It's Not What You Say; It Is How You Say It

Back in 1980, I started to work on my Ph.D. At the University of Pittsburgh. I was very interested in learning more about ways to influence change. As a disability advocate, we were anxious to see attitudes and opportunities change in the community. This agenda culled my interest in communication. 

As I dove into this topic I found some research that was being done that fundamentally shifted my thinking. That is, communication theory boils down this process to 2 key aspects. One is "content," what you want to say; and "affect," how you say it. My thoughts then were that content is more important than affect. That if you are clear with content, you will be the most effective. 

Then I read this research conducted by John Ware, at the Univerity of Illinois. He published his work in an article titled, "The Dr. Fox Effect," and his findings were powerful. In essence, what he did was hire an actor he dubbed, Dr. Fox. Then he adjust content down by literally having circular information that sounded impressive, but was essentially illogical. But he enhanced affect, by having Dr. Fox deliver the content in a dramatic, and entertaining fashion. After focused rehearsals, he had Dr Fox do a lecture at the University of Illinois for human service professionals and student. He then evaluated how they felt about the material and what they planned to do with it.

As you might imagine, what he discovered is that most of the audience was dupped by Dr Fox. In essence they were much more influenced by the affect, than the content. And most of the audience was not only impressed, but felt they could use his material in their work. Ware called this "The Dr. Fox Effect."

For my dissertation I reprised the Ware study, but rather than use bogus content, I kept the content strong and viable, and manipulated affect. I had my actor (dubbed, Dr Crawford) deliver good content in 2 different ways; one style I called "direct" or businesslike. The other style I called, "expressive," where Crawford was more antimated and enthusiastic in delivery. My results mirrored what Ware found; that the expressive style caused people to learn more, and the students reported feeling good about what they had learned.  This research has essentially changed the way I communicate today.

So, when you are communicating, either formally, or informally with others, remember, it is not so much what you say, but how you say it!