Every problem big or small starts with bad communication. Someone is not communicating their message clearly and/or someone is not listening. How good are your communication skills? Being an effective communicator requires that you are able to speak, listen, write and read effectively and clearly. It also means that you are comfortable with the different channels of communication – face to face, on paper, via zoom call, and so on.
Communication is a process where at least two individuals are involved, a sender and a receiver. For it to be successful, the receiver must understand the message in the way that the sender intended. It sounds simple and pretty straightforward, but it is not. Misunderstanding and confusion are commonplace and can cause conflicts and frustrations on a professional level but also on a personal level. Effective communication on the other hand can help understand people and situations, leading the way for an effective way to share ideas, meet challenging situations, and build better relationships at home and at work.
Effective communication starts with understanding the 7- 38 - 55% Communication Rule.
Did you know that only 7% of communication is verbal, 38% is tone and inflection of voice and a staggering 55% is body language? Professor Mehrabian formulated this 7-38-55% communication theory in 1967. He believed that there are three core elements in the effective face-to-face communication of emotions or attitudes: non-verbal behavior (facial expressions, for example), tone of voice, and the literal meaning of the spoken word. These three essential elements, Mehrabian argues, account for how we convey our liking, or disliking, of another person.
Professor Mehrabian's particular focus was on the importance of such non-verbal clues when they appear to conflict with the words used and/or tone in which they are spoken. He sought to investigate the impact of the spoken word and facial expressions on an individual’s ability to discern liking in another person and came to the conclusion that the literal meaning of the word counts much less than the tone of voice and the body language used to express those words.
Your facial expressions, hand movements, gestures, eye contact, attitude, tone of voice, the way you look, listen, react, speaks far more about your feelings than words will ever be able to. The way you feel about a particular subject matter will affect your non-verbal expression; if you feel angry, sorrow or fear those feelings will transpire in your facial expression and tone of voice.
This is why listening is an important aspect of communication. Effective listening is not just the understanding of spoken or written information, but also an understanding of how the speaker feels during communication, it is the ability to listen with empathy. Empathy is the ability to share and understand the feeling of another regardless of whether we agree with it or not.
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Aristotle
Effective communication also starts with the understanding that people are not mind-readers. Expecting people to guess your wishes and aspirations is only going to bring you frustration and resentment. If you want something from someone, express yourself clearly. If you use the right words, the right tone of voice, and the right body language, you are increasing your chance of having your wishes and aspirations becoming reality.
Effective communication starts with paying attention to the words you are using
There is no doubt that non -verbal communication is important, but we should never underestimate the power of a spoken or written word. Words have tremendous energy and power. They can have a positive or a negative impact on people. Well-chosen words can be used to attack, intimidate, demoralize or on the contrary, they can be used to inspire, motivate diffuse tension. Learn to choose your words carefully, it is a skill that is worth developing.
“If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind” Buddha.
How many times have you been in a situation where you spoke some words that you instantly regretted as soon as they left the corner of your mouth? Some people have a tendency to speak to avoid the discomfort of silence. Silence doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. Other people speak to unload an ego-driven thought or speak with a negative emotion like frustration or anger. The question you should ask yourself in those situations. Is it necessary? We all experience anger and frustration and expecting those feelings never to be expressed is not realistic. This said when you are hot under the collar and feel like lashing out in anger and frustration, pause for a second or two; this will give you sufficient space to avoid a knee-jerk reaction and will allow you to respond in a more controlled manner. Respond, don’t react.
Something we see more and more these days are situations where words have no meaning. Politicians are experts in this style of communication. They could say one thing one day and the opposite the next day, feel no shame about it and make it look like no big deal, I didn’t mean it this way. Empty platitude, pandering, vitriols, hyperbolic statements, condescending announcements, fear-mongering are a few of the tools politicians are using frequently. But don’t forget that actions speak louder than words. It is also worth pointing out that sometimes, the most important thing in communication is what is not being said.
Lost in translation. How the mistranslation of a sentence is causing geopolitical issues several generations after the event
Never underestimate the importance of words, a misplaced word or a mistranslation can in fact change the course of history, and I am not being hyperbolic when I say this.
In 1840, the British government made a deal with the Maori chiefs in New Zealand. The Maori who wanted protection from convicts, sailors, and traders who were running havoc through their villages decided to sign the Treaty of Waitangi with the British Crown who jump at the opportunity to expand their colonial holdings. The Treaty of Waitangi was drawn up and both parties signed it. But unbeknown to them, they were signing different documents.
In the English version of the Treaty, the Maori were to "cede to Her Majesty the Queen of England absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignty” but are guaranteed “undisturbed possession” over their lands, forests, fisheries, and other properties.
In the Maori version of the Treaty, they were not to give up sovereignty, but governance. The Maori gave the Crown “kawanatanga katoa” complete governorship. And they were guaranteed “tino rangatiratanga”, the unqualified exercise of chieftainship over their lands, dwelling places, and all other possessions. They thought they were getting a legal system, but keeping their right to rule themselves. That's not how it turned out, and generations later the issues around the meaning of this treaty are still being worked out.
How good are your communication skills? Your ability to communicate effectively is an important tool to help you navigate through the ups and downs of your professional and personal life.