The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said – Peter Drucker
I have been in Italy for 5 weeks and when I arrived I spoke very little Italian. If I am honest I am struggling in developing my linguist skills. My reading is certainly developing especially when I have a little context about the text, but my listening and speaking needs work!
Despite struggling in this area I have survived 5 weeks of work, shopping and sightseeing and it has really struck me how the ‘art of communication’ is so much more than speaking the same words; it is a natural human need to connect with others through:
- limited knowledge of each other’s language
- awareness of the situation and therefore the likely subject and direction of a conversation
- sign language (I love an impromptu game of charades)
- Google translate (be warned it doesn’t always make sense)
- tone and intonation
- body language and facial expressions
- I can ask for a train ticket and use my fingers to indicate the number, after all I am in the train station so this is my most likely purchase.
- I can tell from the repetitive nature of a telephone conversation and an increasing sense of frustration that a colleague is having a tough time on a call and provide an empathetic facial expression by way of support (without even truly knowing what is going on)
- I can translate a newspaper with a little knowledge of the story, a dictionary and by applying a little logic and learning to make sense of what I am reading.
- I know from facial expressions when someone does or doesn’t understand me or has an idea how we will get to understand each other.
The Mehrabian Communication model is often simplified and referenced in training to explain the ‘art of communication’ by breaking down what level influence different aspects of communication have on how the message is received (7% words, 38% how they are said, 55% body language).
These percentages are often challenges, but regardless of whatever you believe, my experience confirms for me that communication is more just the words; as humans we are savvy at ‘connecting the dots’, and with that in mind we need to be more savvy with how we use the ‘art of communication’ to share our message. Facial expressions, hand gestures and tone really can influence interpretation and clarity of a message.
So my questions to you are ‘how effective are you at the ‘art of communication’?’, Do you always convey the message you mean to, or do other ‘telling signs’ change the meaning of your message? And finally how do you do know how your message has been interpreted as you intended?
Whilst I am secretly impressed at my creativity and that of others to get by, my biggest learning is that whilst ‘the art of communication’ is more than just words the words still matter, speaking more of the same language really helps when meeting new people. I wish my language skills were better for a number of reasons; my confidence, to smooth interactions and build relationships that are just that little bit stronger (although games of charades have cemented some firm friendships). I have started to arrange introductory Italian and Spanish lessons when I get back to the UK, as acutely aware as I am of the power of all the methods of communication my focus have been on tone and body language and I need some time focused on the words.