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Are you an effective communicator? Your body language may contradict you.

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Dave Veale interviews Don Khoury, Founder, Boston-based Body Language TV as part of the Leadership Unleashed series of interviews with leaders.

As a rule of thumb, strong leaders are effective communicators. They have a clear understanding of how to convey and interpret meaning as they communicate with colleagues, employees, customers and the general public.

Don Khoury, a non-verbal communication consultant and founder of Boston-based Body Language TV, is a regular contributor on a political program for CBS in Boston.

Being a strong communicator is not as easy as it sounds. In fact Dr. Abraham Mehrabian, a researcher from UCLA, found that, when listening, 93 per cent of how you interpret the message comes from non-verbal communication (e.g. facial expression, tone, body language, etc.) This means that only seven per cent of communication is understood through the words spoken. So how do leaders make sense of this research and use it to enhance their communication?

Enter New Brunswicker Don Khoury, a non-verbal communication consultant and founder of Body Language TV based in Boston. He understands non-verbal communication to such an extent that he put his reputation on the line and accurately predicted 95 per cent of 37 gubernatorial races in the United States.

As a result of these bold predictions, Don and Body Language TV have attracted lot of attention. He has been featured in national publications such as The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic magazine and has become a regular contributor on a political program for CBS Boston.

I started my interview with Don by asking how he got into the non-verbal communication (NVC) field:

A: In my work running peer leadership programs I found that many leaders within organizations were struggling with troublesome interpersonal dynamics. Co-workers were offended, people were misperceiving one another and highly productive team members were frustrated – all of which distracted from the end goal in mind. The problem was often not what people were saying to one another. but how they were saying it. This sparked my interest in understanding how a person communicates a message beyond the words that he or she chooses.

[Tweet ” The problem was often not what people were saying to one another. but how they were saying it.”]

Q: What have you learned about leadership and NVC?

A: There are three things that stand out from our research. First, that by observing a person’s non-verbal behaviour during an interview one can accurately predict what the future production of that person will be. Second, a leader’s message will be perceived very differently depending on how he/she delivers the speech. And third, that for high-profile business leaders the way you communicate within your company needs to be different than the way you communicate in front of the public.

Q: You recently made some bold predictions on which candidates would win elections based on their NVC – tell me about the response you’ve been getting from politicians, business and media as a result?

A: The response has been phenomenal. This year we used a hybrid of our recruiting tool to make predictions in the 37 gubernatorial races in the United States. We watched and scored the non-verbal behaviour of the candidates in the televised debates and our predictions were 95 per cent accurate and, on average, made three weeks before the election.

[Tweet “…our predictions were 95 per cent accurate and, on average, made three weeks before the election.”]

In terms of media, I have been appearing regularly with Jon Keller on WBZ CBS Boston to discuss the non-verbal communication of political leaders. Our 2010 election predictions were highlighted in a number of national publications. On the business front, we are working with a number of companies to refine their interview and hiring processes with the end goal of recruiting and retaining more suitable candidates.

Q: In your opinion, are there any well-known leaders from Atlantic Canada that have fully leveraged their NVC to effectively deliver their message?

A: Some people are natural communicators – they seem to have “the gift” of setting people at ease and inspiring confidence. Increasingly, however, people are being trained both in their speech and how they deliver it. I would say that Frank McKenna is a good example of a natural communicator. You can look to his appearance on Front Page Challenge in 1988 and see the congruency of his words and his non-verbal behaviour. Another great example is former P.E.I. Premier Pat Binns, who connects with the public through his genuine personal humility.

[Tweet “I would say that Frank McKenna is a good example of a natural communicator.”]

Q: Why should business leaders even consider evaluating their NVC?

A: The words we speak convey our thoughts, but if we really want to deliver an effective message – that is, our thoughts and our emotions – we have to be aware of our body language. It’s important within an organization because it affects how leaders motivate their people, as well as how smoothly their teams run. Outside of an organization, especially in our new social media landscape, business leaders must be knowledgeable about NVC; it is critical both for the success of their organizations and for their personal careers.

Q: Are there any well-known examples of a leader using NVC to strengthen his/her message?

A: A positive example of how NVC can help strengthen a message is how the president of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, handled the mining accident in his country this past summer. In his interview with the Wall Street Journal, for example, he conveyed confidence and credibility through his open body position, smooth gesturing, showing his palms and genuine facial expressions. Throughout the incident, he was always dressed well, whether he was wearing a suit with the appropriate colour of tie or wearing his shirt-sleeves rolled up, conveying the message that he’s working hard.

Q: What is the most common mistake that people make when speaking or making presentations?

A: One common mistake is using too much movement when speaking. Another common mistake is using a gesture that is not congruent with what is being said.

For example, imagine a person saying, “I believe this is an important step we have to take.” To emphasize these words with emotion, a person often holds a hand to his or her heart while speaking. Sometimes, however, a person might also make an insincere facial expression like a smirk, meaning that they don’t fully believe in what they’re saying.

Interestingly, women will pick up on the in-congruence of verbal message and body language more often than men. Our instincts always trust the message that is sent non-verbally over the one that is spoken.

[Tweet “Women will pick up on the in-congruence of verbal message and body language more often than men.”]

Q: You’ve had a chance to study a ton of leaders, who inspires you most?

A: From an Atlantic Canadian perspective, I would say Frank McKenna. I admire his ability to successfully lead people within a business organization as well as in the public sector. In addition, I think Ronald Reagan was a master at building rapport with the public through his authenticity and use of humour.

Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. He can be reached by email at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com and twitter @dave_veale. To read past columns go to www.LeadershipUnleashed.ca

Published Thursday December 16th, 2010

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