“I cook the dog on the barbecue”

Yes, I did say this. But before any dog lovers get upset, I spoke these words in my Italian class! The Italian word for meat is “carne” and the word for dog it is “cane”. The missing consonant made a huge difference; however, it did provide my fellow students with a good laugh.

When learning anything new, such as a language, we are careful with the words we use and the order we put them in. That’s because when we get them wrong, people don’t understand us. Our message does not get through, and we do not get the outcome we want.

We hear a lot about tone of voice and body language in communication. Yet, we often fail to give them the same consideration as we do our words.

One of the most commonly cited statistics is that words account for only 7% of communication. This comes from Professor Albert Mehrabian, of the University of California, and his 7-38-55 Rule of Personal Communication.

In the 1970s, Prof Mehrabian’s research found that non-verbal elements of communication – such as the speaker’s pitch, tone of voice, posture, gestures and expressions – can make an enormous impact on the listener. While words comprise 7% of communication, tone of voice comprises 38% and body language 55%.

We don’t experience these elements in electronic communication. We often email and send text messages as if we were speaking, but do not think carefully enough about the tone or expressions we use. This can lead to a lot of conflict in the workplace – and then body language and tone of voice can really inflame things when people meet or talk on the phone.

When preparing for a meeting, we must remember that the conversation should start with the key message and the necessary words (which should be as few as possible). Then, we need to think about our body language (that is what people see first) and tone of voice.

We often put hours or days into preparing for a presentation for a large audience, which is usually a lot less important than a one-on-one meeting with a colleague, boss, staff member or customer.

So, next time you have a one-on-one conversation or even the next time you send an email, think about the 7-38-55 Rule of Personal Communication and how it could be affecting the message you want to get across.

If you’re having communication issues in your workplace, email me at bryan@bryanworn.com.

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