What Alec Baldwin Doesn’t Want You To Know About Match Game and Sarah Palin (a lesson in communication)

When I was growing up, we didn’t have cable.  In fact, I think we were only able to watch the three network channels and occasionally PBS if we lined up the giant antenna on our roof in just the right direction.  Fortunately, the networks had just enough shows to keep me entertained during the summer months and my favorite shows were Lost in Space and and Match Game hosted by Gene Rayburn.

Looking back and now being able to rewatch some of those Match Game episodes on YouTube thanks to The Game Shown Network, I realize I missed most of the adult humor, but I remember laughing a lot mostly because everyone on the show was having such a good time.  For some reason, my favorite episodes were those at the end of the year where Gene and ‘the cast’ would ceremoniously change out the Match Game sign (if you are feeling nostalgic, check out this clip from New Year’s Eve 1974).  Recently and quite by accident while flipping through the hundreds of channels I now have on Comcast, I saw Alec Baldwin in a reincarnated version of my beloved childhood show.

I watched when I realized one of the celebrity panelists was Sarah Palin (okay, I didn’t see that coming).  What I also learned quickly is this version’s adult humor is a lot less subtle and as others have described somewhat raunchy.  So I was wondering how this was possibly going to work between Baldwin and Palin and the general tenor of the show.

Contestant 1, a prim and proper motherly woman chose the first question. It went something like this – “When Superman was a young boy, he was frequently sent to the principals office for using his X-ray vision to stare at Wonder Woman’s [blank].”

The audience laughter and quick nodding and writing of the celebrity panel indicated there was an obvious and correct answer.

Contestant 1’s answer – “underwear”.

The audience summarily booed her and the celebrities hung their heads.  One after the other, they turned around their cards almost all having a variation of an answer involving Wonder Woman’s chest (fill in PG rated words to get the true answers they gave).

Almost all had this answer except for one celebrity.

Sarah Palin.

She matched contestant 1.

I didn’t finish the episode but I did think about the important lesson in communication this game and other game shows like Password and Pyramid teach us about communication.

I talk, teach, and write frequently on the use of nonverbals in communication and the power they have to enhance or detract from our messages.  Unfortunately, many times when learning about body language, people assume there are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ nonverbals and they don’t take into account context and the person they are communicating with.

Researchers at Columbia and Michigan State conducted a study where they showed a ‘persuasive’ video individually to ninety students about a new after-school assistance program [reference].  Students were randomized to watch one of two videos.  In both videos, the words used, the script, was identical.  The only difference was the presenter’s body language – in one video, their body language was “eager” and in the other “vigilant”.

Most body language articles and courses teach that an “open hand” stance like that in the “Eager” example is more inviting and therefore preferred.  However, what Cesario and Higgins found in their study is depending on the students (those watching the videos) goal orientation (whether the student was ‘wired’ to work toward or away from something) the type of nonverbal used had significant impact on the student’s receptivity to the video’s message.  [For more details on goal orientation and ‘regulatory fit’, see the end of this article].

In fact what worked well for one orientation was the exact opposite for the other.  There was no universally effective nonverbal.

So what does all of this mean and what do Match Game and Sarah Palin teach us?

It means there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ nonverbal skill, it all depends on connecting with people where they are, not where you are.  The motherly prim and proper contestant on Match Game was not going to give the raunchy answer most of the other celebrities gave, that wasn’t where she was coming from.  Sarah Pain made a match because she was already in the same frame of mind as the contestant.

To really communicate and connect with someone and meet them where they are, you have stop thinking about your message and what you are trying to say, and take in all of not just their words, but what the other person is doing and saying when they are expressing different emotions.  Do they raise their voice, lean in, talk faster, use their hands, flash their eyebrows, tap their feet, flare their nostrils, breath faster… you get the idea.  The key is to pay close attention, listen, and watch.  If you are truly doing this and putting them first, your own physiology and brain waves will start to sync with them.  This will create something frequently referred to as mirroring.

However, as I’ve written before for The Science of People, mirroring can go terribly wrong.  To do it right, here are four quick ways to get you started and if you remember nothing else, remember this:

Your Key to building rapport and a strong connection is to first feel that connection yourself. If you aren’t feeling it, they aren’t feeling it.

Your Key to building rapport and a strong connection is to first feel that connection yourself. If you aren't feeling it, they aren't feeling it. Click To Tweet
Here’s how:

  • Fronting: To start, you want to give the other person your complete attention. Start by fronting the other person, that is, squaring your body so you are directly facing them. They need to literally be the center of your universe.
  • Eye Contact: A funny thing about eye-contact, too little and you will seem tentative and too much you might seem creepy. Go for the middle ground. This not only demonstrates your interest level in the other person through your undivided attention, but according to Dr. Kerstin Uväs-Moberg in his book The Oxytocin Factor, making eye contact releases Oxytocin, the hormone that creates those warm feelings we feel when making a close connection.
  • Triple Nod: The triple nod does two important things. First, research shows when you do the triple nod, the other person will speak 3 to 4 times longer making them feel listened to and important. And second, when you nod, you are basically agreeing with what the other person is saying and this builds what scientists call a “yes set”.  It is like when a salesperson asks you a couple of simple questions like “Is it still June?”, or “It sure is warm today isn’t it?” you say yes (even if only in your mind) and research shows once you start saying yes, the more likely it is you will continue to do so. Yes sets build connections. So when you nod, you build your own yes set and further strengthen the connection you are making.
  • Pretend, then stop pretending: At this point, you are fronting the person, making appropriate eye contact and using your triple nod. Likely you are already feeling a very strong connection, but to fully complete it, use the power of your imagination. Do this by pretending the person you are with is the most interesting person you have ever met. Really imagine it and act accordingly. Then stop pretending.

These steps will help you build amazing connections and meet people where they are.  As a bonus, the next time you are sharing the stage with Alex Baldwin, you have the knowledge to go all the way to the final Match Game!

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Want to know how to Ace your next interview?  Check out these tips!

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The referenced study by Cesario and Higgins, categorized the ninety students viewing the videos by their ‘regulatory fit’.  Regulatory fit theory suggests that a match between orientation to a goal and the means used to approach that goal produces a state of regulatory fit that both creates a feeling of rightness about the goal pursuit and increases task engagement (Higgins, 2001, 2005).  There are two orientations – promotion focused and prevention focused