On a recent podcast episode, Tim Sanders quoted Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s work on understanding human communication. But who is Dr. Albert Mehrabian and what does he have to do with workplace communication? So glad you asked!
Dr. Mehrabian is the Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA and pioneer in the research of non-verbal communication. Among his many publications is his famous book published in 1971 titled Silent Messages. Here is a summary of what the book explains about conveying meaning and the importance of the way you communicate in the workplace.
Non-verbal signals have more impact on meaning than words.
In Silent Messages, Dr. Mehrabian established the “7-38-55 Rule”, representing the relative impact of words, tone of voice, and body language on conveying meaning. According to the book, this means that when we are communicating feelings or attitudes, visual (55%) and vocal (38%) cues take precedence over verbal cues (7%), or the literal meaning of words. People are more likely to believe and pick up non-verbal signals, especially if it contradicts the words said. Dr. Mehrabian clarified that this formula only applies to conversations that convey feelings or emotions. It has been frequently misinterpreted to apply to everyday conversations.
How does this apply to workplace communication and private podcasts? If you’re a leader having trouble feeling connected to your team, it might be time to take your communication style up a level. Your emails don’t come with any emotion attachments. Pivoting to audio will increase your ability to convey meaning by 500%. This can be done through private corporate podcasts or even a simple phone call. In audio, your vocal cues will come through, and in that way, your words and expressions will have greater impact to foster connections.
Inconsistent messages are common but not always appropriate.
When your words don’t match your body language, it makes your message ambiguous and inconsistent. Inconsistent messaging is commonly used in everyday speech, usually to convey feelings that may be difficult to express in words alone. Examples of this include sarcasm or teasing. “Double-edged messaging” is essentially saying one thing but meaning another. All of this meaning is meant to be picked up through the non-verbal cues: tone of voice and body language. We’ve all experienced it before -- spilling water or coffee on the table. You may hear your friends say things like “you’re such a klutz,” but you know that you’re still friends. How? Because they said it in a lighthearted tone and a smile. The words alone may seem harsh, but their tone and facial expression completely changes the meaning.
According to Mehrabian, inconsistent messages are used more often in casual social settings than professional work settings. This is because this form of communication is more comfortable to use between informal friends who can be openly critical and humorous than formal settings where it can be seen as inappropriate. This is apparent when someone speaks in a different manner to their friends than they would their boss, who they fear of upsetting or receiving messages the wrong way. Society is accustomed to using inconsistent messaging because it has become natural, but sometimes it can lead to problems in communicating true meaning. However, keep in mind that inconsistent messaging in-person or over a call will still be better than email. No amount of emojis can save you from a poorly worded email.
Increase likability by having more direct and immediate interactions.
As more personal, visual, and vocal communication convey more feeling, this can also create better connections and likability. Likability is the result of bonds created by kinship and similar feelings. Communicating through more visual and verbal channels like a private podcast can quickly foster this connection.
In Silent Messages, Mehrabian explains that the concept of increasing senses available in communication is called immediacy. The closer in proximity -- whether it be virtually or personally -- two people are when communicating, the more immediate their interaction is. More immediacy allows more feelings to be conveyed, in turn increasing likability. Immediacy and likability are two sides of the same coin. Immediacy produces more liking, while liking encourages more immediacy. When you favor someone, it’s much more comfortable to communicate immediately. When there’s someone you want to avoid, you’re less inclined to meet them face-to-face and would probably opt for less direct forms of communication such as email. If you’re trying to form better bonds with people, friends, or employees, it helps to have immediate interactions to increase the effectiveness of conveying feelings.
Every workplace could use some help with enhancing their internal communications. Find out how Corporate Private Podcasting can transform your workplace communications.