“That’s not what I said!” Have you ever uttered those words? How about this one: “You’re not listening—that’s not what I meant!” Isn’t it amazing how easily our messages are misconstrued? Did you ever wonder why that is? Usually the blame is placed squarely on the shoulders of the person you are talking to.
Let’s face it, your ability to lead your team is based on your ability to communicate effectively with them. If one of your pain points is that your team doesn’t seem to hear what it is that you’ve been saying, doesn’t understand what you’ve been saying, or seems to act in a manner completely inconsistent with what you’ve been saying, you may need to rethink how you’re saying it.
Communication after all, is simply a message sent from the sender to the receiver.
Most often that communication is delivered via words: either spoken or written. How often do those simple communications go wrong? It’s easy to remember the times that a text message or email went bad. It can be very humorous. Or, it can destroy trust and damage relationships.
Communication is complicated because people are complicated.
If our messages are delivered via the words that we either speak or write, why is there so much misunderstanding that surrounds them? After all, our entire education system is rooted in words. We teach our children to ‘use your words’ to express themselves. We take countless language classes to learn how to read and write words.
The reality is that our messages are sent in more ways than just the words we use. We also choose to respond physically, using non-verbal language as well. Eye rolling, shrugging, sighing, frowning, and arms crossed are just a few of the ways we send these non-verbal messages. These are typically associated with negative messages. Some positive messages are: smiling, leaning in, and eyes widening.
The difficulty with non-verbal messages is that they are often lacking definition, which results in the other person choosing how to interpret them. This becomes problematic when the natural inclination is to assume a negative message. (Can you think of a good way to interpret eye-rolling?) A great example of this is having arms crossed. When asked to interpret this body language, most people respond immediately with ‘closed off’, ‘rejection’, or ‘disconnected’, when it could be that the person was cold, or relaxed and comfortable. The key element is to understand that more often than not, body language is interpreted through a negative lens.
Now complicate this single message by adding ‘tone’ to the picture, and the potential for this single message to get distorted is magnified. Tone refers to the volume, speed, and pitch of a person’s speech pattern. (Think loud and angry, or quiet and fearful, among many others.)
Here is the challenge. Virtually EVERY single message that you send is sent all three ways:
· Verbal (spoken or written words)
· Non-verbal (body language)
· Tone (pitch, volume)
When the words are positive or neutral in nature, but the body language and/or tone are negative, the negative wins. Every time.
This becomes critical in the communication game, because these three components are not weighted equally. Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, conducted several studies on nonverbal communication. He found that 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through certain vocal elements, and 55% through nonverbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc.)
WOW! This translates as follows:
If only 7% of your message is delivered via the words you speak, then 93% of the message is delivered via your body language and your tone.
This can explain why communication is not as effective as you desire. When the forms that the messages are sent in are in conflict—one positive and one or more negative—mixed messages are the result. Which one should they choose to respond to, or to act upon? How much ‘interpretation’ is necessary to decipher your true message? People respond and act differently based on the message that they receive. If you are finding that your communications are not effective, consider how you are saying them. Make sure that your verbal, non-verbal, and tone are all consistent in sending the message.
If you find yourself saying “that’s not what I said”, maybe it was!