation starters?
[0:35:17.1] VE: Yeah, context cues or context conversation starters. I have maybe 10 or 15 of them I think in chapter three. They are under “conversation sparkers”. That’s one or two of them and then we have a couple I call them Killer Conversation Starters that you can use as well.
[0:35:32.8] MB: And how would you recommend making a great first impression when you meet somebody? And I think this integrates both the conversation elements and obviously the non-verbal as well, what are the keys to really making a solid impression with them?
[0:35:46.5] VE: I would say that there’s a lot but the one that I would do as the first priority would be the handshake and again, this is one of these things that we’ve heard about a lot. We’re like, “Yeah, I know how to make a good handshake.” But there are a couple of really interesting subtleties about a handshake. So we learn a lot about someone from a handshake. In fact the amount of oxytocin that’s produced in a handshake, so oxytocin is especially produced when we have skin to skin touch.
So hugs as well, it doesn’t happen to be skin to skin but touch, hand to hand, hugs, pats, high five’s, those all produce tremendous amounts of oxytocin. The amount of oxytocin that’s produced in a handshake is worth three hours of face-to-face time. So if you are talking to someone for three hours making eye contact, that is still not as much oxytocin on what we would produce in that immediate handshake.
The biggest mistake that people make is they forgo the handshake for a wave. I see women do this all the time where they walk in a room and they go, “Hey. Hey Bob, how’s it going?” And they’d hold up their hand in a little wave. The fist bump produces a lot less oxytocin than a palm to palm handshake or you’re at a networking event, you have a drink in one hand, a plate in the other, you don’t bother. You always want to bother because it’s literally sealing the deal for your first impression.
It’s what carries that oxytocin really high and so making the handshake, making sure it’s a priority and then also making sure that it’s incredibly equal and what I mean by that is not just firmness, which is important to people but actually the direction of your hand. So if you think about a handshake, reach out right now towards your computer or the front of you as if you’re going to shake someone’s hand. Your thumb should be up towards the ceiling or the sky and your pinky should be angled down.
When the handshake gets shifted, so the back of your hand is up towards the ceiling and your palm is towards the ground. That is a very dominant way of shaking someone’s hand. If you ever had your handshake flip, like you started shaking hands with them and then they flip your hand up, it feels terrible and ask people that if it hasn’t happen to you and people remember if that happens to them, that’s because it’s very, very dominant.
So it’s really important to make sure that you keep it really equal and then also doing the opposite of offering your hand up. That’s a very submissive gesture. So equal, nice and balanced, firm, and making sure that you don’t short change the handshake is one of the best things that you can do in a first impression.
[0:38:09.0] MB: So on firmness specifically, because this is something that I have debated with people in the past, do you mirror their firmness or do you try to be on the firmer side?
[0:38:17.5] VE: With a handshake specifically, I kind of liken it to squeezing a peach. You know how when you go to the grocery store and you squeeze a peach, you feel the softness and then you squeeze until you feel it get firm, that’s exactly is like with a handshake. When it’s soft you squeeze and the moment you feel muscle tension, you stop because that’s a mutual way of getting the right firmness where you’re not over squeezing someone or under squeezing them.
[0:38:45.4] MB: What is one piece of homework that you would give our listeners to implement some of these ideas or improve their ability to develop the skills of non-verbal communication?
[0:38:56.3] VE: One, this is what’s really easy, is I would get feedback on your handshake. So we almost never get feedback on it. So whenever I do workshops I always make everyone do a handshake audit. Specifically, I want them to product oxytocin but I also want them to give feedback and I would say 30 to 40% of the room are shocked to get feedback that their handshake is too firm or too strong. They flip someone’s hand, and so we very rarely get feedback on it. So ask at least three people that you trust to audit your handshake.
[0:39:27.3] MB: For listeners who want to dig in and learn more from you, where can people find you and the book online?
[0:39:32.0] VE: Yeah, so the book is called Captivate. It’s available wherever books are sold, at least that’s what my publisher tells me and everything else is on my website. So our lab is scienceofpeople.com and I hope that you can play with us. We have tons of research going on, come and take our lie detection quiz, take our vocal power quiz. We would absolutely love to play with you.
[0:39:51.7] MB: Awesome, well Vanessa thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been an honor to talk to you and we’ve really enjoyed learning all these fascinating lessons.
[0:40:00.2] VE: Oh yeah, thanks so much for having me.
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