by Michael J. Arena
Scientists have studied the effects of face-to-face interactions for years. Depending on the research, the nonverbal aspects of these interactions comprise of 93% to 68% of our communications and significantly contribute to the effectiveness in transferring understanding. More recently scientist have been studying the effects of social signals during these face to face interactions, which are subtle patterns of human interaction that reveal our attitudes. These unconscious social signals are not just a back channel to our conscious language, but actually form a separate communication network of influencing channels . Biologically based “social signaling,” evolved from ancient primate signaling mechanisms and provided an unmatched window to more clearly view intentions, goals, and values. Social signals are critical in determining the effectiveness of face-to-face interactions or more deeply understanding influencing channels.
Sandy Pentland and fellow researchers have found that it’s not what you say that is important, but how you say it. In fact, the research indicates that face to face with colleagues is 2.5 times more important to success, than additional access to information. Arguing that in a hyper-connected society, face-to-face interactions are still essential. By analyzing social signals through the use of new technologies, researchers have been able to determine at very high accuracy rates, which is influencing who within various interactions. Social signals are subtle patterns of human interaction that reveal our attitudes. These unconscious social signals are not just a back channel to our conscious language, but actually form a separate communication network of influencing channels. Biologically based “social signaling,” evolved from ancient primate signaling mechanisms and provided an unmatched window to more clearly view intentions, goals, and values. Social signals are critical in determining the effectiveness of face-to-face interactions and to better understand our influencing channels; who is influencing whom.
One experiment evaluated the effects of a speed dating experience; by objectively evaluating these conversations researchers were able to predict who would exchange information at the end of the activity with a 75 percent accuracy rate. Interestingly the men only shared information with women who had selected them, even though they had no knowledge of this in advance. Almost exclusively, the women determined behavior. Yet another experiment evaluated 46 pairs of mid-career professionals in a simulated salary negotiations session. After evaluating the first two minutes of discussions that ranged from 10 to 80 minutes, researchers were able to predict who would do better in negotiating. In fact, those who were more energetic and engaging gained up to 30% more than those who were not .
An individual’s gestures, expressions and tone seem to have a significant impact on the behavior of receivers of such signals. Successful people are more energetic and engaging. They able to both talk more, but listen more intently than others. These individuals interpret cues from others and then draw others out. They elicit a more energetic, positive perspective that results in better team performance . Positive social interaction, listening and engagement produce higher return on investment. One study evaluated the social interactions of 90 employees across 4 teams within call center for an entire month. The data collected across the information channels was correlated against critical performance and customer satisfaction data on such dimensions as average handle time and the number of transferred calls. Researcher studied the frequency of communications, the proximity of group members and the distribution of communications across groups. The outcome of this evaluation indicated that group cohesion, the extent to which the members of a group actively engaged with each other, was strongly correlated to performance factor. That is, groups that frequently communicate face-to-face, are co-located within an area and have a tight distribution of communication were more productive. Restructuring the environment to enhance interactions, making them more cohesive produced a 10% increase in productivity. Understanding these networks is becoming increasingly more crucial to leaders.