In my podcast, I explore the many different facets of the world of high tech from development to marketing, to sales, to entrepreneurship, all with the goal of collecting key insights on startups for listeners to gain value from this knowledge-sharing. So, what did I discover this week?
As humans, we communicate in many ways that are not just the spoken word. Whether it is through gestures, eye contact, posture, positioning, etc., we have many more ways than just our words to get a point across. Moreover, in recent years with the adoption of digital technologies, first email and now video calls, there are even more ways for us to communicate that again do not just rely on speech.
However, the adoption of these technologies has not necessarily helped us in being understood better. Email lacks the voice that speech has- meaning that sarcasm, wit, humour, and even seriousness can be misunderstood. Addressing an email to someone can also be very important in conveying certain sentiments. Likewise, in a video call, we miss a large amount of non-verbal communication or subtext, as it is often termed since we see only the face of the individual, and often miss hand gestures, body posture, and even eye contact, in some cases.
When talking about non-verbal communication in business negotiations and dealmaking, what you say is not always what matters, and the subtext can often be more significant. Ori Manor Zuckerman, founder, and CEO of Substrata is building a machine-learning-based solution that can accurately interpret the subtext in emails and video calls. While initially trying to better map office politics, Ori has instead developed a methodology that can help dealmakers close more by better understanding the hierarchy, emotional expressions, and complexities they are presented with in any dealmaking environment.
What is Non-Verbal Communication and Subtext?
Ori explains that non-verbal communication is made up of several elements of how humans communicate. “We see communication as a sphere of 3 layers, like the Earth, the crust is like syntax, the face value of the language, what we say, the middle layer is semantics or contextual meaning, and there is even a deeper level of meaning, the core, and that is pragmatics, the interpersonal or social meaning.” In essence, these layers all come together to form the basis of communication as we know it. However, when analyzing these ‘spheres’, we come to understand that, to a lesser degree with syntax, semantics and pragmatics rely heavily on elements of non-verbal communication. For example, the context of a set of email exchanges can change drastically their meaning just like how introductions or seating arrangements at a table can impact human interaction.
“These things matter a lot when it comes to sales and dealmaking, because there are a lot of power dynamics, and it is a big factor,” Ori adds, even if some major players would like to ignore it. His goal is to make people aware of these aspects of non-verbal communication since many people may even know about them but do not know how to apply them. The fact of the matter is that these nuances in speech and interaction can often be very big determinants of future results and successes. The more people choose to ignore elements of non-verbal communication, like semantics and pragmatics, the more inefficient they will be at communicating. In a business and dealmaking setting, this can prove to have dire consequences, and perhaps, even scuttle deals.
Dealmaking Powered by Social Signal Processing (SSP)
Social signal processing (SSP), as Ori says, is basically the process humans use to analyze these various contextual and socially based interactions. In a world where data and quantifiable solutions are growing in prominence, Substrata provides a way of turning traditional ‘soft communication skills’ and SSP into a quantifiable metric for success. Of course, we all have our own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to communication and Substrata can help dealmakers by pointing weaknesses out and offering suggestions for how to adapt accordingly to the situation. “We are not judges of character, we don’t believe in personality, we think you can be personality X when you talk to mom and Y when you talk to an investor, we care about the interaction right now, we deal with impression management,” Ori explains.
Imagine having a fly on the wall telling you to change your tone of voice on a video call because you are being perceived as too desperate. Or maybe you need to rephrase an email so that it gives you the power in an email exchange, instead of deferring to the sender’s power. With increasing reliance on emails and Zoom calls to close major sales and deals, Substrata’s solution provides an unprecedented answer for a previously untapped skillset. It is this type of data-based analysis that can help improve the way dealmakers approach their dealmaking partners and sell better and more effectively.
What makes Substrata unique is their focus on all these metadata, non-verbal cues in email and video. Many solutions, such as Gong or Chorus, that are in the market are much too focused on pure text or other parts of conversation that Ori suggests are missing the mark when it comes to truly helping their customers. “With our system, we can help dealmakers understand what they are doing so they do not repel the other party.” That means that as opposed to just monitoring what a person wrote they monitor how it will be perceived by the other side.
In addition, Ori also sees Substrata being able to expand to other parts of business. At the end of the day, communication is everywhere so dealmakers, while a good starting point, may be only one of a host of target audiences that this type of solution could help.
Long story short - the solution is already being used by many dealmakers and companies and, as a certified linguist, I myself cannot wait to get my hands on this and see the magic it can do.