Have you ever been involved in a situation where you could feel the tension in the room? Upon walking into an unsuspecting situation where the tension meter is boiling and it hits you like Mike Tyson’s uppercut. Pow! Isn’t it amazing how not even a word has been spoken and the palpatory presence of friction can be appreciated. If you ever experienced this, then you would probably agree with UCLA Professor Albert Mehrabian who believes that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken.
Let’s test it out! Have you ever been told by a close friend of yours that, “Dude, you are a jerk!” followed with a smile and a playful shove. On the contrary, have you ever been told “Dude, you are a jerk!” after cutting someone off while driving and accompanied with an aggressive middle finger wave? Interesting how the same written words can convey totally different meanings. Considering the context of the situation, body language, and tone, two completely different messages can be conveyed. Highlighted by the two vastly different scenarios, we can see that 93% of communication is actually nonverbal (55% + 38% = 93%). The impact of nonverbal communication becomes more apparent after the same written words can have two totally different meanings.
Okay, let’s look at another scenario. Have you ever entertained the idea that you are secretly a Jedi master with skills that allow you to foresee a family member or co-worker’s response to pending action? The story unfolds like this. Historically, Bob’s boss has only contacted him to address poor performance. So, every time his boss attempts to contact him, he calls out sick and becomes difficult to locate. Bob’s boss, Sue, has another performance issue to address and attempts to reach out to rectify the situation. Sue tells a colleague, “I have to reach out to Bob again, how much do you want to bet he is sick again.” Sue accurately predicts Bob’s response to her inquiry and states to her colleague, “I am so cleaver I must have Jedi master skills”. I present this scenario to reflect that there are also other dimensions to nonverbal communication such as past experiences or internal biases. In this situation nothing more than a request for a meeting was conveyed but due to prior experiences the message communicated to Bob was, “hey, you’re in trouble again”.
Another way communication is evaluated is the way in which it is presented. Our very own survival and ancestral survival can be linked to this type of communication. If someone is shouting intensely “Run for your lives!” you are going to evaluate the verbiage in a different light than someone stating the same with a limp calm voice. The point is, if there is a discrepancy between what is said and how it is presented, the information is evaluated differently for perceived accuracy.
Do you remember the last time you had a conversation and it didn’t go well and you thought to yourself, “What did I say?” The next time you may want to consider not necessarily what did you say but what you didn’t say. Consider the information you are trying to share and how you plan on delivering that message. Factor the context of the information, mutual and unshared prior experiences, and the congruity in which your message is being delivered with your body language and tone. Hopefully it is more convincing now that communication is so much more than words on a page.
In the electronic era where it so easy to send text messages and emails, no wonder how often things just seem to get lost in translation without the assistance of nonverbal communication. It is not necessarily what you have to say but how you say it that can have the greatest impact when attempting to communicate.