In the 1960s, Paul Watzlawick proposed five axioms of communication, one of which is that it’s impossible to not communicate. Our words, our tonality, our body language all say something, which may include a desire to not communicate. And by not communicating, we are doing the very thing we don’t want to do; communicate.
Indeed, words only account for 7% of communication. 38% of communication is tonality, and 55% our physiology, our body language. It’s the reason that we sometimes get the feeling that despite their words, people mean something very different. This is because we understand, mostly on an unconscious level although at times on a very conscious level, the tonality and body language are conveying a message which is at odds with the words.
As we are always communicating, it would make sense to communicate as effectively as possible. Yet, we are all aware of times when we’ve communicated in a way which was anything but effective. We’re misunderstood, we misspeak, we half-listen, we don’t listen, and at times, we simply listen for a gap so we can say what we want to say. Language is fluid, meanings change, and words fall in and out of fashion. One person’s weird is another’s normal. How, in fact, do we manage to successfully communicate anything at all?
One factor to consider is our sensory acuity, that ability to unconsciously understand all the communication that we convey through tonality and physiology. If we recognise the clues, the signals, and learn to do so consciously, we can begin to understand what others are actually communicating rather than simply focussing on what they are saying.
Another factor to be aware of is the congruency of words, tonality and physiology. Are the words saying one thing, and the tonality and physiology saying something else? Just think back to times when you’ve suggested a course of action and someone has replied with, “That’s a really good idea…”. You know instantly that they’re going to follow that up with a “but” and a demolition of your idea.
We can resolve a lot with active listening. Really listening. Really working to understand what the other person wants to communicate. And when we really listen, listening for understanding and understanding alone, we improve the communication. Which, in turn, helps us build more effective relationships. And you know this already, don’t you?