Effective Communication in the Workplace: You are going to be misinterpreted if you don’t look them in the eye.

Posted by on Oct 25, 2010 in Articles | 0 comments

Effective communication depends upon many things, and is quite a challenge for most of us.  It is also truly invaluable in business today.  To run a successful company you certainly need your people to be able to express themselves clearly, and to be able to listen effectively to truly hear what others are intending.  At the same time, there are schools of thought in business that teach to be more efficient one should put the following policy in place:  don’t meet in person if you can use the phone, don’t call when you can email, and don’t email when you can use the company project management software.

I believe this is the exact opposite of what we want to accomplish: effective communication in business.  First, consider all the barriers that stand in the way of effective communication.

Each of us perceive and interpret differently.  Each of us, all 6.8 billion, have different experiences, cultures, sets of morals, religious beliefs, languages, dialects, childhood upbringing, education, and basically just different life experiences every day.  We use all of that life experience to interpret the world in this moment.  That gives us 6.8 billion separate emotional interpretations of each moment that humanity experiences.  Obviously, no one thinks exactly the same way you do!

Each of us also have different receptors of the world.  No one sees color exactly the same as anyone else with our seven million cones per eye.  No one hears sounds exactly the same as anyone else with the three thousand cochlear hairs cells in our inner ear.  No one tastes, or smells, or feels touch exactly the same with our millions of receptors.  And of course, no one has the exact same “sixth sense” as anyone else either.

Finally, consider the following:  studies have shown that when humans converse face to face, 58% of the message is conveyed by body language, 35% by the inflection and tone of our voice, and only 7% by our actual words.  As you reflect on this, you know it is true.  Consider how many times in your life your words have been misinterpreted.  How many times have you asked a question of someone and gotten an answer to an entirely different question.  How many times have you sent an email and gotten a response that had nothing to do with the question you sent.  Reflect on the phone conversations you have had just this week, and consider how many times have you been misinterpreted over the phone recently.  It’s astounding, isn’t it?

If you are a boss, owner, or manager it is even worse.  Your staff will misinterpret you and will not often speak up to clarify that misinterpretation.  They will remain in a place of respect due to your title, or fear due to their desire to keep their job.  They will perceive you the wrong way and you will never even know it!

Do you notice that sometimes a simple email request gets more and more complicated and you end up saying “I guess we would have been better served and saved a ton of time if I’d have just picked up the phone and called.”  Ever send a group email that gets out of control and goes down many paths that you did not intend?  Ever say “Wow, I should have waited until our weekly staff meeting to introduce that idea.”  Ever use the words “don’t do anything with this information yet, but,” and have everyone trying to figure out what to do with that information?  Many times not replying at all to an email or call is interpreted as significant, and usually significantly negative.  Take the time to reply with a word of thanks and appreciation.

So let’s use the statistics above to evaluate the effectiveness of communication at work.  Meeting in person and being a clear speaker and a great listener is 100% effective.  Speaking by phone only includes the words you choose (7%) and the tone and inflection of your voice (35%) for a total of 42% effectiveness… a big drop!  Using email rests solely on your words carrying your message effectively, with only a 7% chance of clarity.  Seven percent… wow!  Be very very careful with email.

My recommendation for effective communication is to use email only for the purpose of transferring pure information:  meeting times, schedule changes, attachments of documents or reports.  And never, ever, ever put anything negative or a “correction” to a staff member or colleague in an email.  It will be misinterpreted, and likely be blown out of proportion from what you meant.

In summary, if you own a business or manage a department, resist the idea to bring efficiencies in by emphasizing emails and project management software in place of live phone calls and in person meetings. Remember, with the statistics above, a short walk or drive or computer video chat to have an in person conversation can increase the effectiveness 13 fold over simply sending an email.

Go against the current business teachings and use the following guide:  never email when you can make a personal call, and never call when you can have an eye-to-eye conversation.   Take the time to do it right.  It’ll pay off big in the long run.

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