You Had Me at Hello:

5 Ways to Communicate Beneath the Words        

by Jenny Davidow, M.A.

Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved

Words are only about 7 percent of your communication. Though your words may be perfect, the quality of your deeper communication is what either makes or breaks the connection. Learn how to recognize the subtle cues that enhance creative collaboration.

How can you make an immediate connection at “hello?” Beneath the words we speak to greet and converse with colleague or client, there is a communication we may not even be aware of. Even though our words may be right, there is something more that can either make or break the connection.

Remember the famous scene in the movie, “Jerry Maguire,” where Jerry (Tom Cruise) has come back to declare his love for Dorothy (Renee Zellweger)? He goes on and on, trying to convince her that now, at long last, he wants a relationship with her. Finally, she stops him with, “You had me at hello.”

Reportedly 93% of communication is not the words.* Whether it is with colleagues and clients, or in other business transactions, the most important part is beneath the words: in your body language, your voice tone, and your eye contact. The best communication begins with your intention to connect and a skill set that supports the 93% that is much more than a simple exchange of information:

1. Your intention. To keep communication open and fresh, we need to approach “hello” with interest. We want to know more about other people. We want to connect. In improv, this approach is called “Yes, and...” Whatever is offered by one person is accepted and built on as a team effort. This is the essence of creative collaboration.

2. Know your ‘bids.’ Every time you say “hello,” offer a handshake, make eye contact or ask a question, you are making a “bid” for connection. According to psychologist and researcher John Gottman,* a ‘bid’ is “the fundamental unit of emotional communication.” Awareness and skill in ‘bidding’ is as essential to success in business as it is in personal relationships.

Often, when colleagues make a bid by calling us or asking us to discuss an idea, we are unaware of the value in this small moment. Bids may slide by without our noticing them or answering them.

By shifting our awareness to register bids, a deeper layer of communication comes into focus. For example, when a colleague shares his or her idea with you, hear it as a bid. You might say, “Tell me more about it,” or ask a few questions, showing your interest. This is much more than being polite.

When you listen and then enter into the exchange of bids, something in you opens up. Now you’re getting new ideas too. Now your colleague is listening to you with interest. You’re feeling more connected. A simple exchange has led to a creative collaboration, a free flow of ideas for both of you.

You can make an effort to notice both your own and others’ bids, and then practice making your bids clearer and your answers to bids more responsive. Learning this takes practice, as with any skill. Now, after many years, I find that when I consciously register someone’s bid, I say to myself, “That’s a bid!”

3. Accept the ‘bids’ that come to you. Opportunities for closeness and connection surround us, Dr. Gottman says. When we accept a bid, we increase connection and invite more communication. It is very simple to accept a bid. When a client smiles at you, smile back. When you are asked by a colleague to lunch, say “yes.” And if you can’t say yes right now, offer another time as an alternative, rather than say “I can’t” or a flat no.

Dr. Gottman has observed that, in business and personal relationships, a healthy exchange of bids is a lot like a lively ping-pong game, volleying the ball back and forth with increasing energy and enjoyment.

“Complex, fulfilling relationships don’t suddenly appear in our lives,” Dr. Gottman writes. “Rather, they develop one encounter at a time.” By accepting bids and giving bids on a more conscious level, you actually feed the creative and collaborative process, building more interest, rapport and connection as you go.

4. Realize what it costs you to ignore, turn away, or turn against a ‘bid.’ It seems like common sense to know that when you reject or ignore a bid, the connection is damaged or broken. But most of us are unconscious of the impact our turning away has -- or what it may cost our business. Dr. Gottman says that a failed bid is rarely attempted a second time.

Many times people just aren’t paying attention, are distracted, or aren’t interested enough to notice a bid has occurred. But missing a bid has the same effect as ignoring or rejecting a bid.

When we don’t respond to a client’s questions or remarks, whether significant or casual, we miss an opportunity to connect. Dr. Gottman notes that consistently turning away from bids is destructive to all relationships. The bidder who is met with indifference or lack of enthusiasm usually gives up on attempts to connect. On the other hand, people who exchange many bids seem to build up a bank account of good feeling that increases trust, collaboration, and creativity.

5. Identify your bidding style. You can gain valuable insight by examining your own ‘bidding style’ and the bids others make toward you.

To take it further:

Every communication is a sort of ‘bid’ that asks to be answered. Bids are the glue that hold a conversation together and make it a collaboration. And isn’t every communication really a collaboration?

*This statistic was cited in a study at UCLA by Albert Mehrabian, which found that when words do not match the message sent by body language, facial expressions and voice tone, the nonverbal communication will be believed, not the words.

John Gottman, Ph.D., is quoted from his book, "The Relationship Cure."

Jenny Davidow, M.A., is a Communication Coach providing training and support to enhance your verbal and nonverbal skills, effectiveness in public speaking and in print media.

Fully align your words, intention and body language for your next presentation, article or report.

Communication coaching sessions by telephone, Skype and in person.

Visit and Communication Coaching for more information.