Since my holiday I have been having a bit of writers’ block, I’ve started one or two posts but not really got into the flow and have struggled to move them forward. Anyway, as luck would have it my good friend Lee Smallwood wrote a blog post called The Eyes Have It the other day that got my juices stirring. In the post Lee talks about how he, in face to face meetings, looks at the eyes of the people he is talking to to guage how they really feel. I have quoted a small piece below:

Now here’s the thing, the problem when communicating online is – that you don’t have the opportunity to see those ‘inflections’ that just show how a person really feels about what they’re taking about or about what they think of what you’re trying to convey…

When something is written, it can be misinterpreted by different readers, and the readers ‘understanding’ can be a ‘bus journey’ away from what the writer was meaning to convey. After all it’s written from one subjective opinion and interpreted by another…

The Theory Bit

To misuse the words from an old L’Oreal advert, Now for the theory bit. I am sure that you will inherently agree with the message in Lee’s quote above, or based on the last paragraph perhaps you will not.

Communication as a process

At it’s most general level, communication is the passage of information between two people. The person wanting to pass on the message, the Transmitter, and the person they wish to convey that message to, the Receiver.

The ‘Transmitter’ sends their message using some form of media or channel, whether that be face-to-face by voice, voice over some media (radio, telephone, VoIP etc), written etc. The Receiver receives the message and then interprets it based on their own perceptual filters and the supporting evidence that they collect to add meaning to the message received. They will then form their own meaning of the ‘message’ received and then may form their own message in response and transmit that back. Within this process of receiving, interpreting and adding meaning is the potential for the gap between intended and interpreted meaning to develop.

The meaning of your communication is the response you get…

Mehrabian: The meaning of communication

There is a much quoted study that was conducted by Prof. Albert Mehrabian of UCLA that suggested that upto 93% of the meaning that people derived from a communication was based on factors other than the actual words used. While this study was predominantly researching whether people believed or liked the feelings of the person presenting, the congruence of their verbal message with their demonstrated message, I suggest that there are some basic truths in the findings.

Mehrabian, postulated that 55% of the message that people took away was based on non-verbal cues such as the presenters stance, facial gestures and hand movements; 38% of the message received was based on verbal cues other than the words themselves, such as internation, pitch, rhythm etc and the final 7% was derived from the actual words used.

Even if the exact percentages do not apply, from my own experience I would suggest that the general findings are ‘correct’ the more content rich you can make your message, the more ‘supporting’ information/evidence you can provide to the receiver the better are the chances of the message you intended being received in the correct vein.

How do you communicate?

I see many instances where we could significantly improve our communication and our chances of getting our message across first time out. E-mail has become a default means of communicating with people; Similarly, people will send SMS texts from their mobile phones or status updates on a Social Media platform. These are words only, content ‘poor’ means of communicating; The placement of punctuation can have a huge impact on how the message is received. I have seen many instances, and I have been guilty of this myself in the past, of people using email to talk to people who are literally yards away from them when it would have been easier and more productive to walk across and have a conversation.

Circling back to Lee’s blog, in his final couple of paragraph’s he advocated the use of video as both a means of getting your message across and as a way in which people can respond to you. Video is certainly a more content rich environment and offers the viewer (Receiver) the opportunity to draw some context from the actions and voice of the subject (Transmitter).

Perhaps the next time you are going to send an email or text to someone, think about picking up the phone and talking to them. If they are in the same building or nearby perhaps stroll down and speak to them. If you are geographically separated and the facility is available to you what about a video call? These would certainly increase the chances of getting through first time.

When something is written, it can be misinterpreted by different readers, and the readers ‘understanding’ can be a ‘bus journey’ away from what the writer was meaning to convey. After all it’s written from one subjective opinion and interpreted by another…Lee Smallwood

Another benefit?

It struck me as I penned the last couple of paragraphs that there are a couple of added benefits of moving beyond email/SMS/SoMe whenever you can:

  • Relationship: picking up the phone, walking across to talk to someone or a video call can all help to develop and sustain relationships with others
  • Confirmation/Clarification: I know that I have sent emails and texts to people in the past and made assumptions that 1. they’ve received them, 2. they’ve read them 3. they’ve understood them and 4. that they’ve done something with them. Infact I even wrote a bit of a blog about it Ass-u-Me. A call or chat before hand to say it’s on it’s way, particularly when it is something that needs action, or after you’ve sent it to make sure they’ve received it can certainly help.
  • Brighten someones day: As humans we generally enjoy some level of interaction; yes, emailing/SMS/SoME are all forms of interaction, but they are impersonal in a lot of respects. It can certainly lift your spirits when you get a surprise call or visit from one of your friends or family.

What are your thoughts? How do you approach communicating with others? How do you maximise the chance of getting your message across? Answers on something other than a postcard please ;-)

Marconi T1154N Transmitter
Creative Commons License photo credit: david.nikonvscanon