Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Personality Resonance

My grooming preferences are standard fare:  I shave my head; my facial hair is typically in a crescent moon shape (half goatee); my clothes are business casual leaning toward the "I look like I make more money than I do" look; etc.  Occasionally, I'll change the shape of my facial hair, but the rest typically does not vary much.

"Where are you going with this," you ask.

Last week, I had a meeting with the Global PMO group of a large medical device company.  On the morning of the meeting I explicitly decided to not shave my head.  In fact, I hadn't shaved it in a week and there was already close to 1/8" of an inch of growth.

The questions that I am sure are burning in your minds are, "Why would I go against my normal preparation routine? And why are we still talking about grooming?"

Although I run the risk of stereotyping, I knew that the group of people I would be meeting with were conservative in their demeanor.  This is partially due to the fact that the company is a multi-national with its headquarters in Japan.  These roots permeated the entire corporation, so I knew the culture would be conservative in general.  Additionally, the average age of the staff member in this group was mid-40's and they are a highly analytical bunch, meaning that they were less inclined to favor a personal presentation style (read: more grooming) that was, relative to them, more aggressive.

In 2005 when I switched careers from an IT Geek (said most lovingly in case any of my readers currently fall into this category) to Sales, my manager took me under his wing.  Ken Wilson knew that I would have trouble not only communicating the value of my message but also getting the audience to be willing to receive it.  I've talked about the importance of good communication several times in this blog in the past, but I've never mentioned the concept of personality resonance.

The concept is simple:  the greater the number of personal characteristics that you can match up to the decision maker with whom you are communicating, the more effective you'll be in your communication regardless of how eloquent you are.  This is more than just matching speaking cadence and volume - it extends to manner of dress and other non-verbal mannerisms.

Why does this work?  The concept is simple.  By matching your style and mannerisms to that of the intended recipient, you are putting them at ease.  This is accomplished for two reasons:  firstly, they are comforted by a familiar way of interacting with you since it is the same way that they would respond if someone engaged them in a similar manner; secondly, by removing the unexpected you are significantly reducing the number of distractions they experience, which allows them to focus on the message and not the surroundings.

(Of course, I need to add that I do not have a background in psychology so the previous paragraph is simply my own observations, and it has no empirical data to back up its assertions.)

Returning to the original example, by being more conservative in my appearance (and subsequently in my demeanor during the meeting) I hoped to have them more engaged and willing to listen to what I had to say to them.  As a result, I now have a commitment from the executive that was present in the meeting to go beyond the tactical discussion we had and to venture into a longer, more strategic view of their IT division and how I can help them succeed in specific initiatives they had hoped to undertake.  In my book, that makes the meeting a success.

And the next morning I shaved my head.

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