Saturday Feb 24

NORTHERN LIGHT - Open your eyes and use your vision in organizing! 

They say 90% of communication is nonverbal. A raised eyebrow, a slight smile, a slouch, even twitches and scratches, all say more than our words. Reading situations by reading body language enables organizers to know when and how to best make their ask. 

However, a rookie organizer's mistake is to make determinations based only on unspoken communication. 

No organizer has ever come back to the office at the end of the day and said, “I sensed no one wanted to join, so I didn't bother asking anyone to join.” Sadly, this is most likely what is taking place time and time again when new field organizers fail at the doors. 

Organizers need oral commitments. While it would be considered foolish to assume a smile is a yes, it is very common for people to assume a bad look is a hard no and then not even make the ask. 

Making negative judgements based on body language can even justify an organizational decision to not do field work altogether. This, along with bogus claims about door-knocking being intrusive, often misguides organizations into determining that video making and social media is a better use of resources than actually talking to people in person. 

The fact is that a bad look - a grimace, a furled brow, a sided eyed glace - is often not about you at all. It could be the result of a lousy day a person has had, a headache they have, or they could just look that way all the time! Even if the look we got is a negative reaction to us knocking, it is the organizer’s job to read the situation with their eyes, and change the rap accordingly: drop some humor, kill them with kindness, and get to a better spot to make your ask.  The people shooting you negative looks at the start of the rap are often the ones signing up by the end of it.  It’s called “testing.”

Not only can you read people through their body language, you can also get your message across using it. Upwards of 90% of it! Out of all of the ways you can communicate, your eyes are likely the most vital. 

I had a bird’s eye view of communication through the eyes at a John Scofield show earlier this week. The guitar master and former member of Miles Davis’s band (put on U’n’I by Miles Davis right now and thank me later) wasn’t staring at his fretboard trying to get his fingers right on a chord like I do. Scofield was using his eyes to signal to his bandmates when to come in, when to soften their play, or even when to end their parts. Some signals were subtle, but the eyes would grow more obvious and declarative if his bandmates were not paying attention to the cues. Eye contact is key. 

I have always been fascinated and inspired by old pictures of Maurice Richard, the famed hockey player. His piercing eyes showed confidence, determination, and ferocity. Some might say I took this inspiration a few steps too far when door-knocking as a young organizer. Yet, the same people would also agree that the importance of the campaigns and issues ACORN was working on consistently came through loud and clear when I was at the doors, often without saying a word! 

Good or bad. Love it or hate it. You want your organizing to be noticed enough that people are forced to have an opinion on it. If the reaction to you coming around the neighborhood is just ‘meh’, you are not doing it right. 

By opening their eyes, organizers can make getting noticed in the neighborhoods something that they can control. Which is good because we are always in a better position when we can make things happen rather than just hoping things happen. 


John Anderson is the Field Director for ACORN Canada. Since 2004 John has helped to develop the ACORN Canada operations in Toronto, Ontario, and British Columbia.