I’m sure that most of you have heard at one time or another someone quote, with great sagacity, that words only account for 7% of the meaning of communication. The fuller version is that 55% comes from body language, 38% from the tone of voice and the remaining 7% from our words. This seems surprising, and if we ponder longer perhaps even wrong. However, it is an much quoted ‘truth’ often repeated by trainers with NLP qualifications, so they must be right mustn’t they!??
Nope… you were right the first time. The research that this comes from was by a man called Albert Mehrabian and was done in the late 60’s. I won’t go into how he established this, but this is what he says about being quoted out of context
'My findings are often misquoted. Please remember that all of my findings on inconsistent or redundant communications dealt with communications of attitudes. This is the realm in which they are applicable. Clearly it is absurd to say that the verbal portion of all communication constitutes only 7% of the message….anytime we communicate abstract relationships (physical directions, technical information, simple descriptions), clearly 100% of the entire communication is verbal.'
However, it is probably quoted as often as it is because it contains a kernel of truth. If what we say is aligned with the tone, posture and gestures that we use then it will be much more effective, persuasive and powerful. It is this congruence that lies at the heart of powerful communication. As human beings, one of the survival behaviours we have learnt is to act as human lie detectors. We scan each other for sincerity, to see if we can trust the messages we are receiving.
When you see a good presenter, or meet an effective salesperson, they probably have mastered the art of aligning these various communication channels in order to persuade us that they are right. Does it necessarily mean that they are right? Of course not, but they either believe what they are saying or have learnt to eliminate these ‘tells’ (as poker players call them).
Mastering this art is valuable in and of itself, but I wanted to draw your attention to the importance of congruent communication and behaviour in the context of Change programmes.
Most people have been through any number of these in the course of their careers and cynicism is not only natural but useful. People are scanning to see if this is one of the many programmes that go away if you ignore it. The next strategy most people employ is to adopt the new buzz-words that go with the change and do nothing more.
'Deafness has left me acutely aware of both the duplicity that language is capable of and the many expressions the body cannot hide.'
There are a series of further steps people go through before deciding to commit and actually ‘do it’. The time it takes them to decide to commit can be greatly reduced by ensuring that all corporate communication is congruent. Congruent not only with the change that you are trying to make but also between the various members of the management team, and also with the behaviour of the person delivering the message. For example, never say that communication is vital to the success of the business and then tell people you don’t have time to talk to them!
I’m sure that you get the idea. You have almost certainly got any number of examples of being on the wrong end of this sort of thing. The mistake we often make is tending to think that we are any less transparent that those we have seen through. You have to almost become the change you wish to implement.
Don’t try to implement anything that you don’t believe in, and if you do believe in it take the time to explain why it is so important, not only to you, but also to them!
So much resource is invested in these Change programmes, take the time to make sure that it is communicated in an aligned, congruent fashion and you’ll be surprised at how much less resistance you encounter.
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Richard is a dynamic, professional and thoughtful consultant with strong client focus. - MD, Destination Innovation
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The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn. - Gloria Steinem