93% Of What We Are Saying Is Not With Our Words

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I was taken aback by the impact of my last post The Lights Are On But No One Is Home, not just at the high level of engagement online (which is great, please keep sharing, engaging and discussing) but in the conversations it brought up with clients as well as people that I was having meetings with that read my post.

What came out of many of these conversations is that at the basis of everyday, every interaction is communication. Yet we barely pay any attention to it. My client Fiona was the first one to reflect on this last Wednesday morning, when she asked me to expand on the concept of Active Listening so that she could develop her communication skills and not just hear but also understand what the other person/ people are saying.

In that conversation I flippantly said, “did you know that 93% of what is communicated is not with words?”. Fiona looked at me as if I had just said that day was night and night was day… so I explained further.

55% of what is communicated is through body language. So whether you are trying to communicate a message or interpret one, body language is over half of what is being said without using words. This can include:

  • Body movements
  • Gestures
  • Posture
  • Muscle tension
  • Eye contact
  • Skin colouring
  • Breathing rate

One of the classic examples are that of someone’s arms being crossed. This is most commonly interpreted as either protecting one-self or defensive.

Whilst 38% of what is communicated is through the tone of our voice, how high, low, fast, slow, gruff or soft.

The crazy part is when most of my clients are preparing for a big pitch or presentation, so much time is put into what they are going to say…the words, the presentation. Yes, this is important as you need your numbers to be correct and you need to be clear on purpose, outcome and what it is you are trying to communicate.

But too much emphasis is placed on the words…because in a face-to-face interaction, what the other person or people see first is you, your posture or hear the tone of your voice. If it communicates confidence and credibility, then their ears are wide open to what you have to say. Otherwise, you can have the schmickest presentation but it will be for naught.

Similarly, when trying to read a client, or anyone for that matter, try not to just focus on the words that they are saying. You need to read between the lines and see what their body is saying and listen to the tone of their voice.

So today, when you are speaking with people take a look at their body language and listen to their tone, do they align with the words that they are saying? Or what are they really trying to tell you. In addition, think about your own body language and tone. How can you communicate more effectively without using your words?

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