It’s Not What You Say, it’s the Way You Say it

couple happily smiles looking at each other
by Anne McKeown

Estimated reading time: 1 1/2 minutes

We are born to communicate, yet being understood by others is one of the most difficult parts of any relationship whether personal or professional.

I decided to figure out why I didn’t get the response I wanted from people, especially when having an ’emotional’ conversation. I was introduced to the work of Professor Albert Mehrabian, whose research provides the basis for the much-quoted statistic below, around the effectiveness of spoken communications.

This formula applies mainly to communication of feelings and attitudes:

  • Only 7% of meaning is in the actual ‘words’ that are spoken
  • 38% of meaning is paralinguistic (the way in which the words are said)
  • A whopping 55% of meaning is conveyed via our facial expressions

Which means that even though people may be actively listening they don’t really ‘hear’ what is being said, they ‘see’ what is being said! This got me thinking about the range of non-verbal communications human beings use and the list is endless. Here are a few:

  • The way we look at someone or ignore them
  • The positive and negative hand gestures we use e.g. thumbs up or rude finger
  • When our face changes colour- people immediately know if we are embarrassed or feeling faint
  • When we can’t look someone in the eyes because we are shy or are hiding the truth
  • Honking the horn when irritated in the car
  • If we see someone scratch their head, we assume they are puzzled.
Parent and child talking

Tone of voice also plays a large part in how our message is perceived – high pitched when excited; growling when annoyed; huffing when disappointed; low and slow when wishing to calm a situation.

So the next time you want to be truly understood make sure you look the listener in the eye, stand tall, take a few deep breaths to calm yourself and gently smile and you will get your point across without being offensive or creating resistance.

To learn more about relationships see: Reignite your Spark

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