I was pretty shocked when I realised just how much of my communication is via email, instant messaging, Skype, text messaging and telephone calls on my mobile phone. At a rough guess, I figure at least 80% of my communication is not face-to-face. How does your communication percentage look? My next question is ‘so what?’ It’s a little question but let me assure you there are some pretty big ramifications, which you are about to find out.
The basics of quality communication
Essentially communication is less about what we are communicating, through our various modalities, and more importantly about ‘what is received’ by the person we are communicating with.
Psychologists believe that when we are communicating with other people, their ability to understand us is determined by the following:
- Our body language (55%)
- The tone, pitch, and pace of our spoken words (38%)
- The specific words used (7%)
Now here is the biggest challenge
Now this may not be as surprising as Lance Armstrong’s recent coming out (although it was not such a big surprise really) – but I think you may have an inkling as to the situation at hand. 93% of our ability to be understood – that is communicating effectively – is through body language and the sounds of our voice. That means that all of the communication we do via email, SMS, instant messaging and the likes is about 7% effective for being truly understood! Those are definitely not the kind of odds (7/100) any of us are betting the house on.
It turns out that as a result of 1000’s of years of human evolution and our need to sense and respond to danger; plus being able to integrate effectively in a community (for survival), we developed a very powerful ability to read not only body language, but also the micro expressions on people’s faces. This long developed skill, which is mostly unconscious, is all but useless when it comes to communicating today.
What does this mean for you?
Here is the big message that I want to share with you (and I will endeavour to be as clear as possible). We need to realise that the ways we communicate now are grossly inadequate for having our message fully understood; particularly if that message is of a sensitive or important nature. We need to be super conscious of the fact that if we have a critical message to deliver we need to add to the paltry 7% of understanding that our words may offer. We need to include the sound of our voice and, if possible, we need to be face-to-face with that person.
So listed below are types of communication in order of their effectiveness, with number 1 being the least effective. So the more important the message, the lower down the list you want to be.
- Text messaging (SMS) & instant messaging (IM)
- SMS/IM with emotion icons (smiley face, laughing, etc.). Instead of these little faces being childish they actually take the place of the micro facial expressions we are so desperately looking for to fully process the message.
- Telephone calls
- Video calls
- Face-to-face (The less the distractions the more effective the communication)
My final parting message and advice
If you want to be understood by that wonderful partner of yours, or friends and family, make sure all the important communication you do is face-to-face, if at all possible. Or make sure as many modalities (words, voice, body language) as possible are involved. I am sure you, like me, have once sent an SMS that was totally misunderstood, and required hours or days to undo. So there we were thinking we could save a few cents, and a few minutes by sending a quick message, and it ended costing us days of anguish, hours of sucking up time and maybe even $50 in flowers, dinner, gifts, etc.
Number 2: (Super Important!)
Be very open to the idea that a non-verbal message (SMS/IM/email) may not mean exactly what you think they mean. Before you lose your cool or fill a room full of uppercuts, confirm (with a call or in person) exactly what the person meant. This alone will save so much heartache, broken friendships, business upsets, etc. in so many peoples lives and is the main message I want to leave you with. Don’t assume that something means what you think it does. Always, always, always, check before you make an assumption. This is a great relationship strategy and just as important to remember when it comes to any business communicating you do.