Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Elite Signals

People go to a great deal of trouble to communicate nonverbally. Clothes, haircuts, cars, houses, furniture. Very often they are trying to tell you something. For example, the beard. What does it mean? Some say it means, “I may be bald but I can still ‘do it.’” Or it may by saying “I want you to think I am not as conventional as I am.” And the Volvo of which I have owned many. For many it meant, “I am paying a really high price for a car to demonstrate that I am not a conspicuous consumer.” Now I am not so sure since the post-Ford Volvos ones feel tinny to me. The point is that you communicate either what you would like to be like or what would not be evident from just getting to know you.

So what is one to make of elite school signals. Ties, bumper or window stickers, etc. I think I read somewhere, although I could be making it up, that in timed experiments, graduates of Harvard mentioned it or worked it in someway within 4 minutes of any conversation. I know this is not non verbal but it does fit in the category of an appeal to a symbol as opposed simply allowing a person to know what you are really like.

But this is the question. If, as I believe, non verbal communication is really about something you are not or is generated by a fear that a basic unvarnished interaction does not portray you how you want to be portrayed, does that mean the elite school signalers actually realize that but for their symbols, no one would know the difference?

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