Further to the recent article “Take the fluff out of your ears. What on earth is the benefit of Active Listening?” I’d like to follow up with by discussing one of the most powerful tools we have as humans. That is our ability to communicate verbally. There is a very famous, often quoted and argued over set of statistics that were developed by Professor Albert Mehrabian who pioneered the understanding of communications. He currently devotes his time to research, writing, and consulting as Professor Emeritus of Psychology, UCLA. Mehrabian's work featured strongly (mid-late 1900s) in establishing early understanding of body language and non-verbal communications.
The normal representation of Mehrabian's findings is typically cited as follows:
7% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in the words that are spoken.
38% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said).
55% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in facial expression and body language.
If you think about the proportion of communication that you think you do, which is talking, and listening, you begin to realise that the words and phrases we speak, only account for 7% of the message we are sharing. 38% is the feelings and attitudes of the words that are said. So when I talked about the need to actively listen, this is where it comes into its own.
So what verbal communication techniques can you develop to help you?
Plan what you want and need to say: for those awkward silences with people you hardly know; and impromptu questions. Whether talking to a colleague or the boss; delivering a presentation; or trying to help someone non-technical understand technical information. You need to understand that a conversation is more than you just filling in those empty holes with words.
Put yourself in their shoes and energise your voice by remembering that a conversation is two-way; by understanding others, they will probably want to understand you. By thinking about the opposing viewpoint you may be able to understand and plan for some of the difficult questions or situations that may arise.
Showing interest and not interrupting will help to build rapport and trust with your audience, they are also more likely to want to listen to you too.
Minimise disruptions and distractions from our 24-7 always on, connected environment. Simply put your phone away or on silent; or if taking notes, looking up and making eye contact with the person, can vastly improve the way we communicate with each other.
Telling a story is one of the most powerful ways to activate your brain and engage your listener. You can paint a picture in your listeners’ minds; bringing your presentation to life; and turning a difficult subject into something interesting and understandable. THis is the approach I like to take. When I am presenting, I like to think of a maximum of three messages that I want to convey. I then state them at the front of the presentation, weave stories and anecdotes on these during the presentation and finish up by reiterating them at the end.
Finally, gestures and body language can be distracting and detract from, your message - you are constantly communicating even when you are not saying a word. THink back to the percentages at the top of the article - 55% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in facial expression and body language.Ask a colleague for some feedback on your non-verbal communication, it’s their perception of what you are doing, rather than saying. Does it add impact to your message, or does it detract from what you are trying to say?
Don’t forget to take the dummy out of your mouth. I leave you with the following quote.
“When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases ….. one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy, the appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved” ― George Orwell, Politics and the English Language