It’s Not What You Say…

accept responsibility communication communication styles effective communication leadership communication leadership responsibility types of communication why is communication important in leadership Jun 14, 2022
Types of Communication

The one responsibility we can’t duck if we want to lead is communication! But that’s never as simple as just saying the right words!

So picture the movie Rush Hour, where Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker first meet and Tucker asks Chan “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?” How many times have you seen someone do that same thing when trying to communicate with someone who has a different native language? They typically speak very s-l-o-w-l-y and a bit louder than usual, as if that will make a difference…

And now for a moment of truth before we really dive into this: Has that ever been you?

That was rhetorical! I’ve done it, you’ve done, and I’m guessing the folks who say they haven’t done it would lie to us about other things too…

When it comes to being fluent in different languages, a leader’s responsibility for communication can be exponentially more involved. Even when we’re all speaking English (because that’s the one I know), what I say and what you hear can be two very different things. Think back to the Snoopy meme I referenced before… But there’s no free pass that says we don’t have to be responsible - especially when we’re responsible for leading!

Have you ever been in a meeting where the supervisor or manager had a page of notes and read directly from the page? No personalization, no expression, just words… Maybe it’s just me, but I would do better if I read the page myself than hearing someone else read it in a robot voice! 

How about the ones who yell everything they say? Everything sounds so harsh! Confession time… There have been far too many times where Cindy’s had to tell me, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it!” And she’s always right. I can be pretty intense, I suppose, so maybe there are a few occasions where I sound a bit more direct than I mean to?

Here’s where I’d really like to take you down the path of someone with each primary communication styles receives messages differently. As important as that is, we’ll have to circle back to it another time. For now, consider just these stats from Albert Mehrabian, professor emeritus of psychology at UCLA; “only 7% of the message we send comes from the actual words we use. 38% comes from our voice/tone. And 55% of the message we send when communicating comes from our body language!” If Mehrabian is right, a whopping 93% of what we communicate isn’t based on the words that are coming out of our mouth (said in Chris Tucker’s voice).

When I think about an all-day training session I sat through in late 2014 on Mine Safety Incident Reporting where the instructor stood almost completely hidden behind a podium and read directly from the slides - through the entire session - I’m not too surprised that the only thing I remember was the painful boredom and none of the actual content! As leaders, we need to be sure we’re putting as much energy into ensuring our tone and body language as we put into selecting the right words if we have any hope of our teams actually understanding the message we need them to receive. And then we need to be sure we’re providing that message to them through every channel we have access to, so we’ll look at that next…