Chapter 9 - The Nonverbal Future
The author reviews some of the generational differences in workers: Silent, Boomer, GenX, and Millennial generations each brought different cultures and values to their work, and the nature of the workplace is changing, and the future leaders of business are members of another generation, presently unnamed.
(EN: A great deal of generalization and speculation follow in this chapter, much of which seems very out of step with other generational studies I have read. It seems to me a great deal of musing, of questionable value. And so, I'm going to preserve bits and pieces that seem germane to communication skills.)
The Next Generation of Leaders
The Silent generation did business face-to-face, Boomer over the telephone, Generation X by email, and Millennial by text messaging.
The first three generations grew up in face-to-face interactions and then carried these skills to the new methods of communication that technology provided. Millennial kids, meanwhile, spent more time during childhood on computers than playing and learning to be social with other human beings.
This pattern continues into their adulthood. Even in face-to-face social situations, they turn to their mobile devices, ignoring the people around them to interact with their online friends
As a result of their isolation during childhood, Millennial kids developed communication habits backward to other generations, carrying conventions of digital interaction to face-to-face encounters (and often in a very clumsy fashion).
Future Communication Technology
- One new technology (EN: which has already either gone out of business or been assimilated, as its site is gone) promises to provide a 3D world similar to "second life" for businesses where environments are offices and conference rooms using live video images into which remote workers can interact through microphones and cameras built into personal computers.
- A project under development in academia aims to develop avatars that have a more realistic visual appearance, and which use cameras to read and replicate an individual's actual body language, movements, and expressions in real time.
- Another university is working on replacing people in virtual worlds with "bots" that leverage artificial intelligence to handle routine transactions. She suggests that, since the developers are paying close attention to nonverbal elements of communication it is not so farfetched to imagine that after a few more decades it may be impossible to distinguish them from real people.
- A number of companies are partnering to develop holographic teleconferencing, which projects a three-dimensional image of a person into a specially-equipped room, which enables them to leverage the full range of nonverbal communication to an audience, as if they were there in person.
The Future of Leadership
The author predicts that workers will no longer need to gather in an office building in a given geographic location but will interact virtually from various locations around the world in networked teams. Leadership will continue to evolve away from command and control into connecting people and facilitating their interactions.
This also requires a change in the way that leaders must project themselves, from isolated despots who issue directives from ivory towers to participants on the front lines, building trust and encouraging employees to contribute.
Five Predictions for the Future of Body Language
These things considered, the author has five specific predictions for the future of body language.
The visual technology revolution will make body language skills even more crucial than they are today.
The author suggests that video and holographic communication will transform communications from text-based messaging into a more visually rich form of communication, meaning that people will no longer be "hiding behind a computer screen" but will become visible to others - hence body language will be more exposed.
(EN: I beg to differ. Being able to see other people is appealing to the older generations who are used to face-to-face communication, but younger generations are more comfortable with text-only communication. The previous belief was that people didn't use teleconferencing because it was expensive and difficult and that when the technology was developed people would flock to it. However, the technology for videoconferencing has been available, free, and easy to use for some years now and people still are not using it. The Millennial generation favors text messaging even over phone calls, and prefers to keep a distance from other people.)
A young generation of ''leaders-in-training'' may need additional training in nonverbal communication.
The author presents some evidence (Lin 2008) that dependence upon technology has stunted the communication and social skills of Millineal workers. This is not merely a matter of lacking the etiquette necessary to converse with other people face-to-face, but the way in which language is processed in the brain has been rewired by the experience of digital communication (and lack of experience in face-to-face communication).
What is being discovered is that this diminishes the attention span, language skills, and social skills - as well as the ability to recognize emotions in other individuals and express emotions. She suggests that human beings are born hard-wired to understand body language and use it in communicating, and the younger generation has the basic innate abilities, though they have been replaced by learned behaviors or habits developed by remote and impersonal channels of communication.
(EN: This is an interesting observation, but it also seems to stem from the notion that young people must conform to the way that older people do business. That may be true for a time, but it might also be considered that if face-to-face communication is phased out, the skills necessary to interact in person will no longer be needed except to communicate to "old people" whose behavior will become increasingly quaint and anachronistic. So the need for Millenial workers to practice behaviors that appease the Boomers will only be necessary in the transition phase.)
The body language of effective leaders will become increasingly ''warm.''
The author previously contrasted the male body language (authority and power) and female body language (warmth and empathy) and indicated that the male patterns are well-suited to traditional leadership style where a manager commanded drudges to perform actions, while the female pattern is better suited to the new leadership style of collaborating, coordinating, and connecting people. This means that the "soft side" of nonverbal communication will become of increasing importance.
(EN: This is true only when managing knowledge workers. Those who propose this seem to believe that the future will be full of artists, programmers, managers, and other people who work with ideas. That has been the trend in some developed economies - but there will likely always be far more people who do drudge-work and where authoritative task-based leadership remains relevant. It's already been suggested that there is a great deal of inefficiency in systems in which many people talk about what ought to be done, whereas few actually do the work that others have created by all their talk.)
Body language research will focus more on business and leadership applications.
The author provides no elaboration on this, but merely mentions that she is constantly receiving "updates" from people in the fields of neuroscience, social science, psychology, and other fields that validate nonverbal communication and its value to business leadership.
(EN: I think she may be setting up for her next book here. However, there has been an explosion in these fields, and much of it is focused more on practical application than the exploration of theory, particularly to motivation and behavior in general.)
Authenticity will be increasingly revealed through body language.
Leadership has always been about character and trust - but in the traditional world of business, leaders had a relatively long time to build their credibility through long-term personal relationships with others in their organizations.
Because organizations have become destabilized: people change jobs every few years and companies rise, all, merge, and reconfigure themselves. A leader does not have decades, or even years, to slowly develop trusting relationships, but must establish his authority and build trust with new people constantly. Nonverbal communication is critical to doing so - and those who have knowledge and skills will be at an advantage over those who do not.