I don't know about you, but in my mind, I am amazingly eloquent when I open my mouth. I'm not always so lucky. Today we are all lucky because we will explore communication best practices that come from neuroscience. I'm Matt Abrahams and I teach Strategic Communication at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Welcome to Think Fast.
Talk Smart, the podcast. I am so excited to be joined by Baba Shiv, who is a professor of marketing at the GSB, Baba has done extensive work on emotion and motivation in shaping decisions and experiences. Welcome, Baba.
Yeah. Thanks, Matt. Thanks. A pleasure to be here with you.
One thing I and others love about working with and learning from you, Baba, is your amazing energy and passion for what you do. I look forward to an energetic and educational conversation. Shall we get started?
Absolutely. Excellent. So you're a neuroscientist by training. Can you help us understand how you approach studying the topics you explore, especially when it comes to communication? The fundamental fundamental premise this is based in all the evidence out there that most of human decisions and human behavior is shaped by emotion and not the reason that if you ask me to put a number to this, based on all the evidence out there, I would conjecture something like 90 to 95 percent of our decisions of behavior is constantly being shaped, not consciously, but emotional brain system.
Wow. So if you if you think about from that lens and for communication, the first and first thing to do is, is to play into the emotional brain rather than the rational brain. Right. That's the fundamental premise when it comes to neuroscience and communication.
So when we think about what it is we want to say and who we want to say it to and how we want to say it, you're saying lead with thoughts about emotion and really planned from the emotional perspective. Is that what I'm hearing? That's right.
I mean, the basic idea is that if you look at most people, what they do, what they're trying to persuade others and they're trying to communicate to others, they present rational arguments. And you can see this happening time and time again. There'll be a 30 slide deck packed with numbers and charts and so on. Right. And we fail to recognize that the emotional rational being only about five to 10 percent of human decisions. I'm not saying I can ignore the rational side.
You have to provide enough fodder for the rational brain to rational. But first and foremost, you need to play into what the emotional brain is looking for. And that will actually depend upon the mindset of the individual. If the person in a risk averse mindset are a risk tolerant type to mindset right up and deceptive that I borrowed from statistics. We all know about the Type 1A around the fact that there is a fear of making a mistake that generates a fear of missing out on opportunities.
Actually, it's not exactly a desire for new opportunities. So to figure out what kind of state the brain is and what mindset it is, because the brain has two separate circuitry, one for risk averse behaviors and one for respondent behaviors, and to really understand where that person is in the mindset that the type or the type to play into that, that's really fascinating.
So we have spent a lot of time across the various episodes of this podcast in different ways, talking about getting to know your audience. But I like how you're distinguishing this between a type one and type two. What are some of the things you look for or could ask to to ascertain where your audience is in terms of the way they approach your communication? So many different things, right? One is, for example, the time of day really matters, right?
When we wake up in the morning, serotonin levels are at their peak. And I'd be happy to talk more about that as we go along. And so if if it's in the morning, you know that that person's brain is much more open to new ideas because the brain is more likely to be in a type to mind set, assuming, of course, that the person has a good night's rest. Right of the function during the day, serotonin levels are going to decline, which means that the person is going to shift more to the type one side, which means that it's going to be in the afternoon.
I want to kind of weave into the communication things that will bring about comfort. Having to wait to switch the brain into a more open risk in mindset is to first and foremost bring in a state of comfort to the brain. So how do you do that? You, in the familiar familiarity, brings a lot of comfort to the brain, right? It could be trust tried and trusted. Right. That brings a lot of comfort to the brain.
It could be validation testimonials. I'm not only one saying this, that other people think this. And of course, the other techniques that you can use and you can talk about this as we go along is to induce laughter. Laughter is one of the fastest ways to alleviate stress and get the person's brain into a more risk tolerance mindset.
So it sounds to me like, based on what you've just shared is early in the morning, that's a great time to do brainstorming and position new ideas. And later in the afternoon is when you tell your jokes and you try to build trust.
Is that what I'm hearing? Yeah. We actually recently in a recent episode, dove into the value of human communication. And you're exactly right. It really accelerates people's openness and willingness to listen. That's great. I love that you're talking about how the context influences communication and addresses or influences immediately somebody's receptivity to your messages.
So in researching this episode and it was a lot of fun, you do lots of interesting work in a very domains. I came across an old GSB Insight's article and it was entitled The Art of the Imperfect Pitch. Can you share with us best practices you've learned in your research that can help us persuade others beyond what we've already talked about? Well, happy to share that. So this is called the IKEA effect, IKEA fixes like IKEA, where I go to get my furniture and they get frustrated putting it together.
IKEA store IKEA with in quotes, by the way, because the like assembling the furniture, sometimes it's frustrating. Yes. I say is that whenever the brain perceives that it is making an investment in something, it could be mental, it could be physical, it could be monitoring. The brain gets invested in this along with another observation that comes from my teaching at the design school at Stanford. And the design school has a mechanical engineering section where the prototypes coming off will all be polished because they have 3D printers, et cetera.
And the other section is the what we call the hot section, the aluminum foil foam. So the prototypes are going to be rough. And what is fascinating is that time and time again and backed up by the research I'm doing right now, is that if you present a polished prototype, others will only find flaws. If you present a rough prototype, others would see potential. Wow. Think about this is in the very early stages of an idea.
If you want to influence a stakeholder, just go to the person with a rough prototype, back up the napkin on a whiteboard, whatever it is, and and seek advice.
When the person starts providing advice, then your idea will become that person's baby as well. The most effective way of persuading people is for the person you want to persuade, persuade himself or herself. Mm hmm. Sure. That's the most effective way. Right? Because if the person believes that it is her own idea or his own idea, then the person is, you know, the person is going to trust. It's going to be familiar because who does the person trust the most?
So that's that's also consistent with the saying that Malcolm would be familiar with in Silicon Valley. This is famous saying that if you're a startup and you go to an investor for money, you're only going to get advice. If you go for advice, you're going to get money.
Yes, absolutely. Many of our students, many of the people I coach and I'm sure you come across want to get the pitch just right. They want it to be perfect. And what I'm hearing from you, especially early on, is it's less about perfection and more about being open and direct and seeking feedback and advice. That's what's really going to help you.
That's right. And that's a related phenomenon here. Now, of course, it cannot be used in all contexts. And I want the listeners to be very careful about this, that if you're only going to be reporting out, then an imperfect pittas can actually backfire. Right. Right. So it depends on the goal of the communication. If you want to persuade others, there's a related phenomenon called the hairy arm phenomenon.
I don't know if you're familiar with the hairy arms like hair on your arms. OK, I have to remember that it's an apocryphal story where an advertising executive makes the picture perfect pitch to apply. And at the end of the pitch, the client goes, let me think about it. So the executive goes to the boss and say, what happened? I mean, this was the picture perfect pitch. And the boss says, you made it too perfect.
Right? So you're making the pitch after the person goes and wants to contribute, wants to come in, but is not able to contribute, and therefore is left with this feeling that there must be something wrong. But I'm not able to put my finger on it. So let me kind of delay. Let me think about it. So what the boss says is that's what Harry ALM is. The boss says that pay you know, that the pitch that you made are showing showcasing the ad campaign at the end, you have this person holding the product, make that person's arm hairy.
So the client is going to say, I like this. Oh, I see the Harry, get rid of that.
And we're fine. I see. Perfect. So you give them something to look at. I love that story.
But the important thing to remember is that you don't want to start with the Harry at the beginning of the pitch. Right. It is one of the first impressions matter. All right. And so you don't want to start off coming across as being incompetent at the beginning. But if you want to leave a small amount of an imperfection out there, that is much better selling.
I see. So I'm wondering to me, it strikes me that this approach would not only help with persuasion, but even in giving feedback. For example, many of us, when we give feedback, we fixate on saying it just right. So the person is likely to to change the behavior of the approach that they have. And it might make sense to to seek their their input or their guidance or invite them to participate so that they become more invested in it.
Correct. And the other thing also, and I'm not the expert at this one, is that to be a good communicator, you have to be a good listener. And you've got to be what I mean by listening is that it's not just the auditory part of it, but you've got to pay careful attention to the audience that you're talking to. Right. Right. And allow the person to talk, allow the person to talk, because then the person has ownership over the idea, right?
Yeah, there's a lot of research, as you might be aware, that that talk time matters and fostering trust and feeling a sense of involvement and engagement comes from the other person talking more than you do, if that's your goal, to get them more engaged in feeling, trusting. So listening is important for listening is important and also having problems out there.
So what is what is kind of top of mind for you? What is giving sleepless nights to you? Right. Let me kind of get a sense of where you're coming from and how I can be of help. Don't I cannot guarantee that I would be able to come up with suggestions that are the best suggestions out there. But at least I can serve as a sounding board for you and then figure out if I can help you. All right.
So it's making invitations and offers to help and also learning what's important for the other to get them talking so you actually have something to listen to. So I like that a lot. And this is a nice bridge to my next question, which on this podcast, we've talked a lot about changing our behavior to better hone our communication. What are some other useful techniques that we can use to attain the goals we have, especially when it comes to communication change?
Oh, first and foremost, in my opinion, the tactic is go for any practice that will will kind of distress. You write anything and this can range from in some cases, just take some deep breaths. It could be visualising the audience and and seeing visualizing the other person being very receptive. It could be laughter. It'll be real laughter. Even fake laughter will kind of be suppressed. You the reason that is important is because if we don't do that, if we are not in the right state and what I mean by red state, if you are stressed, then your brain tends to adopt frames that are much more risk averse.
Mm hmm. And it doesn't allow you to experiment you because you're coming out of fear. Mm hmm. Right. So the main topic I say is the just feel comfortable in your own skin. Are you are you comfortable out there or are you still stressed that sometimes you don't know that? So that's why practices like meditation is so very crucial, not just for health reasons, but also for communication reasons. To be good communicator, your brain needs to be a lot more resilient to stress.
Mm hmm. Right. I mean, you have done this talking to an audience. And what will happen is that when you want to crack a joke and this has been part of what you what you plan to do and you get into the stressful situation, the joke will fall flat. Oh, yeah. Right, right. Some of the things that I'll do is I'll do the following. Oh, I've got to tell you a joke. I laugh myself before I tell the joke and then people start giggling.
Right. Because that's a natural human tendency. If someone else and someone is laughing, you're going to laugh yourself and it's infectious and then I'll crack the joke. So there are these kind of techniques. But the most important thing, I believe, is that, of course, you need to know your audience. The first thing you've got to know, and you probably have been mentioning this time and time again, we have to believe that the most critical factor here is you are in a state of comfort.
Right. And we've talked about this interestingly, we've had a couple of guests, Christian being one of them, who you teach with, and Dan Klein, who I know, you know, when it comes to to this improvisational mindset in in really the logic is the same. We get in our own way through our anxiety and the pressure we put on ourselves. And if we can actually learn to relax, that allows us to achieve our goal much more readily and be much more present oriented to self.
And you've got to understand that the way the brain is working is all this instinctual brain systems are shaping it. If you're stressed, then what happens is that it will completely shape the frame that you're adopting about the audience, about your content, etc, and your body language is also going to tell a lot of our ability to persuade. As we all know, that's not just depend upon what we seeing, but how we are saying. Right. And so if you're not in that state, I mean, it is one show the tools that we reveal for sure.
I have enjoyed so much getting some of your tips. I'm wondering, do you have any other tips that we haven't discussed that you think might help us be more effective communicators?
Absolutely. So if it is going to be a very important piece of thing, you're giving a talk to an audience, a large audience out there. I would just say go to bed early, as you often do, get a good night's rest. Don't sacrifice on sleep. I know people doing this that they will keep on practicing the talk and to the night and get about three hours of sleep before the get of the talk. If you have not had a good night's rest, guess what?
Your your brain chemicals are going to be such that you are going to be risk averse. You will then adopt a frame of mind where your brain is already thinking about failure. That's the wrong state to be in. If you didn't get a good night's rest, that could happen, right? I mean, you're traveling like mad. You do this and I have done this. You travel across time zones, right. And get into jet lag and stuff like that.
So one of the things I very quickly do, I'll order food that is comfort food for me. OK, right. So for me, it is growing up in India and you talk to most Indians, that is yoga. Right. So I will just go order some plain rice, get some yogurt, plain yogurt, mix it up and have it because you need to have that comfort food brings a lot of comfort. And then if I'm not able to sleep that night, I will go for a run in the morning because running also within about fifteen minutes of of a run serotonin levels, some of the chemicals in the brain will actually be will increase.
And then you get into the right kind of escape and you're giving the talk. Great, I love that any excuse to eat my comfort foods, I'll take so I'm now going to tell everybody Barbara told me to.
But even if it would be a little bit of everything. Right. And I know you're in fantastic shape.
I don't know if you remember one of the first times you and I met, we went for a walking meeting and I thought we were walking. But you're walking. Pace is a lot faster than my right.
I call it the talk. Talk on a walk. Yes. And people would kind of got everything right.
It's more like a Toigo because you're jogging and or at least I was behind.
But Baba, I'd like to ask you the same three questions I ask everyone who joins me.
Are you up for that? Oh, yeah, of course. Excellent. So if you were to capture the best communication advice you have ever received as a five to seven word presentation slide title, what would it be? The advice I got from my boss when I first got into sales, technical selling, you said just be yourself. Don't try to be someone else.
It's much harder to be someone else for sure. I'm very curious about this. Who is a communicator that you admire and why?
So, I mean, it goes on to mention two names for you. Yes. And they come with they're very different in terms of styles and so on. So what is Warren Buffett? Right. Of course, very kind of friendly, open, honest. But words were his words that come out of his mouth are things that you just want to write down and keep repeating all the time. Yeah. And they move markets and they do bull markets.
And the second one is the person I admire is Winston Churchill, because I'm a history buff. And when you go through his communication, the speeches that he gave. Oh, my God. I mean, you can see and you can actually go to some of the libraries and see how he worked on his speeches. He would go redraft, redraft, redraft it, and then and then even intonations to be made where he'll actually have this. This is where I have to emphasize things.
Yeah. Imagine he just moved a nation and actually moved the nations of the world to fight what was going to be a very dark period in our history. Right. And just to think about how he inspired a nation to actually fight and not give up is incredible, if you think about it.
Oh, absolutely. And I encourage anybody who wants to learn more. Here's the history of his oration. And learning to be a good communicator is an example of just pure tenacity and really working to be better because he did not start off where he ended up. Let me ask question number three. What are the first three ingredients that go into a successful communication recipe from your perspective?
So if I have to use the cooking metaphor, OK, I would say know who you are cooking for. Second is, do you have the right ingredients?
Mm hmm. Are you excited about it? So help me understand.
So I love that and I like that you related it to the question very specifically. When you say right ingredients, you're talking about make sure you're in the right frame. Your audience is in the right frame. You're excellent. Very good.
And also in terms of the content and how the how when the content has been delivered has to be done, because in terms of cooking, there is a recipe to be followed. Sure. And each person has their own recipe over a period of time of how to be effective as a communicator. We all develop our own. If you're not, you've got to become self aware of the recipe for your success. So go back to the times when you were very effective as a communicator, very proud of, and ask yourself what did you do there and what did you not do to make that effective?
Each person has his or her own recipe. Don't try to adopt someone else's recipe. Right? Of course, learn from the experts because the experts have already done it. You don't have to learn the whole thing, but then you adapt that recipe to your own style. That is so important that that taking time to reflect, I think, is so critical in any skill you're trying to develop, but especially communication. This has been wonderful. Thank you so much.
I knew we would learn a lot from you and we would have a lot of fun. And I am going to go make myself some macaroni and cheese now. And we really appreciate you sharing your perspective on communication and how neuroscience can help us be better, more effective communicators. Thanks again. Thank you, Matt. It was a delight. Thank you very much.
Thank you for listening to Think Fast. Talk Smart, the podcast, a production of Stanford Graduate School of Business. To learn more, go to GSB that Stanford dot edu.