Non-verbal communication, including tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, body language and posture, and, of course, eye contact accounts for 65% of all communication, according to a 2009 review published in Image and Vision Computing. Eye contact holds a special place in the non-verbal category, though, and is generally associated with honesty and candor. In a 2006 study, nonverbal behavior affected perceptions about the truthfulness of a message AND the truthfulness of a message affected how much eye contact a messenger gave. Thus, a person’s nonverbal behavior, including how much eye contact they give, affects whether they are perceived as honest or dishonest.
Power dynamics set the tone at almost every level of human interaction. They influence your decision to speak up in meetings with supervisors, shape an organization’s approach to engaging its clients, and even guide the ways in which a government treats its citizens, responds to dissent, and enforces reforms.
We all internalize and externalize power relationships in unique ways; yet, researchers like Geert Hofstede believe that our individual differences are often perceived through shared assumptions about power passed down to us by the histories of our own societies. In his seminal work Culture Consequences, Hofstede introduces the concept of “power distance” to help quantify and measure how the powerful and the powerless interact.
Just last week, I attended a presentation on negotiation by Chris Voss, CEO of Black Swan, at Georgetown University. It was particularly interesting because Chris was also one of the top hostage negotiators for the FBI.
Negotiation is increasingly important because with the spread of globalization, we are constantly colliding with others who may or may not share our cultural mores, and to be successful in our jobs, whether it is working with parties on governance and accountability, consulting with civil society, or communicating around a project, we have to understand how to negotiate globally.