We spend more than 70% of our time in interpersonal communication.
Are your Words Getting in The Way of Your Communication?
Communication is usually thought of in terms of inanimate technology: computers, fax machines, E-mail, chat, phones, pagers, etc.. This is curious because most decisions and deals are still made through personal contact. Unfortunately, most of us continue to perform rather poorly in interpersonal communication and this aspect of communication is neglected at the strategic level.
We spend more than 70% of our time in interpersonal communication. Although you might expect that we would become better communicators with time, modifying our communication based on the feedback received, this is often not true. While the most powerful teacher and motivator is positive feedback, communication is an unconscious and habitual process, and therefore tends to become stronger if reinforced intermittently. This means that if we get the outcome with enough regularity that we do not become overly frustrated, our communication process, effective or not, will be intermittently reinforced enough and powerfully entrenched. Like any habit it becomes increasingly difficult to change with time.
We need a clear understanding of how to cleanly convey our thoughts and feelings to others, so that in this highly competitive world we may have the maximum influence. A well trained actor or comic is able to affect feelings and motivation with ease by the careful use of voice tone and tempo as well as a mindful use of body movements. Since we still make decisions based on our sense of what is appropriate, being able to communicate to the gut level of another human being becomes the quality of communication that we need today.
The process of communication does not only involve the careful selection of words, but also the delivery of those words and accompanying body analogues or movements. We cannot, not communicate. Even if we do not respond when someone addresses us, we are making a significant statement. Do a little research for a minute. Stand up or sit up straight. Now, allow your head to fall forward, your shoulders to round, your head to tilt to one side, and say to yourself, “Boy do I feel happy.” What is your internal response? Why doesn’t the communication work? OK, change position and shake off the feelings of the last exercise. Now stand tall, look up, raise your arms, breath deeply and say, “Boy am I depressed.” Once you have stopped laughing at the absurdity of the internal feelings, think for a moment about why neither of these two exercises worked from a communication point of view. The body analogues were so out of synch with the words, that the body incongruence was funny.
Psychological research supports my contention that communication is more than the words we say Argyle et al., (1970) demonstrated the percentage of the overall message carried by the various components of the communication process:
-7% of the message was contained in the Words.
-38%of the message was contained in the Tone, Tempo and Syntax.
-55% of the message was contained in the Body Posture. Gesture and Eye Contact.
The significant message here is that, outside of using the appropriate words to set the context for a communication, the words are not as important as the way in which they are delivered. Excellent communicators have known for years that the feedback you receive from a communication is a reflection of the message sent. If you are not getting the results you want, change the process of your communication.
Communication is a two way loop between sender and receiver. This loop is governed by a set of rules. Understanding the standardized use of this set of rules builds good interpersonal skills and high quality relationships. With the use of these skills, planning and problem solving, the successful transfer of information or direction is enhanced.
The six steps to powerful communication can become habitual with minimal practice.
1. Know what you want! All communication is outcome oriented. Your desired outcome may be anything from change in attitude to a million dollar deal. Make sure that you can define your outcome in sensory specific terms. When I have achieved my outcome, what will I see? What will I hear? What will I feel?
2. Have flexibility (at least three choices) about how to achieve your outcome. The individual with the most choices has the most flexibility, and controls the communication loop.
Automatic and habitual responses tend to achieve pat results.
3. Have the visual, auditory and kinesthetic acuity to know when you have achieved your outcome. When we communicate with an individual it is possible to see physiological changes that indicate if the information that we are providing is having the desired impact. Once you have seen the physiological indicators that tell you that you have achieved your outcome,STOP.
4. Consider the best context for achieving the outcome you want. Use words early in the communication to set and support that context. If at any point you need to reinforce the context, do so. For example, if you must deal with an individual who has difficulty with time management, set a context for the discussion that insures they feel needed, important, and are strong and assertive. This context will allow them to be more willing to attack the problem. If you set it up as a disciplinary hearing, you will further erode their self esteem and any improvement that you see in their behavior will be short lived.
5. Deliver your message with a voice tone and tempo that supports what you are saying as well as the outcome. If your outcome is to help an individual deal with behavior that arises out of a self esteem problem, speaking in a gentle and supportive tone and tempo will do more than an aggressive one. Although aggression on your part may result in some modification of the individual’s less than desirable behavior, it is also likely to create a negative if only subtle backlash. It becomes increasingly difficult to sustain the behavior change and to deal with the backlash effectively.
6. Use body analogues or movements that support the message being sent. Eliminate random movements because they often negate your message or create a double message. At best, random movements create noise that must be eliminated from the receivers visual field in order for the communication to be effective.
You will find it useful to guide yourself through your day with this question, “What is my outcome, and what is my present behavior doing to support my attaining that outcome?”
Communication is both an internal and external process. How we communicate with ourselves internally affects the quality of our lives at least as profoundly as how we communicate with others. All communication, internal or external needs to be focused on improving, the overall quality of our lives as individuals, our community and our culture. We need to learn to take responsibility for the results of our communication.
Communication is a feedback sensitive activity, analogous to the thermostat circuitry that controls an air conditioning system. If you want the temperature to be seventy degrees in your house, setting the thermostat to sixty degrees rather than seventy degrees will not get the temperature to the desired level any faster than if it were set at seventy degrees. In communication, louder, faster, and longer, usually serves to alienate the recipient of your communication rather than enhance the stability of the outcome.
One day while seeing a client in my office, I heard some shouting outside my door. When I excused myself from my client and went into the reception area, I discovered a disheveled woman in her mid fifty’s who was shouting at my secretary about the way in which someone had parked in the parking lot I shared with the Doctors office next door. My assessment was that the women was bordering on a manic episode and my outcome was to stop the fuss and get back to my client, I immediately began to agree with her while matching her voice tone, tempo, volume, as well as her gestures. She was startled by my behavior. I suspect that this was because much of her antagonistic attitude was driven by the fact that she did not normally get listened to let alone agreed with. When I noticed the startled response I began to lead the conversation and slowed my voice tone and tempo and made my body motions more gentle. As I did so I began to slowly move toward the building door. She began to soften her voice and walked with me. When we arrived at the door she commented on the fact that the building I was in seemed to have a calming affect on her and that she would like to return and visit with me. I achieved my outcome with a very difficult person in less than two minutes. Her experience was that she had made a friend. She returned several days later with flowers and a thank-you note. Had I been hooked by her antagonistic and challenging behavior the outcome would have been very different.
If you do today what you’ve always done. you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten. Do yourself a favor and communicate differently today!