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Effective communication … without words

Our ability to communicate effectively is built around three areas. These are words, tonality and body language. All three must be congruent, a rather complex word for aligned. All three contribute to the overall effectiveness in different proportions and those proportions may surprise you.

In effective communication words contribute 7%, tonality 38% and body language 55%. If we combine the last two percentages we can conclude that 93% of our communication is actually non-verbal. That doesn’t mean that words are unimportant, they clearly are, but it is a fact that we do not spend nearly enough time on our non-verbal signals which can obstruct our ability to communicate effectively.

Content and context are the two key components of a message. Content is the actual words in the message. Many words have different meanings and we all use and interpret the meanings of words differently, so even simple messages can be misunderstood.

Context is the way the message is delivered. It includes tone of voice, the look in the sender's eyes, body language, hand gestures and detectable states of emotions including stress, anger, fear, uncertainty and confidence. This is sometimes referred to as paralanguage. A misunderstanding comes from the fact that we believe what we see more than what we hear. Nonetheless, context is a powerful communicator that helps us to understand each other and for effective communication it is important to be aware that we place more weight and trust in the accuracy of non-verbal behaviours over verbal behaviours.

We all think we have communicated something accurately. Yet how often have we said, “I can’t understand why this was not done, I could not have made it clearer,” or you have come out of a meeting and said, “I don’t know why I bothered, he did not understand a word I said.” Sound familiar? More than likely your message was misunderstood. A message is not communicated unless it is understood by the receiver. How do you know it has been properly received? By two-way communication or feedback. This feedback tells the sender that the receiver understood the message, its level of importance and what must be done with it.

Think about a time when you were angry and you just let it rip. Your tonality was most likely out of control and your message missed the target although you probably thought you had hit the mark exactly. Your tonality would have conveyed you were angry but what about the message of how you wanted to get the issue corrected?

Let’s look at body language. If you are to deliver a message to maximum effect practice your non-verbal behaviour.

Eye contact: This helps to regulate the flow of communication. It signals interest in others and increases the speaker's credibility. People who make eye contact open the flow of communication and convey interest, concern, warmth, and credibility.

Facial Expressions: Smiling is a powerful tool as it conveys happiness, friendliness, warmth and liking. If you are a regular smiler you will be perceived as more likable, friendly, warm and approachable. Smiling is often contagious and people will react favourably. People feel more comfortable and will want to listen more to what you are actually saying. It is hard not to like someone who smiles.

Gestures: If you are rigid and stiff while speaking you may be perceived as boring. Gestures help to reinforce the message. A lively speaking style not only captures the listener's attention but helps retention. This makes the conversation more interesting and helps understanding.

Posture and movement: We communicate numerous messages by the way we talk and move. Standing upright and leaning forward communicates to listeners that you are approachable, receptive and friendly. Interpersonal closeness results when you and the listener face each other. Speaking with your back turned or looking at the floor or ceiling should be avoided as it communicates disinterest.

Distance: Cultural norms dictate a comfortable distance for interaction with others. You should look for signals of discomfort caused by invading the other person's space. Some of these are rocking, leg swinging, tapping and gaze aversion.

Nothing is so simple that it cannot be misunderstood. This will help you through the alignment of spoken words and non-verbal communication to get your message across. If you find yourself in a position where the recipient just doesn’t get the message, ask yourself what it is you are not doing correctly, or put another way, one occasion where you do shoot the messenger. Think about it.

This article was contributed by Ray Bigger. Ray is the founder and managing director of Think8, a leading coaching, consulting and training company headquartered in Singapore and a director of Hospitality Strategies Asia Pacific. Ray has more than 25 years of sales, marketing, people and team development experience. Ray is a former English Premier League and Football League Referee.

Email: Ray@Think8.Net
Tel: (65) 6875-0104

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