Information to help your business benefit from telecommunications

Getting the Message Across

Birds flying between trees

Professor Albert Mehrabian. Remember him? He’s the chap we ended with last month, the one who’s responsible for that well worn but hopelessly incorrect statistic that only 7% of what we communicate consists of the spoken word content of what we’re saying. What Professor Albert is always reported to have said is that of the other 93% of our message is conveyed subconsciously, 38% being in the use of our voice, such as tone, intonation and volume, and the remaining 55%  conveyed by our body language. All of which would suggest that we could all of us talk nonsense most of the time so long as our body language and tone conveyed the meaning of our message. Believe that and you’ll believe anything…

What he actually said is that when one listens to a message 7% of your emotional response, your feelings and the attitude that the message you’re listening to creates in you is in the words that are spoken. Like-wise 38% of your emotional response to the message being heard lies in what are known as the paralinguistic, in other words your response to the way that the words are said, not what’s said. Lastly, the remaining 55% of your emotional response arises from the facial expression (not body language) of the speaker.

Hopefully you’ll agree that what the Professor originally said is a very different kettle of fish to what’s usually quoted. In fact when he realised the extent to which he was being misunderstood he clarified things further by telling us that:

 “this and other equations regarding the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable,”

which you’d have thought would wrap the matter up nicely, but, whoa, what exactly is he saying in this clarification? Well, just that the actual message itself has to be about feelings and attitudes for his statistics about how that message (about feelings and attitudes) affects our feelings and attitudes as a listener. My brain hurts.

What Megrabian was trying to say, and I hope he’ll forgive the paraphrase, is that when there’s an incongruence between what is being said and the way it’s being said then our instinct is to believe and go with what we see rather than what we hear. This being the case, so what? How does this apply to our every day lives at home and at work?

It’s simple: life is already complicated enough without the perpetual risk we all run of hearing people’s words without understanding their meaning. Similarly it’s important for us to recognise that sometimes what is being said is not what is being heard. Obviously if someone shouts that there’s a fire and to evacuate the building you’re not going to spend too much time evaluating any potentially alternative meaning to what’s being said, and, at the other end of the scale a business contract can make complete sense on a page without the addition of it being read out, but there are some important take-aways arising from Professor Megrabian’s observations:

  1. Always be aware that whatever you say will invariably be heard through whatever filters your listener or audience has in place.
  2. Whether your sales message is being spoken or read, make sure it’s clear. Get someone else to listen or read it and check what they understand from it. “Sale Now On” could be read to say that your company is about to go down the pan depending on how it’s articulated and understood.
  3. When speaking say what you want to say, but act how you want to feel. Your audience will hear your words through the filter of how your presentation affects their emotions.
  4. This is more personal, but always give the benefit of the doubt to whoever you’re interacting with. Hear the heart of the person speaking.
  5. Never send a mixed message. Your posture and delivery has to agree with and reflect your message.

Next month…something completely different…!

comments powered by Disqus