Listening in a virtual world: Body language is False information

When listening to another avatar in a virtual world body language is FALSE information.  ‘Mehrabian’s Rule’ also known as the ‘7% – 38% – 55% rule’ will be a key hurdle for Second Life and other virtual worlds to address this 55%.  “Mehrabian’s research (Mehrabian 1981) indicated that when people are communicating feelings and attitudes only 7% of the message is conveyed by the words they use, 38% is conveyed by tone of voice and 55% by body language.”  Read more here.

If businesses and educators are going to move into virtual worlds and I think the will because of the benefits, this issues will need to be addressed.

The example that brought this to my attention was about 5 months ago in Second Life I was chatting and noticed that my conversation buddy had his arms crossed.  I thought the conversation was going fine: However, he looked “closed.” indicated by the folded arms.  After noticing it, I realized that the movements, animations, were programmed and not controlled by the person I was talking to in real time.  It did turn out that he was the one who programmed the animations.

We discussed it further and he mentioned that he often notices out-of-sync behaviors in discussion groups he frequently facilitates in Second life… and needed to remind himself that he programmed the actions.  This is because when you sit in his chairs, you can choose an animation like relaxed, thinking or maybe curled up.  You may be multitasking, angry and mentally checked out but your avatar looks relaxed in the chair sending incorrect information to the rest of discussion group.

Pain: Potential misunderstandings.

Part A.  I get FALSE body language information from your avatar when we communicate in a virtual world.   55% of the information my mind receives about your emotional state and your sincerity comes from your body language.  In a virtual world animations are pre-programmed.

Part B.  We “listen” to non-verbal communication mostly unconsciously.

Possible Solutions:
Part 1.  For now, awareness.  When we bring new people into a virtual world, we need to point this out to them and remind ourselves often.  I enjoy chatting with 6 other people in Second Life better than on a conference call, I just have to remind myself that the body language I see is not that of the person talking.

Part 2.
A long-term technical solution.  My guess is that long-term webcams will be connected to your avatar so facial expressions will be visible.

A short-term technical solution.  Another possibility is to use the virtual world for the presentation and practice: there are things you can do there that are not possible outside that environment.  Then to discuss it switch to webcams so we can capture a good portion of the 55% if that is important to the discussion.

Viewplicity is software that allows video chatting inexpensively and recording.

Conclusion: Virtual worlds are not a genie that will grant your every wish.  Virtual worlds are a tool.  Like all tools they work well for the job they are designed for.  To make an effective business decision, look at the benefits virtual worlds before looking at the risks and limitations. Then, compare to see if there are pools of profit in virtual worlds for you.

Jim Sutton
Facilitating Performance Improvement in the digital age
About Me Page

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