• Dan Connors

Cues- Don't forget the importance of BODY language


Cues: Master the Secret Language of Charismatic Communication Vanessa Van Edwards 2022


In Disney's The Little Mermaid, sea witch Ursula takes away Ariel's voice and gives her legs in exchange, advising her to use only her body language to get by on the land. We are so used to hearing people talk at us all the time, that we often overlook body language, which experts believe contains some 65-90% of total communication!

You can have the best facts, the most persuasive arguments, and the best ideas, but they will get nowhere without the knowledge of how to be charismatic. Vanessa Van Edwards is an expert on body language, author, and founder of the website- Science of People that advises people on how to use the unspoken to their advantage. Her book, Cues, is a sequel to her earlier book, Captivate, and it covers nonverbal cues that we get from gestures, eye contact, smiles, touch, and more.

Any attempt at communication begins with the message in our heads. We encode it into words as well as nonverbal communications. The recipient then needs to decode the message and try to understand what we are trying to convey. They then either accept the message and internalize it, or reject it and toss it aside. This book is about how to get more acceptance of our ideas, large and small.

Van Edwards claims that charisma comes from the synergy of two forces- warmth and competence. We trust warm people more when they are compassionate, open, and collaborative. But that's not enough. We also trust people who show competence in the ideas that they are presenting. We look for smart, expert, capable people who exude power but are still approachable. Communicators who lack both of those qualities fall into what she calls the "Danger Zone", and risk never being taken seriously.

Warmth body language cues subtly open up relationships to trust and friendship. They include such things as head tilts, nodding, eyebrow raises, smiling, respectful touching, and mirroring of other people's expressions..

Competence body cues convince people that someone is to be taken seriously. These include things like power postures, intense gazes, steeple gestures (palms facing each other with fingers just barely touching), fluid arm gestures during presentations, and palm flashes.

Charismatic body cues, which combine the two, make speakers look and sound likeable and respectable. They include leaning in to a conversation, opening one's body posture (no crossing of the arms), space smarts, (knowing how close to physically come to someone in a conversation), and using eye contact purposefully.

Van Edwards devotes two chapters to vocal cues, which are different than the actual words spoken. We generally take lower pitched voices more seriously, and we can tell if someone has a nervous pitch to their voice. One of the big no-no's in speaking is ending a sentence on a question inflection. This takes away the speakers power and makes the recipient question if the speaker knows what they're talking about.

Much of this is common sense, but it's nice to see it all put together in a professional format. Vary your voice when talking and raise it for emphasis. Be aware of when you're losing your audience. Don't be afraid to pause once in a while for extra emphasis- silence creates tension and anticipation. Use friendly words at the start of any engagement to warm up your intended audience, large or small. (But be genuine, not fake.) Try to start conversations with things like:

"I'm so glad you called."
"Well this is a nice surprise"
"It's so good to hear from you"
"I love your outfit, hair, tattoo etc"

There is a serious shortage of warmth and caring today, and remembering to honor and appreciate people can go a long way. Just the way you say the word "hello" makes a huge difference.

Van Edwards ends the book with tips on visual cues, which might be a topic for her next book. Our eyes take in way more information than our ears, and we make a lot of decisions based on superficial, unconscious visual signals. Her three best practices for using cues for charisma include.
1- Expect the best from yourself and others
2- Don't try to fake it. People can see right through that.
3- Use the rule of 3 to try things out. Test a cue at least 3 times and see what results you get.

Vanessa Van Edwards is the only person writing about nonverbal communication styles today that I've seen, and her advice is valuable. Only 10-35% of our words gets through, and if it conflicts with the nonverbal parts, forget about it. Communication is critical, and in the internet age interpersonal communication is becoming harder because of social media that robs us of most of the nonverbal part, presenting instead a carefully curated but incomplete picture.

The author has built up an impressive array of information, classes, and resources on this little-noticed topic, and I recommend her website, Scienceofpeople.com to those who want to learn more about her activities.
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