Most of the commonsense ways we think about how people communicate are wrong, and the reality is much stranger and more wonderful than we can even imagine. A series of recent breakthroughs in science have overturned the accepted wisdom about how we express ourselves to others, how we interpret what they say to us, and how we decide whether or not to follow another’s leadership. These studies not only allow us to understand communication in a new way, they also reveal methods to becoming much more persuasive and successful without changing a single word we say.
For example, many of us assume that we make conscious, rational decisions about which leaders we should follow. We recognize that we might be swayed by a person with great charisma, who speaks well and can persuade us through the power of words to follow him or her. But we imagine that these moments of suasion are a kind of temporary madness. Deep down we assume we are in control. Yet, recent science overturns all this wishful thinking. Rather than rationally following people who earn our respect and advise us carefully, human beings are programmed by millions of years of evolution to respond to hidden cues that determine whose leadership they follow.
And words have virtually nothing to do with it.
- You gesture before you think consciously about what you’re doing
- You have neurons that fire when you witness someone else experiencing an emotion – and they give you the exact same emotion
- You emit low-frequency sounds that align with the most powerful person near you through matching vocal tones
- Your measurable nonverbal signals concerning your confidence in a negotiation predict success or failure far more accurately than the relative merits of your position
- When you communicate with someone else, the two of you align your brain patterns – even if you don’t agree with the other person
Each of these findings is surprising, and some truly defy commonsense. But taken together they add up to a very different view of how people actually communicate – and what you should do about this new view of communications in order to connect with other people powerfully and persuasively.