Predicting what happens next in face to face communication

2nd September 2014

I remember watching Question of Sport on the BBC and a game titled ‘What happens next?’. Video footage is shown of a sport where all seems ordinary but suddenly things are about change in an unexpected manner, the video stops. The contestants have to decide on what this change  will be. This is usually something as rare as a seagull picking up a golf ball or a tennis player handing a racquet to a spectator as he is tired after a long rally. You get the point, its the little things we rarely expect that surprise us.Sometimes we can make an informed guess, sometimes we have seen this piece of video footage before, more often then not we guess incorrectly.

There are many differences in opinion about how people can predict future events and behaviours in communication and I think its often more consistent to look out for the signs that things are going to change rather than wait until after the change has happened.After all that is often far too late to influence things and you are now on the back foot.

A way of describing this is to consider a train travelling to a junction where it will be switched onto another track to continue on its journey. By noticing how the switch changes before the train reaches this tells you where it is going before it does.

It’s important to pay attention to the train track switches in a conversation. This is where you can predict and change the future.

I am not a rail enthusiast but this paints a picture, we are often looking in the wrong place when we are dealing face to face with others. Keep your eyes on the prize is a common expression. Yes this is an effective extrinsic motivator but you also need to be able to get there first one step at a time and the journey is never linear and predictable.

An example of this in face to face meetings is to be better able to detect a few crucial non verbal cues that act as a railroad switch in your conversation. By better detecting these cues you can see where your meeting is going and change course if you need to.

Typical examples are increased eye lid flutter, scratch signals,potential micro facial expressions of anger, surprise, contempt, sadness,disgust or fear. They all are telling you that something is uncomfortable, not quite right, disagreement but not yet telling you so. That is your switch, change track before this journey goes off the rails.

However, none of this means anything if you do not raise your self awareness. This means how readily and easily you can shift your attention from yourself, to the people sitting opposite you, to the context of the situation of why you are there. The next time you are in a meeting, check this out, how much is it all about you?


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