Wednesday, November 12, 2008

4 measurable nonverbal communication clues – and the implications on the Evangelist Effect™

Pharma marketers have traditionally focused on KOLs because of their potential top-down influence.

In our experience with the Evangelist Effect™, most of the communication that's complicated, that's really important, still happens face-to-face. Some of it happens in group settings, but it's still person-to-person – not by email, publication, or guidelines. And yet all of this face-to-face stuff never makes it into the digital record. There may be a memo summarizing a meeting later, or an agenda, but what actually happened never shows up. And all the interactions in the clinic hallway or around the water cooler are not even in the “KOL map.” And yet these personal, informal settings are where practice changes really happen – often even with nonverbal communication.

Now, there may be an emerging technology to measure the power of nonverbal communication.

A professor at the MIT Media Lab, Dr. Alex Pentland, has data from a device he calls a "sociometer," a wearable, badgelike contraption that can continuously measure various nonverbal aspects of people's interactions -- with implications for both how medical professionals communicate and how they understand what is being communicated to them.

In his new book, "Honest Signals," he discusses 4 specific unconscious, nonverbal ways that humans communicate with one another.

1. Activity. Everyone has an autonomic nervous system; it's the oldest part of your nervous system, the fight-or-flight part. When you get excited about something, it gets aroused. What happens then is you become more active and you have more nervous energy. So he built computer tools that can read how much nervous energy you have.

2. Interest. People pay attention to each other, and you can read that from the timing between people who are in conversation. If two people are talking together and each one is anticipating when the other will pause and jumping in exactly at that point and leaving no gaps, then they're paying a great deal of attention to each other.

3. Mimicry. Humans also have a system called a mirror neuron system. Strangely enough, when you watch somebody move, a part of your brain that corresponds to the same movement lights up. And when people mimic each other's gestures when in conversation, research has shown that it's very definitely correlated with feelings of trust and empathy. Mimicry creates the sense that people are on the same page.

4. Consistency. Think of Tiger Woods and his golf swing. There's a sort of fluidity about it that just says, "This guy's an expert." And people have the ability to read that. Consistency in tone or motion tells you who really knows what they're doing, or is really practiced at it, at least. And that's another sort of honest signal; it's very hard to fake.

Dr. Pentland concludes that's the point about honest signals: They're hard to fake and they tell you something important about the relationship and the activity you're doing with this other person.

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