Lessons from Putin and monkeys on non-verbal communication

By Will Hardie

I came across this wonderful oddball interview with Madeleine Albright from a couple of years ago, about her habit of wearing brooches or pins to send messages on mood and diplomacy. My particular favourite is wearing a “hear no evil, speak no evil” monkey brooch to a meeting with Putin to send a message about Chechnya.

Also this line:

In order to get through a lot of complicated issues, it helps to have a little bit of humor. We were in talks with Syria and Israeli, which was very complicated, and the reporters wanted to know what was going on. I said to them, “sometimes talks, like mushrooms, do better in the dark for a little while.” So then, whenever someone from the press asked what was going on, I would just say, “mushrooms, mushrooms.” Then, I found a mushroom pin. And I was just able to point to the pin.

The whole article is worth a read. It speaks to me in two ways.

First, since my days as a journalist in the Balkans, I have always been deeply impressed with Albright as a master diplomat of the huge-brain school. This brooch/pin habit is an example of the glorious eccentricity that only truly great leaders can carry off and which — in fact — magnifies their mystique and even their power and influence in realpolitik because of the pure self confidence that it exudes. In this case, humour is an important ingredient.

Second, I can’t imagine a better example of the power of nonverbal cues in interpersonal communication. I came across the link to the Albright piece in another article on small-talk, as an example of how wearing or carrying an unusual item can be an ice-breaker.

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This article draws on content from the ISOC courses Advanced Public Speaking and Presentation Skills (2 days) and Presentation Training and Public Speaking (2 days), and from the ISOC knowledge base for Media Training.

About the author

Will Hardie is an experimental psychologist and Reuters journalist turned communication advisor and coach to top-level executives and government ministers. Will is a co-founder at ISOC and leads its global media training practice.

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