A myth that sticks – Mehrabian Myth

Several years ago I was exposed to this statistic when it came to communication. People understood and made meaning of someone’s speech using three components. Plus there was a percentage distribution as well. It went like this.

7 % of understanding/ meaning came from Words / Content
38 % of understanding / meaning come from Tonality
55 % of understanding / meaning came from Body Language

It was called 7%-38%-55% Rule, for the relative impact of words, tone of voice, and body language when speaking. Needless to say, the importance of ‘body language’ and ‘voice’ were emphasised.

For several years, these numbers stuck. Why wouldn’t it?  It was repeated many times over. Seemed entirely plausible. It was attributed to a Stanford research. All was well with the world. Those were the days of innocence. Then came the internet and the truth was far more accessible.
Some preliminary reading revealed that the original idea and research was completely twisted and taken out of context.

The numbers themselves are said to have appeared in 1971, for the first time. By a gentleman by the name of Albert Mehrabian in his book titled ‘Silent Messages’. But the context and even the subject of what Mehrabian said is vastly different from what was being bandied in the open.

What Mehrabian says ( as quoted in here )

* Total liking = 7% verbal liking + 38% vocal liking + 55% facial liking

* Total feeling = 7% verbal feeling + 38% vocal feeling + 55% facial feeling

Albert Mehrabian seems to have been getting at is advocate consistency between action, message and the real self. And also between words, voice and body language. Any inconsistencies between these is going to make it difficult for the audience. And more importantly, the audience will believe ‘less’ of whats being said.

His pronouncement that the audience will perhaps rely more on the actions that are seen than the words that are spoken, perhaps have been converted simplistically into this 7 % + 38 % + 55 % theory that prima facie alters meaning.  There is ‘nothing said about the relative contributions in general speech’ ! 🙂

So, here goes.

a. Words are as important. (as ever)
b. Consistency between words, actions and tone is very important for the belief quotient to be high.

Some of these myths stick far too longer than warranted. The other day I was amidst a set of trainers, who laid bare their affection and regard for the 7-38-55 rule. Instantaneously I knew I had a topic for a blogpost.

Safety in the works

Every time I sit in an aircraft, the safety demonstrations have never failed to bring about a sense of weariness and boredom in me.  I have always made it a point to look around and see what co-passengers are doing and it isnt very different at all. Usually.

Given how important those demonstrations are, both the quality and quantity of our attention we give to this, is quite a travesty! I have often wondered if there was any way in which you could make it more effective.

A few days ago, I came across this video from Virgin America. Take a look.

Some more primary digging lead me to similar attempts by Air New Zealand and Cebu airlines. Although, I thought, Virgin America’s attempt was a cut above the rest. Of course, they would require more videos to add to the variety.  Perhaps a touch of different songs to suit different cultures and geographies they are flying to / from. But to me, it is a brilliant idea for a start.

While these could be different aspects that a learning function may be working on, in my mind I club compliance training / safety demonstrations into one genre. They needn’t be be dull and boring affairs.  A typical response is captured here. That they are is illustrated in how most of us build them and how it is treated.

Charles Jennings wrote about how broken it really is and a few pointers on how it can be fixed as well.  While every organisation seems to be grappling with it, creative, imaginative solutions to the problem remain a far cry, Please do share if you have a few in your arsenal.

Coming back to the Flight safety demonstration of Virgin America, I think it is an attention grabber for sure!  It is an imaginative, enterprising start.

At the end of the day, a video lends itself beautifully to ‘passive consumption’. Sit back, relax and enjoy the video, if you like it that is. A higher degree of effectiveness is possible with ‘active participation’. That I believe is something we need to go to work with.  Innovative ways of garnering interest need to fuel active participation and ‘performance’

Running the learning function – #PhilipsHRTalks

Philips HR Talks is turning out to be a powerful medium for conversation, sharing and exchange of ideas. Put together by the wonderful combination of Yashwant Mahadik and Gautam Ghosh, this has indeed taken shape as a platform for sharing ideas, thoughts, experiences in Human Resources.

This is an evolving niche. and Yash sets the context for the Philips HR Talks here. #PhilipsHRTalks has acquired a niche of its own generating great interest in the HR community, students and academia in this geography.
When Gautam invited me over to share thoughts on Learning in the modern day context, I was only more than happy to participate. I chose to title the talk “Running the Learning Function”, keeping my own experience of running a marathon to give a narrative coherence.
Here is the full video.

It had to be straight forward and simple. At the same time, I endeavoured to bring to fore the challenges and dilemmas that accost every learning leader and aspects that perhaps will help in building a ‘learning organisation’ of sorts.
The aspects that I thought pertinent, include
1. The importance of keeping ‘learning’ simple and helping people ‘see through’
2. The need for chunking and keeping learning in small chunks
3. Elements of collaboration and its impact on learning
4. Building commitment and the aspects that aid in that journey
5. The need for building choice inherently in the system
6.  The seeking for creating meaning
7. The critical role of community!
As much as these are aspects of learning this indeed are the components of my story of running! I had great fun putting it together. Do give it a look. The warm and generous feedback has been beyond my expectations. Thats given a very happy ring to it.
Long after I completed the talk, a good friend and fellow runner passed this video to me. I wish I had seen it before. For these perhaps are the stages in running the learning function as well!

As always, would love to hear your views.

Another classification of learners!

Often, when speaking to sets of participants attending learning programs, I find myself share a ‘classification of learners’. I wish I could remember where I had read it, for me to cite reference here.

The classification in itself is a rather telling and usually elicits some shifting of feet, muted laughter, smirks, smiles and sometimes,  guffaws!  Broadly, this is what I say.

There are four classes of learners who come to attend a ‘training program’

a. Prisoners : Participants who have been ‘sentenced’ to a few days of training. Who would much rather be doing m(any) other things, but who are there in the room, because they have been forced to ‘attend’ the program. Left to themselves they’d much rather be doing other things.

b. Vacationers: Self explanatory, isn’t it?!? A training program seen as an opportunity to stay away from work, get paid for it and yet enjoy the best of venues / food and generally catching up with long lost friends and colleagues. A meta coffee machine of sorts, to catch up on all whats happening in the organisation.

c. Experts : Participants who consider themselves as ‘experts’. With ‘expert opinion’ at the expense of leaning something new. Sometimes that may be well founded. Many times not so! Perhaps its their background, the colleges that that they have gone to, the experiences that they have accumulated, the seniority in the organisation. Past learning inhibits future learning !

d. Explorers : Explorers are those that are possessed with a sense of curiosity and discovery. People who know a few things, but are always seeking for learning something new. Building on what they know, treating it as an adventure, taking risks, assimilating experiences of all in their line of sight and daring to go where they havent gone before. For those reasons, explorers are all great learners. Learners are also ‘explorers’ in their contexts !

This classification applies to all of life too. For learning is a life long event. Nay, journey! True learners are those that are filled with curiosity. Those that approach every moment with a sense of possibility and with a spirit of exploration. For that is the spirit of life. One look at our children teach us that. Filled with questions, playfulness and armed with a surfeit of curiosity.

Somewhere along the way, as we grow up, we become ‘experts’ or vacationers of life. And sometimes prisoners too. Perhaps its time to unleash to the child in us. To be real explorers to get to be good learners.

“Learning is a journey” is a much abused and clichéd phrase. One could go through that journey as any one of the above and yet up going to a completely new land or not traversing any distance at all.

The key to the ‘Journey’ must be realisation that journeys always involve change. A change of scene. A change in speed. Many times, new eyes too. And change is inherently uncomfortable. Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable is so key to learning. So key to life.

Also Ran !

It all started with a move to arrest the arrival of a paunch. Seemingly seamless. But pronounced. The seams of the trousers were bursting. Obviously all the sweets and fries had to show up someplace !!

High calorie food stuck to all parts of the body. Like a Fixed Deposit that was left to grow. The paunch was packing quite a punch ! Then one day, a friend suggested that he was ‘running’ the marathon. Running ? There was enough to being an ‘also ran’ in life!

Ten minutes on the treadmill was about what the feet could ever manage. Huffing, panting and almost sure that the 11 th minute would cause instant death ! This was June ’09. An internal war broke out. Resplendent slumber waging a relentless war on physical activity.

‘Running ? For gods sake, get real ! And four days a week’. Was a constant conversation in the mind. But when the favorite trouser didn’t fit, the missus had her hands on the hip and gave a look. A look that was a curious mix of pity, joy and sarcasm!

The next day, I signed up for running. This was August ’09. The schedule was given. ‘Mondays. Wednesdays. Fridays. Sundays. Reporting time : 5.45 AM’ ! The eyes popped. The ears didnt quite register. ‘Reporting at 5.45 ?’ That meant getting off the bed by 4.30 AM !

With a trepidation reminiscent of my maths exam, i prepared to howl in protest. The only words that escaped the lips however sounded different. ‘Sundays too?’ So it all began. Running.

But the mind was clear : I wasn’t going to go anywhere close to the marathon. I was just going to run. Run the paunch down. That was that. But the group i was training with had other ideas. Of course, my coaches kept it to themselves.

August ’09 : A couple of kilometers that the feet covered burnt a hole in the wallet buying pain reliver sprays and left the bedroom smelling of Bengay ! Perpetually. Gasping for breath was now not restricted to seeing stupidity at work. Parts of the body loudly announced their existence with stinging pain and stagnant aches. Knees. Muscles. Joints. Bones. All.

September was better. The pain was around. Less pronounced on the body. More on the mind. I wonder if it would be any different with you..when somebody a good 20 years older zips past and completes the distance in half the time !

And we ran on the roads. We trained in Aarey. Dotted with thick greenery. Rustic smell of cow dung and grass punctuating the morning air and of course, awesome sunrises more than aptly compensated for the mosquitoes that were perhaps next only to the Scud missiles of Saddam Hussein !

We trained in Bandra on the road besides the Arabian sea (and Shah Rukh Khans home. Just in case the Arabian Sea was an unknown entity). Sundays meant driving to marine drive to run those distances. ( I promised the missus that i will not write about the lump of breakfast that followed. So)

October was even better. November fled by. Suddenly, It was early December. I was running 20 odd KMs. Slow. Steady. Huffing and puffing. But running. ‘Perhaps i can run the marathon’ became a refrain. As with most human minds, the monkey on the mind had moved on to the next branch. Finishing was not THE issue. ‘In what time’, became the big question.

Jan fled. Taking with it all doubt of ‘completion’ of the race. It was 17th Jan. I was after all running the marathon. The timing chip was tied to the shoe. The bib was pinned to the t-shirt. Off i ran the Mumbai half-Marathon ! 2 hours 14 minutes was on the watch display as i finished.

There were hordes of men, women and children cheering us on. Faces that i dont know. Voices that i hadn’t heard before. But words and gestures that i just cant forget. ‘Go Mumbai Go’ they screamed !

The slum dwellers who held out oranges. The sophisticated types who had household help offer biscuits, juices, water. The men and women who stood by clapping. I wonder what gets them to do these.

Oh yes. Our blogger bunch cheered on too. With cheers, wishes, presence, prayers and offer for payasam ! The one gent who traveled from Pune to click a snap and cheer on. The others that set a mail thread that went like a river in flow ! What a swell bunch of people inherit this earth ! How blessed am i to know and connect up with them all ! So much for an ‘also ran’ !

Phew. I am done. With this race. But two things remain. Which must get mentioned.

a. I am looking for one man with a blue T-shirt which had ‘are you tough enough’ written on his back. I will never forget this man. For at the 4th Kilometer he overtook me, looked into my eys and shouted ‘Dont GIVE UP’ ‘Dont Give up’.

With bewilderment plastered on my face, i waved him on. ‘Give up?!!?’ Whoever talked about giving up ? I had just started running. So, if you know that man, or you are that man…well, i need to talk to you.

b. The paunch…you know… well…the paunch also ran ! The cause for all of this running, is by and large ( actually by and LARGE) at large ! Theres been no impact at all ! The missus thinks running 42 kilometers will perhaps wear it down.

Ofcourse, like all times, i differ.

Oodles of doodles

The speaker moves his arms. Wavy gestures and air filled lungs pump enough volume to reach the far corners of the room. Examples are cited. The future is invoked. Questions are posed. Frameworks are discussed.

There is a training program that’s on.

The participants are all there. Physically at least. Their bodies too large to disappear into thin air. They are all there. Their thoughts are a different realm though. Nobody can say for sure where thoughts are. Like a cyclone that’s much hyped but didn’t turn up.

Their hands are at work though. Heads almost hemmed to their notepads. Perhaps serving as the biggest of ‘motivators’ to the trainers and lecturers ! Construed as note taking, and such other activity of importance that adds to the self importance of the speaker.

In practice, doodles emerge.

Of cows. Huts. Planes. Ships. Faces. And the like. The cows could look like sheep whose harmone therapy went awry. And hut designs that could make a Pygmy cry. And that could be particularly ironic if the program was on something like ‘Getting it Right the first time” or something to that effect !

Perhaps not as ironic as having arrows and spears doodled all over, in a workshop while the junta is talking ‘Partnership’ !

At other times there are lines & shadings. Precise shading of intersections and empty spaces. Preciseness to the nano millimeter. That hitherto seemed capabilities that rested with American missiles that were launched from ships, traversing two seas and many mountain ranges to hit the hidden commode of secret toilets of Osama Bin Laden and gang.

Such impeccable designs. Sketched with such intensity and effort.

Have you wondered why ? Something seems to be at work here. A natural by product of sitting in a lecture or a training program.

Perhaps its about camouflage. Of pretense. Pretending to be attending, but actually away !

But why would students & participants take all the effort to draw such impeccable cows ( with hormonal treatment going awry ) and arrows & straight lines that could be used to teach geometry to infants.

There must be some research done on this.

Perhaps its all about the mind. Perhaps it helps shade a few shapes. And shape a few shades. Or maybe its to sharpen whats faded. Or fade whats sharpened. Contrasts. Colours. And the like. .

Which perhaps is what one can get out of a training ! Whatsay ?

Doodles seem to be here to stay !

White Shroud Thinking !

Any program / event in any of these hotels have strange butterflies from a foreign land flutter in my stomach. No politics there.

It just is in large part to those huge white shroud that cover those chairs ! One of those days, it was a waiter who had to bear the brunt of my curiosity.

‘Why on Earth would you want to cover those chairs ? And that too with that shroud?’
And his terse answer was, ‘ i am not authorised to speak on this sir’ ! No. I am not kidding.

My wicked mind thinks, to this day, he should have thought of me as one of those journalist types, sticking a camera or a tape recorder from an inconceivable place in the body ! Trying to make a story out of his simple shroud, in a shrill voice backed by an ‘expert’ panel!

There just is no other explanation !

Coming back the chair itself, i think it is time for collective action. To free the chair from the shroud. And this is no Turin ! So, lets do it with secular focus, precision and dedication !

But why could they have come with these white shrouds in the first place ? My hypotheses hover around ‘too many guests with dirty pants’ and the ‘hotel’s struggle to make the chair, washing-machine-compatible’ !

Yes. Thats all ok !!

At a more deep level ( sic ) these armless chairs, with white hoods, that cover the legs resemble…well…ghosts of some kind. Come on, there are enough fears about venturing near a hotel these days. And i am not talking terrorists or their like. It is those big burly safari clad crew cut types, who give you a strange look and stick a decrepit mirror underneath an inconceivable part of the car ! Thats some height to withstand.

Meeting ghosts & static look alikes in the ballroom is a height that i am not too keen on scaling.

I really am scared of such chairs. Ok. You don’t believe me. I encourage you to take a look at the snap above that i clicked at a program last week. If you were Da Vinci, you would have seen the possibility to paint ‘The Last Supper of Ghosts !’

For me, from time immemorial, ghosts had that white shroud and no legs. And, when i do sit on these chairs, especially during training program, the thought of caressing my back on a ghost haunts me. It gets me goose bumps that rip through my body like an earthquake ! And i am all alert, in a jiffy !

And then, i realise that i don’t mind the white shroud.

Well,….not that much !

Equipment = Equipping ?

An article in the Times of India caught my eye & kept me shaking my head for a good minute. A quarter in mild amusement, another quarter in concern and a good half in plain frustration !

Imagine a software on your system that has been installed, without you having any clue of whats it all about or how it has to be used. And without the ‘help’ menu ! And then being told that the operation of that software is critical to your organisation’s network safety !!

‘Houston, we have a problem’.

Except that this Houston is in Ghatkopar, Mumbai !

Read the full article here.

Turns out that the station master claims he that hasn’t been educated on how to use the CCTV that has been installed ! ( the news article goes on to state : ‘the purpose of a CCTV is to prevent crime and aid investigations as the data can be collected….). I hope they know !

It turns out, that the station master has FBF ( found by fiddling ) that only three cameras work and one of them is pointed towards the ceiling. Someone or something had to throw up his hands look in the direction of the Gods ! I guess it was this camera’s turn !

I slap an imaginary image, as i type this. This is but an example. And a prevalent way of life in both the government and many corporates too !

‘Equipment’ does not always lead to ‘auto equipping’. It requires effort. In Training & learning!