When testifying, whether before a legislative body or in a courtroom, the message begins the second you arrive, and components of that message include:
1) Your clothing; your hair; your makeup; your shoes; jewelry;
2) How you exit the car; your stride; where your eyes are focused; facial expressions; body language
Once you enter the arena (and a legislative body or courtroom is an arena), message development continues:
How you approach the legislative body; how you sit (or stand); who you sit with; where your hands and arms are; facial expressions; what material you have….
At this point, the beginning of your message, like it or not, has been developed. Now the verbal component of your message begins, and the nonverbal component continues.
Tony Hayward, appearing before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee, was well dressed, his body language entering the hearing did not set a bad tone, and his decision to sit center stage by himself, without attorney’s or staff, sent a powerful message of responsibility and openness. It was a great beginning.
As has been the case throughout this disaster, it quickly went downhill.
The sense of openness turned into 66 versions of “I don’t know.” The sense of responsibility turned into 23 versions of “I was not involved in those decisions.” The sense of deep sorrow and guilt turned into both abrupt and hostile answers. Body language and facial expressions turned defensive.
Granted, Mr. Hayward was in a no-win situation. However, the responsibility to handle no-win situations and deliver the organization’s message effectively is the CEO’s responsibility, not that of the small people.
Oil is gushing into the Gulf every minute of every day, and any goodwill that BP may have garnered after meeting with the President left after Mr. Hayward’s performance. Messages matter.
From Bloomberg Businessweek:
In his testimony yesterday, Hayward not only failed to convince lawmakers he was committed to making BP safer, he may have deepened suspicion of the company by repeatedly pleading ignorance to events that took place under his command, said Matt Eventoff, a partner at New Jersey communications firm, Princeton Public Speaking.
“Mr. Hayward’s comments today, saying ‘I don’t know’ 66 times, evaporated any feeling of responsibility,” Eventoff said. “Any goodwill that the company bought back yesterday eroded today with his testimony.”