by Shawn DeGroot
In the Compliance field, we are blessed (or cursed, depending on personal perspective) with delivering messages to a variety of audiences. We listen, educate, investigate, question, ponder, and respond. We routinely digest regulatory information in preparation for the next question during an investigation or to provide training to an audience. Our verbal messages can be succinct and clear, yet misinterpreted if incongruence exists with our body language.
The human face has more than 52 muscles and can make up to 5,000 expressions. Darwin first wrote about his theories of expression in 1898; yet, many of us concentrate only on our intellectual intelligence without much consideration of the messages we are delivering with our facial expressions and body. Six universal expressions of emotion have been identified associated with the human face—surprise, anger, disgust, fear, sadness, and joy. Those common expressions are easily identifiable, but the 5,994 remaining expressions also have an impact. A raised eyebrow acknowledges that we are listening or the speaker has our attention (at least for those who have not subjected their face to Botox). For individuals in the second half of their life, another benefit of lifting your eyebrows slightly when someone is speaking is that they can see the whites of your eyes, sending a signal of trust.
Over the years, many of you have heard me speak at both HCCA and SCCE Compliance Institutes about the importance of nonverbal communication. I, too, was not of the mindset to study and/or read about nonverbal communication until I was confronted by a vice president, who was asked to talk to me about the reorganization within the C-suite. He and others assumed I was “stressed” about the changes occurring and stated that everyone seemed to be handling it all quite well, except me. I was mortified and quite shocked at the assumption. When I asked how that conclusion was reached, he observed that at the meeting when the changes were announced, I seemed disengaged (eyes looking down). Secondly, I crossed my arm, and my face appeared to show anger or worry (mouth turned down, eyebrows frowning and staring along with a few subtle sighs). Finally, he stated that I was “fidgeting” in my chair often (signs of being uncomfortable). He added that he was originally planning to enter the field of psychology and studied nonverbal communication. The CEO noticed as well and asked him to reach out to me.
After I shared with him that the evening prior to the C-suite announcement, my home had been burglarized and that I was struggling with feeling violated (not angry), we had a great laugh on the assumptions based on my body language. As a matter of fact, I did not want to be at work that day after such a sleepless night, but I felt trapped because I couldn’t relax in my own home either.
Since that event, I realized my expressions say 1,000 words, without speaking. I have read numerous books on body language and frequently visit the website of The Center for Nonverbal Communication at www.centerfornonverbalcommunication. Understanding that 93% of a message is based on nonverbal communication with only 7% based on actual words may impact how you want to “carry” a message to the board, CEO, or an external investigator. Many investigators in fraud, the police, and of course those in the psychiatry field, are trained in nonverbal communication, specifically when they are attempting to find the truth in a matter.
Furthermore, within the 7% of the verbal communication is another value—how people feel based on your choice of words. People may not be able to recite one sentence of what you stated, but they will remember how your message made them feel (e.g., sick to their stomach, angry, relieved, or excited). Voice intonation, facial expressions, hand position (e.g., open, closed, down, fisted), how you sit in a chair, and whether you rock back and forth when speaking impact the message more than you realize. Take time better understand your body language, facial expressions, and create self-awareness about your communication style. It is important to articulate regulatory content succinctly, but a powerful a message can be relayed or lost without saying a word.