In this article, we will look at where we can improve in our verbal, vocal and visual communication and how these can impact the relationships we’re building (or unconsciously destroying as the case may be!).
We are all aware that face-to-face communication is the preferred form, to reduce the risk of someone misinterpreting your message. Using simple observation, through reviewing their body language and listening to the tone in their voice, you can gauge whether they fully understand.
Take for example the people in the picture below. Maybe the message that you are trying to get across is not an exciting one, but if it is important and needs to be clearly received by the audience, it is highly likely that these people do not even comprehend it because they are obviously not listening.
If you are communicating through some electronic means, such as email or a phone conference, there is no way for you to see how the audience is responding at the other end. So how can you ensure that they are receiving your message as intended?
In such situations, you might want to re-consider your means of communication. Perhaps Skype or video conferencing would be a better option, where you can read the body language of others and determine how engaged your audience is. Of course, there is still a risk that you are making incorrect assumptions – even if someone is sitting up straight and appearing engaged, how do you know that their brain is actually thinking about what they are going to have for lunch today, or what they are going to wear on their upcoming blind date?
Albert Mehrabian has published his conclusions on the importance of verbal and non-verbal messages. His communication model (also known as the 7%-38%-55% rule) is based on findings that the actual words being communicated amount to only 7% of the meaning being received as the speaker intended, whereas 38% is from the tone in someone’s voice, and the greatest amount (55%) being from the speaker’s body language.
Imagine, for example, that you are in an Agile Scrum team and you are in the middle of a sprint planning session. You have a round of planning poker where the Developer estimates a user story at 8 points, while the Business Analyst estimates 21 points. During the subsequent discussion, the Developer stands and expresses his opinion using a passionate and confident tone, waving his arms about for additional effect. When it comes to the BA’s turn, he quietly puts his point across using all the right words, but remains seated and not looking at the developer or rest of the team in the eye. It is most likely that the team are going to side with the developer when they re-negotiate their estimation, even if it is the BA’s whose point may be more accurate.
I’m not saying that we all need to be extroverts and constantly flail our arms about at meetings (as that could get a little dangerous), but it pays to be aware of the tone and body language when communicating – not only when tailoring your own communication but also be conscious of it when receiving it from your peers.
Here are some specific tips you can take into consideration on a day-to-day basis:
Verbal – how clear is your wording, could it be misinterpreted, remember that even emails have a tone in their messaging and misunderstood as a result;
Vocal – consider your tone, volume and pace of your speech, pausing for effect at important parts; and
Visual – body language (even in the way you sit), facial expressions, make eye contact, gestures, appearance, your movements.
Picture someone telling you verbally that they are on board with what you are saying (“yes, that’s fine”), but they are not making eye contact, they look anxious and they have closed body language – recognise these signs to realise that their body language is telling you quite the opposite.
Pre-plan so you know how to present your communication for different situations – decide how you will deliver it in advance, which will depend on how important the actual message is and who your audience is. If you are standing in front of a group of people and speaking, it is an awful feeling to notice that people have switched off and it is obvious they want to be elsewhere!
Try to turn these statements around to ensure people receive your communication clearly and remember it as you intended.
We are almost at the end of this article series. Expect the final instalment within the next month, when we will have fully constructed ideas of how to form cooperative relationships with those around you.
Other articles in this series:
Next: The final article in the Constructing Cooperative Relationships series "Part V – Building Powerful Connections & Summary"