By the time you read this article, the snowstorm of Feb 10, 2010 that dumped 18-24 inches over much of Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania will be old news. However, the circumstances surrounding that day make for a great case study in productive behavior and how often actions speak louder than words.

Case Study: A mid-sized manufacturing firm whose sales team is struggling to meet forecasted sales objectives.

The day before the pending storm there was quite the commotion in the sales department about what the next day would bring, how much snow were they really going to get, will the roads be okay to get to the office, will we have the most difficulty getting home, and what are we going to do? The sales manager took the bull by the horns and made an executive decision and told the team the following. “Because we seem to be in for a huge storm and driving to and from the office will be a safety issue here is what we are going to do. Everyone will have the choice to work remotely from home tomorrow. Please feel free to take everything with you in order to make your calls from home. The team was given a measurable outcome that needed to be accomplished to consider the day productive. If a member of the team choose not to take their work home or did not meet his/her productivity number, then he/she would have to use a personal day. Let’s not waste time worrying about what tomorrow will bring. We can’t control the weather and we now have a plan in place. Let’s make the rest of today productive.”

The storm hits and for 24 hours they were blasted with unyielding snow. Worst storm since January 1996 the endless news reported. By mid-afternoon the major area highways and turnpikes were closed down to all traffic. The digging process was long and arduous for most.

How did the sales team fair, and what do their behaviors tell you?

• One salesperson actually braved the elements and made it to the office. That individual had a very productive day and met all of the objectives needed prior to trudging back home.

• Three sales people properly prepared and took all of their appropriate work home in an effort to work remotely the day of the snowstorm. Two out of the three folks could not make it to the office the day after the storm because they were still snow bound. However, they continued to work from home and focused on what they needed to accomplish.

• Two sales people decided not to take their work home making the decision to use a personal day. One remained snow bound for a second day and the other made it to the office.

With lagging departmental results and a sales team that says they are motivated by financial gain you might imagine the sales manager is dealing with a high level of frustration. What do the choices, actions, and behaviors of this sales team tell you?

There has been a great deal of research on the process of communication. Communication is much more than just the exchange of information. I believe communication is more deeply about what we are “saying” when there are no words coming out of our mouth. Albert Mehrabian, a researcher of body language in the 1950's, found that the total impact of a message is about 7 percent verbal, 38 percent vocal, and 55 percent nonverbal. According to Mehrabian, our behaviors and body language make up over one-half of the message we are communicating.

Anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell’s conducted an original study of nonverbal communication. Birdwhistell made some similar estimates of the amount of nonverbal communication that takes place between people. Like Mehrabian, he found that the verbal component of a face-to-face conversation is less than 35 percent and that over 65 percent of communication is done nonverbally. Barbara and Allan Pease of Pease International analyzed thousands of recorded sales interviews and negotiations during the 1970's and 1980's showed that in business encounters, body language accounts for between 60 and 80 percent of the impact made around a negotiating table and that people form 60 to 80 percent of their initial opinion about a new person in less than four minutes. Mehrabian’s, Birdwhistell’s, and Pease’s research goes a long way to confirm that our choices of body language, behaviors, and actions send the real message about what an individual values or finds to be important.

Here is a quick and easy test. The next time you are in a meeting of your peers, sit back and observe. You will begin to clearly see the physical messages people are communicating by watching facial expressions, posture, and other body language queues. This simple exercise will confirm that there is no doubt—actions speak and sometimes scream much louder than words. Similar to the sales team described above, actions are a key indicator of focus. Now let’s make it personal to you. Have you taken a good look at your nonverbal body language and messages you are sending? Are you communicating the message you want sent when you are not saying a word?