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It’s What You Didn’t Say

As a teacher, effective communication is an integral part of our job. Whether you are in the classroom, presenting at a staff meeting, collaborating with colleagues or talking with parents, you’re constantly calling on the skills to relay messages in a manner that those around you understand.

Many of our messages are deliberate, calculated and measured with the intention to communicate a specific point, a task or an idea. Often, it’s to clarify a process, share our opinions, or teach and help others understand.

But effective communication is a lot more than what we say. We’re often focused on choosing the right thing to say next, appropriate to the context and audience we are working with. As important as the right spoken words are, how we say those words or what we don’t say has a far more significant impact.

Professor Albert Mehrabian helped us to understand the power of tone, body language and facial expressions through his 7-38-55 Rule. Based on his research, Mehrabian has concluded that the words we use in spoken communication have only a 7% influence on how we feel about that message and our attitude towards it. In contrast, 38% takes place through voice and the remaining 55% through body language. It’s important to be aware that these percentages relate to our emotional response toward the message being communicated to us. When the messages we receive trigger a positive emotional response, we are more likely to trust, understand and connect to the other person. The opposite happens when a negative emotional response is triggered; we disconnect, withdraw and doubt.

You could argue the exact accuracy of the percentages, but it’s hard to argue with the disproportioned balance between our words and other cues like tone and body language. For this reason, it’s crucial to have alignment between the words, the tone and our non-verbal cues.

This got me thinking about numerous situations where a person is saying one thing, but their signals and messages are saying another. This mixed messaging can not only leave you confused, but more importantly, it disintegrates your trust.

It’s a timely reminder that as we get a little weary towards the end of the year, it is essential to complement our words with the right tone and voice and then an appropriate amount of body language to back up our message. We won’t always get it right, but being cognisant of our whole self will increase our chances of the messaging landing as we intended.