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Sticky Ideas Workshop (Part 4): Credible

Sticky Ideas Workshop (Part 4): Credible
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

    ”I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” Back in the early ‘80s, Vick’s Formula 44 cough syrup ran commercials that opened with that line, featuring Peter Bergman, who indeed played a doctor on The Young and the Restless All My Children. Vick’s could, of course, have chosen an actual doctor to tell us how good Vick’s product was, but instead chose a TV star – someone much better known at the time than any doctor would have been.

    Bergman’s appearance in this commercial was a bid by Vick’s for credibility – their hope was that by securing the endorsement of someone that TV viewers trusted, people would be more inclined to see Vick’s cough syrup as a product they could trust. I have no idea how well the campaign worked as far as selling cough syrup, but it’s well over 20 years later and people are still quoting the commercial!

    Where Does Credibility Come From?

    In Made to Stick, the Heath brothers outline two kinds of credibility. The Vick’s commercial above, and other celebrity endorsements, are examples of external credibility, credibility lent a product, theory, or thought by its association with someone we find trust-worthy, for whatever reason. Often this kind of credibility comes from a person’s authority; Einstein talking about physics or the surgeon general talking about smoking are likely to be listened to and believed because we know they are experts in their fields.

    Another kind of external credibility can come from figures the Heath’s call anti-authorities — the actor who played the Marlboro Man doing an anti-smoking commercial as he fights cancer, for instance, or a recovering drug addict talking to a group of teenagers about the dangers of drugs. These people are credible not because of their expertise but because of their experiences, their authentic connection with the ideas they are expressing.

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    It’s In the Details

    Lacking a prominent actor, government figure, or anti-authority to push your ideas, though, most of us must rely on internal credibility. Internal credibility is the ability of our ideas themselves to convince through an appeal to our audience’s sense of how the world works and how they see it. For instance, I’ve already mentioned the importance of concrete details in establishing credibility. We assume that a high level of detail can only be gained through authentic experience – people who are lying about something wouldn’t know the level of fine detail that someone who actually experienced it would.

    Of course, too much detail can undermine credibility, for the same reason: we know there’s only so much a person can remember about a scene or event, so we believe they’re making stuff up when they start overwhelming us with detail. (Plus, we get bored – a very important thing to keep in mind!) In On Writing, Stephen King, whose been known to create a sticky idea or two in his time, puts it like this:

    Thin description leaves the reader feeling bewildered and nearsighted. Overdescription buries him or her in details and images. The trick is to find a happy medium. It’s also important to know what to describe and what can be left alone while you get on with your main job, which is telling a story.

    Too much detail distracts from the point, which is getting your audience to believe something.

    4 Out of 5 Dentists Prefer Statistics

    Statistics are another source of internal credibility – when used well. As I said above, boring your audience is a sure way not to see your ideas stick, and nothing bores an audience more than reams of statistics. Statistics suffer, too, from being too abstract: is a 42% correlation between income level and test scores a lot? What does it mean? (By the way, I totally made up that statistic!)

    The trick, then, is to draw from the data a simple, concrete statement (even better if it’s unexpected, too!). I love the example they give in the book: Shark attacks are very rare but every summer the news is filled with reports of shark attacks, shark attack victims file through the round of talk shows, and little kids gain new reasons to fear the ocean. If you wanted to show how ridiculous our annual national panic over sharks is, you could tell everyone that only .4 people per year die in shark attacks. Or, once they’ve woken up, you could explain how they were some 25 times more likely to die by drowning than by shark attack – that’ll get the kids to the beach! Or you could tell them of the dangers of marauding Bambis, the deadly deer that roam our backwoods and kill 300 times more people every year than sharks. Automotive collisions with deer are much more common than shark attacks, and usually have deadlier consequences – but we don’t huddle in our homes terrified of death by deer!

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    ”Don’t Take My Word for It…”

    Statistics are a source of credibility, but only when used well. Although they can be quite compelling, people have also learned to be somewhat suspicious of statistics, which we believe can be twisted to tell any story they want to. Another source of credibility, then, is found in your audience’s own experiences, whether past or future. This is the promise of the money-back guarantee: a company that promises to pay you back if you don’t like something is much more credible than one with an “as-is” policy.

    The Heaths call this a testable credential, meaning that the credibility comes directly from your audience, who uses your product or follows your advice and agrees that, indeed, it does work. This kind of credibility is hard-won, though, and erased by dishonesty. As with statistics, the misuse of testable credentials can undermine your credibility, even faster than they build it up.

    And Now: Sinatra!

    Finally, credibility can be earned through what the Heaths call “The Sinatra Test”, inspired by the chorus of “New York, New York”: “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere”. The basic principle here is to demonstrate competency in dealing with the extremes: if you can make it in crazy, hectic, punishing New York City, then Ames, Iowa isn’t going to present much of a challenge. If your product is used successfully by NASA in its space missions, it can probably hold up to everyday office use. If your life-coaching can make a serial killer into a good neighbor, it can probably help ease the tensions in the typical workplace.

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    If unexpectedness gets an audience listening, and concreteness gets their attention, credibility helps them believe you. It is the reward that says their attention isn’t being wasted, that you indeed have something useful to say. I expect there’s other ways of establishing credibility, though, that the Heaths don’t cover. What do you do to show that you’re worth listening to?

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    Last Updated on January 15, 2021

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

    Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

    Posture

    First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

    • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
    • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
    • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
    • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

    All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

    Facial Expressions

    Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

    • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
    • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
    • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

    If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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    1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

    A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

    The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

    This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

    2. Relax Your Face

    New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

    The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

    To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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    3. Improve Your Eye Contact

    Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

    The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

    To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

    3. Smile More

    There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

    Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

    4. Hand Gestures

    Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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    It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

    5. Enhance Your Handshake

    In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

    “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

    It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

    6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

    As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

    Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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    Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

    Final Takeaways

    Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

    If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

    More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

    Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

    Reference

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