What does your tone of voice reveal? While you may spend a lot of time framing your messages, especially when making a major public presentation, your inflection and attitude also can be conveying another story.
Researchers at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business studied 1,647 quarterly earnings calls from 691 firms in 2007, analyzing the voices of CEOs and CFOs during earnings calls. They used software to analyze their voices — searching for cues linked with lying. Their findings: Execs’ whose tone contained the most cues also had financial statements that were later restated. Negative emotions were most likely to come out during the question-and-answer periods with analysts, when the CEO or CFO had to respond off-the-cuff and his or her true emotions came out, the Duke researchers found.
As Reuters’ Breaking Views notes, this software isn’t a foolproof method for detecting lying. “Their method can identify lying about 61 percent of the time, or 11 percent better than chance, roughly the same as analyses of financial accounting information.”
Still, other studies have pointed to the importance of non-verbal cues. Albert Mehrabian, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles, is known for coining the “7/38/55 rule,” which states that impressions are based 7% on what you say; 38% on how you say it; and 55% on your body language.
What can C-suite execs take away from this Duke study? Investment Executive interviewed experts who coach executives in communication, and they suggested the following:
- Talk with your hands. Author of The Nonverbal Advantage and The Silent Language of Leaders, Carol Kinsey Goman says that conveys openness.
- Convey positive feelings through positive body language. Smile — even if you are on a phone call in which no one can see your face. Sit upright. “The body and mind are interconnected,” Kinsey Goman tells Investment Executive.”If you want to feel an emotion…then sometimes you need the body to take on that position first.” She notes a University of California study in 1990 found that people instructed to make a happy face became happier inside.
- Speak in an even tone. If you talk in questions, you’re conveying uncertainty.
- Don’t touch your face, which is associated with lying. “When you tell a lie, certain body parts may become engorged with blood and feel itchy,” one expert tells Investment Executive.
- Don’t fidget. Playing with a pen or finger-tapping can be interpreted as insecurity or uncertainty. “If you say one thing and your body does another,” Kinsey Goman says, “people will believe what they see and not what you say.”
An Economist article, "Corporate Psychology: How to Tell When Your Boss Is Lying," offers some interesting insights into verbal communication skills. Drawing upon another study, called "Detecting Deceptive Discussions in Conference Calls,” the article points out which word choices during earnings calls -- "fantastic," for instance, instead of "good" -- can be signs that the CFO or CEO is lying.
Former FBI agent Joe Navarro offers additional tips on how to read non-verbal cues. Before you're going on stage, you might want to check out Carol Kinsey Goman's blog post, "7 Tips for Effective Body Language On Stage."