The Science of Non-Verbal Communication

If you recall the behaviour of a school of fish. The school appears to act as a unit as it synchronizes the direction it takes. Recent investigation of this and similar phenomena, like migrating birds, indicate that the direction taken is democratically decided through a process of instantaneous social signaling. As soon as 50% + 1 of the individual members signal a direction the whole group will move in that direction. These patterns of social decision making based on “body language” are common in many animals and virtually all primates. Social signaling is a very powerful unconscious consensus process enables social individuals to act as a group tempering social behaviour from extreme decisions. (Pentland, 2014, p. 35)

Pentland indicates a basis for this signaling is mimicry as found in a newborn child’s capacity to mimic the facial expressions of parents despite a general lack of coordination. Similarly a bubbly happy person can transform the somber mood of a group or vice versa. He attributes the capacity for mimicry to our mirror neurons that form part of the distributed brain structure providing a direct feedback channel between humans. (Pentland, 2014, p. 74) Hence the basis for rapport and solidarity is similarity.

It is widely accepted that communication is less about the words used and more about nonverbal communication relying on tonality, enunciation, gestures, and body language mediated through the contextual background. The currently accepted statistic on communication is 93% of a communication is made up of the nonverbal while only 7% of the communication is in the words themselves. Unlike words we are unaware of the fast thinking involved in reading all these non-verbal cues to associations. For example a sarcastic tone in one context conveys humor and in another conveys insult. Nonverbal communication is wired directly into our emotional motivation system and textures verbal content.

I was specifically aware of Mulcair's smile as early as the 2013 convention. I had explored some of the intricacies of the Science of Non-Verbal Communication. A proponent, Michael Grinder, defines charisma as the flexibility to use both an approachable voice and an authoritative voice along with the ability to determine which voice to use in a given context. (Grinder, Charisma : The Art of Relationships, 2009) The key to conveying both approachability and authority for Grinder is in the inflection used in the spoken message.

I believe that at the 2013 policy convention Team Mulcair were concerned about Mulcair's approachability. They presented a film of Mulcair showing the lighter approachable side of Mulcair with his family, etc. Ironically, the forced smile he sported as he gave his address to the membership was an experiment in approachability that was never evaluated and corrected.

Mulcair, while a master of the authoritative voice, did not convey approachability. The Mulcair team tried to correct this lack of approachability but had mistakenly seen it as a matter of optics. Perhaps if they had worked on giving Mulcair flexibility in his intonation they would have been more successful in making his brand more approachable. Approachability may have been the distinguishing feature of Jack Layton which gained him such popularity. It was why we could say he was more charismatic than Mulcair. Trudeau too was naturally approachable. While not so authoritative, television clips broadcast showing his father's authoritative voice may have made up for this weakness in the young Trudeau.

In the end Mulcair did not seem any more approachable in the first debate than he did back in the 2013 convention. Given his slow thinking bias, he probably did not consider nonverbal communication very important. In my observation Mulcair was the weakest of all leaders in his use of gestures and nonverbal communication. When not speaking during the debates he could be seen on camera glaring at his opponents. No Canadian leader came close to the mastery of nonverbal communication evidenced in Obama. Perhaps somebody knowledgeable in the art of nonverbal communication could have corrected some of Mulcair’s shortcomings in this area with a little training.

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