Our ability to communicate effectively is built around three
These are words, tonality and body language. All three must be
congruent, a rather complex word for aligned. All three contribute to
the overall effectiveness in different proportions and those proportions
may surprise you.In effective communication words
contribute 7%, tonality 38% and body language 55%. If we combine the
last two percentages we can conclude that 93% of our communication is
That doesn’t mean that words are unimportant, they
clearly are important, but it is a fact that we do not spend nearly
enough time on our non-verbal signals which can obstruct our ability to
communicate effectively.Content and context are the two
key components of a message. Content is the actual words in the
message. Many words have different meanings and we all use and interpret
the meanings of words differently, so even simple messages can be
misunderstood.Context is the way the message is
delivered. It includes tone of voice, the look in the sender’s eyes,
body language, hand gestures and detectable states of emotions including
stress, anger, fear, uncertainty and confidence. This is sometimes
referred to as paralanguage. A misunderstanding comes from the fact that
we believe what we see more than what we hear. Nonetheless, context is a
powerful communicator that helps us to understand each other and for
effective communication it is important to be aware that we place more
weight and trust in the accuracy of non-verbal behaviours over verbal
We all think we have communicated something accurately. Yet
how often have we said, “I can’t understand why this was not done, I
could not have made it clearer,” or you have come out of a meeting and
said, “I don’t know why I bothered, he did not understand a word I
said.” Sound familiar? More than likely your message was misunderstood. A
message is not communicated unless it is understood by the receiver.
How do you know it has been properly received? By two-way communication
or feedback. This feedback tells the sender that the receiver understood
the message, its level of importance and what must be done with it.
Think about a time when you were angry and you just let it
rip. Your tonality was most likely out of control and your message
missed the target although you probably thought you had hit the mark
exactly. Your tonality would have conveyed you were angry but what about
the message of how you wanted to get the issue corrected?
Let’s look at body language. If you are to deliver a message to maximum effect practice your non-verbal behaviour.
Eye contact: This helps to regulate the flow of
communication. It signals interest in others and increases the speaker’s
credibility. People who make eye contact open the flow of communication
and convey interest, concern, warmth, and credibility.
Facial Expressions: Smiling is a powerful tool as it conveys
happiness, friendliness, warmth and liking. If you are a regular smiler
you will be perceived as more likable, friendly, warm and approachable.
Smiling is often contagious and people will react favourably. People
feel more comfortable and will want to listen more to what you are
actually saying. It is hard not to like someone who smiles.
Gestures: If you are rigid and stiff while speaking you may
be perceived as boring. Gestures help to reinforce the message. A lively
speaking style not only captures the listener’s attention but helps
retention. This makes the conversation more interesting and helps
Posture and movement: We communicate numerous messages by the
way we talk and move. Standing upright and leaning forward communicates
to listeners that you are approachable, receptive and friendly.
Interpersonal closeness results when you and the listener face each
other. Speaking with your back turned or looking at the floor or ceiling
should be avoided as it communicates disinterest.
Distance: Cultural norms dictate a comfortable distance for
interaction with others. You should look for signals of discomfort
caused by invading the other person’s space. Some of these are rocking,
leg swinging, tapping and gaze aversion.
Nothing is so simple that it cannot be misunderstood. This
will help you through the alignment of spoken words and non-verbal
communication to get your message across. If you find yourself in a
position where the recipient just doesn’t get the message, ask yourself
what it is you are not doing correctly, or put another way, one occasion
where you do shoot the messenger.
Think about it.
Remember it is not what you say, but how you say it that counts.