A few weeks ago I was assisting a legal team during a trial. The day before opening statements we received a brand new piece of discovery which made the opposing side look very bad. As we walked into the courtroom the following morning the paralegal took me aside and said, “Peter* is planning on nailing the opposing counsel during his opening statement with the news we got yesterday. He’s really going to let them have it. What do you think?”
I said, “It doesn’t matter what I think, it matters what the jury thinks.”
We’re often so involved in what we’re going to say (content) and how we’re going to say it (delivery) that we forget the most important part of communication: how people will receive it (reception).
It makes sense, really. You can plan your content and practice your delivery, but you can’t know how people are going to receive your message until you’re in the act of delivering it. Not to mention most of us don’t know how to gauge how our message is being received, or what we can do differently if it isn’t being received well. We tend to think, “I’ll do the best I can, and then deal with people’s reactions afterwards.”
There’s a better way. Two ways, actually.
1) Increase your awareness, and
2) adapt your approach.
Nonverbal intelligence allows you to do both. If I know what to look for, I can watch carefully as I deliver my message and gauge the response. If I’m not getting the response I was hoping for, I can change what I’m doing.
For example, if Peter began his opening statement with the inflammatory information and the members of the jury pulled their heads back, shoulders up, and sat rigidly upright (a sign that people have stopped breathing), he could take that information as a sign that his listeners were not open to his “nail the opposing side” message. He could then drop his eyes and hands, walk to a new spot (while breathing) and continue with a softer approach.
The point is, it isn’t enough to know your content and deliver it well. You must always have an “eye” on your listener if you want to be successful.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.