Communicating for Results:In Person
Although electronic communication may account for a large percentage of our conversations, most of us still talk with people in person each day. This month I am shifting the focus from electronic to effective face-to-face communication.
In person, we are able to use more than words to make a point or communicate thoughts. If we look at commonly accepted statistics, it’s a little shocking to recognize that only 7% of our communication is verbal. The majority of our communication comes from the tone or sound of our voice (38%), and our non-verbal cues account for a whopping 55% of what is actually received. This means it is extremely important to be clear about what we say, cognizant of how we say it and aware of how receptive (or not) the audience is to whatever we need/want to relate.
There are several factors to take into account when sending a message. The following are a few points that need to be considered when beginning a tough conversation, interview or performance evaluation to ensure your intent has the best chance of being heard.
1. Sending and interpreting the messages. There are two sides to any communication: the person sending the message and the receiver. Each has “noise” that can easily change the intent of a message or the tone of a conversation. In addition to the obvious differences (language, gender, appearance), there are other, not-as-obvious differences (values, culture, education, history) that can impact what is received. The everyday hassles each may have on their minds combined with any actual physical noise can create severe distractions. Each sent message comes with all of these factors and is interpreted by the receiver, who, in turn, has their own baggage. To ensure you don’t end up reacting negatively to something that is out of your control, be conscious of any issues that may be distracting someone during an important conversation. If necessary, it might be a good idea to ask to reschedule a meeting if it seems apparent the person you are meeting with is preoccupied or upset about something.
2. Body language. Posture, eye contact (or lack thereof) or placement of hands, arms and feet can all be clues to someone’s emotional state or feelings related to power or self-worth, confidence and attentiveness. And, because what someone sees is typically more reliable than what they hear, body language can potentially turn the outcome of any conversation into something very different than what was intended. Crossed arms can indicate someone is not open to hearing what is being discussed. Fingers tapping on a tabletop can illustrate boredom or impatience. Rolling eyes may indicate total disagreement. Look for contradictions like someone saying “yes” but shaking their head to reflect “no.”
3. Grooming and appearance. Although the rules around “good” grooming may have changed some over the years (such as unshaven vs. clean-shaven, tousled hair vs. meticulously placed and lacquered hair), there are still some basic elements that are consistent. Clean hands and fingernails will send a different impression than dirty ones, depending on the work you do. If you work in an office, the expectation is that you will have clean hands, and, if you work on the land or repair cars, it might be questioned if your hands are “too clean.” Also, check to notice if the clothes you wear are similar to others’ or strikingly different: wrinkled vs. neatly pressed, conservative vs. casual or plain vs. loud colors? These are simple observations that may impact someone’s interpretation of what you are saying. A question to consider is: how much does the sender look like the receiver? To make a good impression, it doesn’t mean you have to match or overdress; it means to be conscious of how different or similar you may appear.
4. Tone and pace. The volume and pace of a message can easily impact interpretation. Some people get loud when they are excited and happy. Others may hear “loud” and associate the sound with anger without actually hearing the words. Speaking too quickly may be interpreted as trying to pull something over on someone. (I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked if I am from New York because I talk at a rapid pace!). A good rule is to mirror the pace of the person you are speaking with.
It’s important to communicate in a way that will ensure the intent of your message is received. When preparing for a job interview (or an important business meeting), it is critical to be conscious of how all of these factors can distort the outcome if not planned out in advance. Learn about a company’s work environment and culture or a person’s style and preferences in advance. Prepare accordingly so you are much more likely to be well received than if you do not take the time to consider how you will be heard or how your messages will be interpreted.