Did you know research shows that your body language, or nonverbal messaging, speaks louder to people than the words you say?

Some believe 55 percent of communication is nonverbal. Within that remaining 45 percent, only 7 percent of communication is attributed to the words. The remaining 38 percent comes from tone, pitch, loudness and other attributes related to how the words are said.

Here’s an illustration I use in my professional selling class, one that everyone can relate to.

If I say “I love you” to a person in a quiet monotone (and in class I actually do this—I sound like a robot), does anyone really think I mean what I said? Then I add some pizzazz to the words, saying “I looooove you!” In this version, I vary my pitch and elongate the word love, sounding like I really might love the person. The latter version means something quite different than just words spoken robotically.

What if I added a hug to the latter way of saying “I love you?” That would really communicate to the person how I feel. And the hug, without any words at all, would say more than the robotic voice ever could convey. I think you get the picture.

So how does this knowledge work in your organization? Let’s say you have some bad news to deliver to your team of 20 people. You call them all together and stand before them. Smiling the entire time, you share the news. The meeting attendees pay more attention to your body language than your words, “The budget must be cut 10 percent within the next two months, meaning layoffs will occur.”

As a manager, you think you’ve delivered the bad news and that the group will understand the gravity of the situation. But the team, because you smiled and acted generally happy, didn’t get that message at all. They’re either thinking that this is not really happening or it won’t affect me.

We all read nonverbal signals. But how often, when creating and delivering messages, do you consider whether your nonverbal message is consistent with your verbal one?

Using my example of “I love you,” what if, instead of hugging a person, I slapped their face? Is anyone feeling the love?

We’ve heard the old adage, “Actions speak louder than words.” It’s true. But do you pay attention to your actions, especially when you are delivering messages?

If the manager delivering bad news wanted to have her nonverbals, or actions, congruent with her message, what would she have done differently? She wouldn’t have smiled. Her face would have exhibited a more grave look. She would definitely have shown a serious demeanor. Had she done this, the message would have been heard—that the organization is in trouble. And people would have reacted accordingly.

Kids read body language well. Why do we adults not seem to understand that, in order to effectively communicate, our body language and words, including a variation in tone, pitch and loudness, must be sending the same message?

Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington.

Load comments