I heard a ‘sound bite’ the other day, when someone in Trischel said “in this election I am going to be watching what they say” – she was talking about the coming Queensland State election and her strategy on deciding who to vote for. Her criterion was to ‘watch what they say.”

I gather what she means is to gauge the candidate’s credibility by watching their body language. With TV shows like “Lie to Me” becoming more popular watching for the truth in facial expression, for instance, is becoming more believable.

At Trischel, we have always taught our students that body language is the silent supporter of your credibility. Research has shown that we instinctively react to those non-verbal signals which all of us display whether we know it or not. There is ongoing research into the importance of non verbal communication which is very interesting to read.

Perhaps the first research paper into the subject was in 1872 when Charles Darwin published The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals; since then both the popular press and academics have produced numerous tomes on the topic, and of course the TV producers have jumped on the band-wagon.

It is also a fact that whether we know it or not we all signal our innermost thoughts and feelings to our listeners, if they have the understanding to pick up the signals. There are a lot of myths about body language and ‘power plays’ – but that doesn’t detract from the importance of understanding how your physical actions can contradict your words to the detriment of your credibility.

So if you want to judge how committed to their messages our present aspiring politicians are, here are some truths about non-verbal communication aka ‘body language’

Facial Expression – especially around the eyes. This is an area where even the most experience speaker can be caught off guard. Sometimes an expression is so fleeting that we don’t consciously recognise it, but we will sub-consciously be aware of it as a sense or a feeling. If the expression is contrary to the words being spoken, we may have a sense of disquiet; something has disturbed our willingness to be convinced. If this happens we will go with our feeling rather than our intelligence.

Again, around the mouth is another area where it is difficult for even the best to mask their emotions. A slight tightening of the jaw, a swift passing grimace – these are all that is needed for a speaker to raise doubts in their audience. Our facial expressions are an instinctive reactor to our thoughts and we cannot always have them under control, so watching what they say can be a powerful tool.

Gestures – these are deliberate movements designed to add another level to the communication process. And because they are deliberate they can be rehearsed by any speaker to enhance their presentation. So how valuable are they for deciding on commitment and honesty? With practised and coached speakers probably not much in their prepared delivery. However, they can be a give-away in unrehearsed impromptu speaking. So watch carefully our candidate’s responses to the unexpected questions. See how they interact with people in casual conversation. With inexperienced politicians gestures may let them down; but I doubt if our more experienced members will be off-guard enough for this to matter.

Posture and Body Movement – these are great tools for practised speakers to use to convince their listeners of the basic soundness of the message. Again with prepared and rehearsed presentations this is never going to let them down. Every movement will be carefully rehearsed until it comes absolutely natural; I doubt if you will ever catch them out. However, again it is when the pressure is off, when the interaction is casual or unrehearsed that this may be a factor. So watch what they don’t say as well.

Paralinguistics – a long word for what we call ‘vocal variety’ – the ability to produce emotional effects by the carefully controlled use of vocal tricks. Like actors, each speech will be well rehearsed; each change of tone, each change of pace, each carefully constructed pause will be orchestrated for effect. If you want to judge what they do without the training, then you will have to catch them off guard again.

Politicians are performers and they will have a number of people coaching and preparing them for the campaign ahead. Nevertheless, they cannot be controlled for every minute of the day, and once the pressure is off them to perform their natural inclination is free to take flight.

So there is value in watching what they say – but don’t expect it to be in what they have prepared and practised to say – it will be in the unexpected question; in the casual response to conversational topics that their non-verbal responses may betray them.

So I agree with my fellow Trischel tribal member – I too will be watching what they say and I shall be doing it very carefully.

Michele @ Trischel

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