A Sound Idea

Sounds, other than the human voice, can facilitate or hinder communication. They’re often used to create a mood that evokes a specific emotion. Have you ever watched a movie or television show, and noticed how the background music changes, depending on the emotion of the scene? Sometimes there’s even music designated for specific characters. Remember Bruce, the shark in “Jaws”?

Sound can affect us psychologically, physiologically, cognitively and behaviorally. Business sound expert and chairman of The Sound Agency Julian Treasure, discusses the phenomenon in this TED Talk:

Think about the different businesses you frequent and the variety of soundscapes they present. If you belong to a gym, notice how the music is upbeat and fast-paced. Because we subconsciously start moving our bodies to the beat of the music, we are motivated to work harder. You would probably not perform as well if Celine Dion ballads were playing. Fast food restaurants use more upbeat music than a traditional sit-down restaurant, simply because their goal is high turnover. On the other end of the spectrum, spas tend to use soothing, tranquil sounds to facilitate their clients’ relaxation.

The study of soundscapes in business is important. Many organizations use sound to influence the behavior of existing customers, to attract new ones or keep them around longer. Because many stores do not have doors and are open to the main concourse, an indoor shopping mall is a great place to study sound.  You can walk by and hear music designed to lure their target shoppers in. Those already in the store may prolong or shorten their stay, depending on the sounds inside.

You can see why sound is an important factor to consider when developing your business’ marketing mix. Not only must you decide on a target market and determine their preferences when it comes to the products and services you sell, but you also have to think about what appeals to their basic human senses. To learn more, read “Soundscape Design 101”, Julian Treasure’s blog entry on the subject.

We suggest that you take a moment to think about other ways in which businesses’ sounds have influenced your patronage. The mix of sounds might just be more deliberate than you realize. After all, Starbucks has released compilation CDs of the music they play in their locations.

Have a wonderful, sonically pleasing day!

Eileen N. Sinett Communications


The Ever-Changing English Language

As you are probably aware, the English language is constantly evolving… so much so that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) adds lists of new entries several times a year. FOMO, hackerspace, twerk, MOOC, phablet, selfie, squee and srsly are some of the newest entries. To see more, click here to visit an entry in The New York Times blog.

In “‘Twerk’ and ‘Selfie’ Added To Online Dictionary”, an article in Forbes, linguist Geoffrey Nunberg says “It used to be in order to make the dictionary you had to have respectable antecedents in literary usage.  Nunberg, a linguist at  the University of California, Berkeley School of Information continues, “But now they pick words because of Reddit and things like that generating buzz.”

Some language purists object to these additions but the OED’s growth will continue. As Jason Gilbert of Yahoo! Tech puts it in a recent tweet:

John McWhorter, a linguist at Columbia University, implies that the existence of these words gives insight into cultural shifts: “On one hand, we have a natural sense that some words are just passing fancies that shouldn’t be documented. But then, we have to think about history. Won’t we want to know in a hundred years — or even fifty — that words like TWERK and SELFIE existed?… We need to get as many words as possible on record, including the vulgar, transitory ones.”

McWhorter has long been supportive of the contemporary shifts in the way people communicate. While many academics are disdainful of the effects texting has had on modern communication styles, including the new OED-accepted words, McWhorter refers to it as a “linguistic miracle” in his popular TED Talk. He argues that texting is not to be viewed as writing, but rather as an alternate form of speaking. Rather than speaking like you write, which is typical of speeches and presentations, texting allows you to write like you speak. He views it as almost another language, and points out how purists have been complaining about the decline of language for thousands of years.  \He cites an example when, in 63 AD, there were complaints about poor Latin being spoken. This poor language eventually morphed into French!

Why not spend some time thinking about language and the unique ways you can use it?  It is more than just a tool. You can have a lot of fun with it, and not just in Boggle or Scrabble, as can be seen in the following clip from The OC.  Over a typical family breakfast, the Cohen family employs both humorous plays on words and a portmanteau that Sandy just likes saying:

Until next time…  yogalates!

Eileen N. Sinett Communications

The Right Kind of Wrong

In a previous entry, we looked at how our culture typically shames and criticizes people.  It is for this reason that some of us resort to putting on acts to get people to like us. Aside from feeling like we have to be the perfect human specimen, we are also often ashamed to admit our mistakes and failures.

As you can see in the following clip from Friends, Phoebe and Ross begin arguing about the existence of evolution. Ross’ career as a paleontologist depends on the theory of evolution, so when Phoebe reveals that she doesn’t believe in it, he has trouble accepting it:

Regardless of your own personal feelings toward evolution, Phoebe brings up an interesting point at the end. Scientific theories are constantly evolving. Some of the most brilliant minds in the world have been very wrong in the past, yet without their theories, it would have taken longer to come to the correct ones.

These theories are the subject of a current exhibit at Washington State University. “WSU exhibit features ‘Outrageous Hypotheses” from WSU News describes a few examples from the exhibit.

One old theory postulated that nearby celestial bodies all revolved around the Earth. While we know now that the planets (Earth Included) actually revolve around the sun, the geocentric theory was one of the first to propose the idea that planets moved through space and weren’t just stationary.  The existence of the geocentric theory is what ultimately led to the correct heliocentric (“sun” centric) theory.

In addition to proponents of geocentrism, another historical figure famous for being “wrong” was the Spaniard Christopher Columbus. Convinced that the world was round and not flat, he set out to find a new route to India. However, he did not sail far enough, and hit the Americas.  Despite being wrong about his destination, his trip was significant because it alerted Europeans to the existence of other lands and planted the idea of a round Earth in the minds of other brilliant people who were able to prove later that this was so.

“I was taken by how much our belief in what’s correct evolves over time,” said Washington State University Libraries archivist Mark O’English. “The materials we’re featuring in this exhibit were almost all accepted factual knowledge in their day, propounded by people who had the best of intentions and believed in what they were saying. With that in mind, you have to wonder what facts that we believe are right today would be featured in a similar exhibit 200 to 400 years from now.” Sound familiar? (Watch the clip above now if you haven’t yet.)

The exhibit was inspired by TED speaker Kathryn Schulz, who published the bestseller Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. Her book discusses what leads people to err and why it’s not such a bad thing. The lessons we learn from making mistakes are much more powerful those imparted by a third party. Sometimes the only way to know which job, relationship, or house you want is to experience one that you don’t want first.

Finally, making mistakes, and owning them, shows our more human side. Bringing us back to a familiar theme, when we show our vulnerability, we invite more satisfying, deeper connections with ourselves and each other.

Speaking that Connects

Strike a Pose for a More Confident You!

Non-verbal cues are an integral factor in effective communication.  For example, when we coach presenters, we recommend they begin by standing perfectly still.  Not only do speakers look more professional and in control, but the pause helps to calm them and get their bearings at the outset. We also coach clients to be sure to make eye contact with individual audience members to foster a stronger connection.

Not only does body language strengthen or weaken connections with others, it can also have profound effects on our own state of mind!  While discussions about body language typically focus on deciphering positive versus negative signals from others, we have yet to really delve into how it affects the person employing it.

Let’s look at a popular TED Talk by Harvard professor Amy Cuddy as she expands on how body language not only conveys power to others, it makes those understanding and using it feel more powerful:

Cuddy’s research reveals that people who practice “power poses” increase their testosterone levels and lower their cortisol levels.  (Testosterone is often linked with aggression, while cortisol is linked with stress.) Therefore, people high in testosterone and low in cortisol are typically more confident than those lower in testosterone and higher in cortisol.  By practicing power poses, they feel and show up with more confidence, and the people who interact with them respond more favorably. Those with more confidence are also more likely to take risks.

So what are these power poses? Simply speaking, as we saw in the clip, they’re more expansive and take up more space. It’s akin to the act of marking your territory.

“How ‘Power Poses’ Can Help Your Career” from The Wall Street Journal describes how a female executive, who had previously stepped away from listeners during presentations or conversations, began standing up to speak at meetings. At 5’1”, she was rather small compared to her male colleagues, but her bold move got them to pay attention to her in a way they hadn’t before. See if you can identify some power poses in this game.

Have you ever noticed the reactions you get from altering your body language? The smallest things can make a huge difference. We know of a woman who learned that she missed out on a job simply because she didn’t offer enough eye contact during a training session.

Remember. if you learn to have confidence in yourself, or at least fake it until it naturally develops , you may be amazed at the responses you get!

Eileen N. Sinett Communications

Sales in All Situations

When most of us think of sales, we think of a formal pitch like the one Don Draper offers in this clip from Mad Men.

While Draper gives an excellent sales presentation, “selling” situations manifest in numerous ways outside of formal business. Leading sales expert Daniel Pink, author of To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, argues the point:

“I don’t think there’s a catch-all term to describe selling,” says Pink in a recent interview with strategy+business. “[B]ut for me, moving is the closest word. I’m trying to get you to go from here to there. I can persuade you that the Washington Nationals will win the National League this year, but I’m just changing your mind. Selling is an exchange. If we’re colleagues and I’m trying to get you to join my team, you’re exchanging your time and talent for the opportunity I’m giving you. It’s not denominated in dollars, but I still think that’s sales.”

In Pink’s view, any persuasion for an exchange is a sale, even if one party is only sacrificing time. Think about all the situations this covers. The possibilities range from offering an allowance to a child in exchange for doing household chores…to applying for a loan…to asking someone for a date.  Is there a common technique that can work in most of these situations?

To Sell Is Human avoids outlining a specific sales process, like so many other books in its genre, which is a conscious decision on the author’s part. He states, in the previously mentioned interview, that there is no one-size-fits-all process. Pink elaborates, “I didn’t want to give people a set of custom Legos to build only one particular castle, even if that’s an awesome way to build that particular castle. I’d rather give people a rich set of basic building blocks, which they can fashion into a process of their own and constantly evaluate.”

The key is to focus on the other party’s interests. According to Pink, “the evidence says very clearly that people are able, especially in negotiations and sales situations, to reach a better deal for both sides when they’re focused on interests.”  This probably sounds like familiar advice to regular readers of this blog.

As both technology and consumers have become more sophisticated, you may have noticed that advertising has become more specifically tailored to you and your interests. With the increasing importance of the Internet, advertisers have come up with more and more unique ways to target consumers. Have you noticed that when you look at a product on a shopping website, you will see ads for the identical product on other websites you visit?

If you watch videos on Hulu.com, you will be asked every so often  which ad experience you prefer. You can choose the product you will see advertised throughout the program, or which specific ad campaign for a designated product you will see. Hulu has commented on its own blog how effective the technique has been, showing significant increases in brand recall, brand favorability, purchase intent and stated relevancy.

Just remember…whenever you want to strike a deal with someone, it always helps to know their bottom line. Before any new product or service enters the marketplace, the developer is advised to research the current market, potential consumers and likely competitors first. That’s why cold selling techniques like telemarketing are often unsuccessful. If you don’t know what the other person wants, how could you possibly position your offer in a way that is favorable?

As always, listen and respond. Selling, like any other communication, is a two-way street!

Eileen N. Sinett Communications

The Courage to Be Yourself

In the last blog, we covered methods to resolve conflict. One of them was vulnerability…revealing more of who you are and how you feel so others may understand you and your point of view.

Let’s examine vulnerability more closely.  University of Houston professor Brené Brown, a leading expert in the power of emotional vulnerability, became a hit when her Ted talk on vulnerability went viral with more than ten million views. Brown has made a career of studying fear and shame.  Her seemingly simple message? Have the courage to be yourself. You might be asking why being yourself would take courage. After all, shouldn’t being true to who you really are be the most natural way to live?

As you will see in her Ted talk (and in The Guardian’s “Brené Brown: ‘People are sick of being afraid all the time”) Brown argues that we live in a shaming culture that looks for reasons to criticize. For this reason, being yourself can be daunting.

We see incredibly attractive celebrities in magazines and on websites having their appearances picked apart. When these celebrities appear on magazine covers the pictures they are often heavily airbrushed, suggesting that even these beautiful people need more than talented hair and makeup artists to be presentable to the world.

While celebrities are under heavy scrutiny, “regular” people also face pressures to be “perfect”. “You only get one chance to make a first impression” is true and helpful advice, but think about the pressure inherent in the statement. It means that every time you meet someone new, you are making a first impression!

Some people handle this pressure better than others. You probably know someone who exaggerates or invents stories to seem more interesting; or exhibits nervous tics, as Ross does when he begins his career as a college professor in the following clip from Friends: 

While this is clearly a humorous example, it reflects reality. Ross puts on an act to get people to like him.  He is afraid of making a bad impression. When he talks to his friends about what he did, they advise him to phase out the accent, and this is the result:

There is a problem with pretending to be someone you’re not.  Eventually, the truth comes out. Ross could not continue to speak in a British accent forever. Because of his deception, his students, no longer interested in the material he wants to teach, focus on his strange behavior.

Being yourself may seem difficult at times, but trying to be someone else is never a viable alternative. How can you have true connection with others under false pretenses?  Connection makes communication powerful.  It is the foundation of significant relationships.

To get closer to who you really are, do an honest self-assessment that focuses on your best qualities. And don’t forget to revisit what you believe to be your “flaws”. Some of them can actually be transformed to become your greatest assets.  Haven’t you learned significant lessons from mistakes you made in the past?

Showing vulnerability is often an inspiration to others. Revealing your struggles, and how you overcame (or are overcoming) them may give hope to others dealing with similar issues.  Alternately, if you reveal that you need help, you never know who might come to your aid!

Eileen N. Sinett Communications

Communication Advice for Relationship Conflicts

Isn’t it a wonder that we can communicate at all?  First, we think about what we want to say. Then, we say something that is an echo of our thoughts. The receiver  hears what they think we are communicating.  Finally, laughingly, they interpret what they think they heard us say. All of this happens in the brief seconds of any conversation.

This idea  is paraphrased from Bruce Conn’s  “Coupling: Mr. and Mrs. Communication”, which describes the difficulties of communicating in romantic relationships. According to Conn, people are inherently selfish creatures, yet effective communication can only be accomplished when  partners place high importance on each others needs.

When communicating with anyone, regardless of the type of relationship, always remember why the connection is important to you, Conn advises couples to focus on their devotion and passion for each other. He suggests that since humans tend to think of themselves first, the best way to connect with someone else is to figure out what his or her primary concerns are and address those as best as you can.

You can also show how much you value the other person by listening actively.  This critical communication skill is rarely taught effectively… even in communication classes!  Very often, when we think we’re listening, we are thinking of the next thing we are going to say.  To listen actively, pay close attention to what the other person is saying.  Then, base your response on what was said. Give yourself time to respond, if you need it. You might be amazed at how differently the conversation will play out!

Open communication in intimate relationships can be difficult.  To deepen the relationship, you must allow yourself to be vulnerable.  Yet, when you do share a more personal part of yourself, you can connect more easily.

In the following clip from Everybody Loves Raymond, Ray and Debra attend a parenting class. Watch how their instructor emphasizes acknowledging the other person’s needs and listening actively when teaching them how to handle conflicts with children.

As you can see from the clip, Ray has trouble employing active listening because he is focused on his own wants. It’s a common mistake many of us make. His go-to techniques include guilt, threatening, scapegoating and eventually, blurting out, “Because I said so!”

In the clip below, watch how Ray uses the instructor’s suggestions to resolve conflicts between his parents and with his immediate family.

In any conflict, when you show others you understand and care about their feelings, you may immediately alleviate some of the anger. Similarly, when you share why something is important to you, the other person may soften and be less confrontational. These techniques are not only useful in conflict resolution, but in  any situation where persuasion is necessary.  Try these techniques the next time you’re in a business meeting or when you’re planning your next family vacation!

Tailoring your message to your audience is crucial whether in one-on-one conversations, presentations, or written communications.  If you don’t address your audience’s needs, your message may be lost.

Eileen N. Sinett Communications