Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, is the author of Silent Messages. This book discusses his legendary research into the relative importance of verbal and non-verbal communication.
When you’re trying to communicate emotions, think about the three V’s: verbal, vocal, and visual. They are the three parts of what has become known as Mehrabian’s Rule – 7% of your message is given verbally (the words you use), 38% comes vocally (the tone you use), and 55% is delivered visually (your facial expressions and body language).
We see from his research that, when we’re trying to convey feelings or attitudes, the overwhelming majority of the message comes through non-verbally. If the verbal and non-verbal don’t agree, people will rely on the non-verbal.
Choosing your medium
Therefore, understanding the three V’s of communication helps you prevent misunderstanding. If the recipient of your message can’t hear and see you say the words, your message may get diluted.
E-mail is convenient, but it can be easily misunderstood because it’s only words. What about text messages?
A friend of mine told me that her husband’s ex-wife texts her husband about problems with their kids. My friend gets frustrated after several rounds of nothing getting solved. She says she tells him to just call his ex-wife.
So choose your medium carefully if you’re trying to convey feelings or attitudes. Some media only use one part of the communication trio, and a very minor one at that!
If you’re just relaying facts, e-mail is fine. If you want to express more than that, your message may get diluted. A phone call enriches the conversation because you bring in the voice. And while it’s not always possible to meet face-to-face, it is your best bet for your most sensitive communication.
Speaking of which …
Let’s apply this to a presentation, whether your audience is one or many. How you say what you say, and what you do when you say it, are actually more important, in getting your message across, than what you say.
It’s hard to explain this in just words. Hey, that illustrates our point!
You can say, “I’m excited.” If you say it with enthusiasm in your voice while standing straight up, your audience will believe you. If you say it like Droopy says, “I’m happy” and slouch while you’re saying it, your audience may doubt you.
People remember the impression more than the words. So if you want to connect with an audience, it’s important to practice your inflections and your gestures to make sure they’re congruent with your words.
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