There are three key facets to the way we communicate - our words, our voice and our body language.
Research by the psychologist Albert Mehrabian (which is often misinterpreted) reveals that if these aren’t all in sync and pulling in the same direction, then body language takes on a massive 55 per cent of what people pick up on, the voice 38 per cent and the words just 7 per cent.
So, in a job where great, authentic communication is absolutely essential with clients, why is so little regard given to preparing vocally and physically?
We spend so much time sat down, looking at screens, sending emails via our phones and using words. We pay a great deal of attention to making sure the words and the content are right.
But what about the delivery? What about who’s delivering? What about how they are received in the room by the other person? It’s so important not to let your face-to-face, intimate communication skills get rusty - or worse, for you to forget how to communicate as you at work. Being yourself is incredibly important.
'Likeability' always scores highly when looking at what governs client behaviour with advisers. It also has very little link with what words you say.
Whether or not a client likes you, trusts you, or feels good about you is a decision made in the limbic centre of the brain. This part of the brain has no language or rational thought.
It’s very instinctive and responds quickly to what it sees and hears - your body language and the tone of your voice. If these don’t tally with the words you say then a client may very well get cold feet. They start thinking: “This person isn’t being completely upfront and genuine with me.”
In Mehrabian’s terms, he would say this person isn’t congruent, that is, the words and the perception don't match up.
Having worked extensively in financial services, we believe there’s room for advisers to bring more of themselves to their work.
Now more than ever, clients want a service that is honest, human and relatable. The public perception of the advice profession is that it’s a little boring, somewhat inaccessible and makes loads of money - sometimes at their expense.
So what can you do about it?
Let go of role-playing
It’s actually not about doing anything, more about 'allowing'. You can’t 'do' good body language. Nor is it about taking on a voice that isn’t your own. Far from it.
We are all born with perfectly good bodies and voices. Life, however, causes us to trust these instruments less. It causes us to trust ourselves less.
We hold tension in the body and our faces and push too hard or pull back from using our voices freely as we become more self-conscious. We begin to imitate other voices or body language to portray what we perceive to be confidence, or whatever effect we wish to create.
We’re so often playing roles, no more so than at work. All of this puts up a barrier to genuinely authentic communication. It creates tension and never allows you to be your authentic best.
It’s also very self-orientated. You’re either a poor imitation of someone else or a massively watered-down version of you. Offering advice is what you do. It’s not who you are. There’s no need for any role-playing here.
We can all draw on occasions or environments that allow us to remove the shackles, feel completely comfortable and communicate with freedom and ease. You’re not consciously doing anything.
As Mehrabian would say, your words, voice and body language are completely congruent because you’re connected to what you’re saying, allowing yourself to just be, no role playing.
This type of communication is incredibly powerful. Lots of people don’t feel there’s room to be themselves at work. It feels somewhat vulnerable and exposing. However, there’s huge power in this vulnerability. If you never allow yourself to be vulnerable, maybe you’ll prevent being truly awful, but you’ll never allow yourself to be your very best.
That’s a shame not only for you, but your clients. Let you be you.
And ‘you’ is not just your expertise, your thoughts and what you say. ‘You’ is the full package. Your voice and body are your tools of expression and they should serve your thoughts as freely and authentically as possible.
When you are congruent, or 'in flow', your thoughts, words, voice and body are inseparable. They work together as a team and this only happens when you are comfortable and confident enough to be yourself. This is when you are at your most effective, engaging, and compelling. Essentially, you at your most best.
This all sounds rather evangelical, but the question really is how do you go about it? Body language and voice are really important but we don't want to focus on them too much as that would be self-orientated.
The answer is to prepare, then forget.
The following exercises are just a couple of ways that you can realign your body, release tension, drop the breath and rediscover your natural, supported voice. Do it before you leave the house in the morning. It only needs 10 minutes. Try before judging.
Floor work in 'semi supine' position
Lying on your back, with a book under your head, and your legs bent so your feet are flat on the floor
Let your attention direct your body into a more relaxed and balanced state (it may help to think of melting into the floor with each exhale)
Think of a lengthening through the spine and neck
Think of a widening through your shoulders and hips
Focus on releasing tension in all of the joints and muscles, directing your attention to them, one by one
As you inhale, think the breath into the belly. It may help to visualise two big nostrils in the belly. This is where you’re inhaling and exhaling from.
Moving onto voice
Release the sound on an ‘mmmmmAaaaaaaaaah,’ being careful not to push, on a note that feels comfortable for you
As soon as you are comfortably out of breath, allow the air to flood back in to your tummy, and go again
Pick a point on the ceiling to focus the energy of your sound. As you release the sound, think of the tension leaving your body, as you further release into the floor. Play about with pitch.
Eventually, go into speech after about 5 minutes. Imagine you are communicating with the point on the ceiling. Ensure you keep the same level of release that you discovered with the ‘mmmmmAaaaaaaaah’
10 minutes of this work each morning (and any moment you can grab!) will allow you to get out of your head and will make a difference to how you feel, think and communicate with clients every day.
Think of it as removing the shackles and getting closer to your best, most authentic self. Surely that’s an objective worth pursuing.
Clients want honest, open, transparent advice. Being completely honest, open and transparent might feel vulnerable, but it will distinguish you from so many other advisers that aren’t brave enough to take the leap.