The 1965 Single by The Animals summed it up well: “But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good: Oh Lord! Please don’t let me be misunderstood …” All of us have been frustrated from time to time by miscommunication both in our personal and professional lives. Even with face to face things can get lost in translation. This should not be that surprising if you think about each individual being both a sender and receiver of messages that get filtered through each individuals world view.
In 1967 a series of experiments (Mehrabian and Wiener, and Mehrabian and Ferris) by Albert Mehrabian determined that the outcome of a communication interaction was much more than simply the words spoken. The breakout was determined to be: 55% from body language/38% from tone of voice/7% from the actual words.
The impact of body language is often over simplified, in the study they looked at body language within the context of what was spoken, clusters of gestures (not just one), and the congruence of the body language and gestures with words (friendly words and tones matched against angry body language is in-congruent as an example).
So how can you answer the call “Please don’t let me be misunderstood.” We use a model of communication called Conscious Communication to avoid misunderstandings.
First we look toward the parties in the conversation. Each is a sender and receiver. Your internal perceptions, feelings, motives, and experiences are going to filter the messages you receive from the other party. Without a conscious effort you might not even be aware of your own filters. The same is true of the other party.
In addition to those filters, the level of trust that you have with the other party and the trust they have for you will influence interpretation. We call this the “trust bank.” The balance in the trust bank depends on your past interactions (positive or negative), or if this a brand new encounter, it depends on your approach to trust. Some people will extend trust until they are proven wrong and others will extend trust only after it is earned.
Finally, we take into account Mehrabian’s studies to ensure that our body language and tone reinforce the actual words we use.
If you enjoyed this post or found it useful, please follow me above and @opscoo on twitter. Conscious Communication is one of the modules for custom Human Performance Technology interventions from Confoe. Our custom solutions are assembled to effectively solve workplace challenges.
Mike Fritsch, PMP is President and COO of Confoe in Austin, Texas. Mike is also President of ISPI-Texas, the Texas wide chapter of ISPI. Mike has appeared in numerous publications including Fast Company, US News & World Report, Renewable Energy World, Platt’s Energy Economist, and Sun and Wind Energy.
Since 2002, Confoe has provided project management services, consulting, and custom software solutions for clients ranging from the Fortune 50 to new venture start-ups. Clients have included: Whole Foods Market, Intel, Dell, SoloPower, HelioVolt, and the Environmental Defense Fund.