By Bryan Laychak

If you don’t watch it, you’ve probably at least heard about NBC’s hit reality television show called The Voice.  What separates The Voice from an otherwise overly-crowded lineup of singing competitions is that in the early stages of The Voice contestants are evaluated by a panel of celebrity judges in what are called “blind auditions”.  During this phase, the judges’ backs are to the performers, requiring them to listen purely to the vocal ability of the contestant; perhaps not to be misled by other factors like appearance, wardrobe, or body language. The message that seems to summarize the premise of The Voice: Never judge a book by its cover.

Such an evaluation process and what it means to me in our world of helping clients generate and implement ideas got me thinking…“What if problem-solving meetings in the corporate world were conducted like The Voice’s blind auditions and how would such an experiment impact the effectiveness of the meeting?”   Imagine…  rather than a song, people would offer their ideas and receive feedback while their colleagues’ backs were towards them during the presentation. Would such an approach reduce the frequency of the mixed messaging that sometimes arises during interactions?

Albert Mehrabian, an American psychologist, concluded that there are three channels of communication that can have direct and indirect effects on the climate and content outcomes of meetings:  Words, tones, and non-verbals.  Words are the spoken message, tones are the inflection, volume and enunciation of the words, and non-verbals are the body gestures, facial expressions, and postures that can accompany the other two.

It is important that we stay aware of the messages we send and receive in the form of tones and non-verbals.   This is especially true in problem-solving meetings because organizations need a climate that encourages mental risk taking.   If mixed messaging arises — that is, when the actual words are not congruent with the tones or non-verbal behavior — the channels of communication with the highest impact are non-verbals and tones.   In other words, words “lose out.”   This situation can lead to detrimental consequences as the original intent behind the message may be misconstrued or lost.

If we all are so truly sensitive to these non-verbal cues and tones, then such a “blind audition” experiment would at least remove part of the non-verbal channel from the interaction. As a result, we all become more open-minded and available as receivers of the message and, hence, a healthy climate for courageous thinking remains intact.

Of course, if it’s not possible to facilitate your next problem-solving meeting in such a way or if having your back to your colleagues proves to be just too awkward, then it’s always best to face mixed messaging “head-on” and to check for understanding when words, tones and non-verbal cues don’t align.

When was the last time you experienced mixed messaging and how did you handle it?

Build upon rather than to evaluate: Look for opportunities to make the idea better or stronger.  Build upon something that might have been offered by the presenter and make your own connections and build upon those ideas, those concepts.


Got something to say?