By Alesha Combs, Account Manager
I began working from home in March of 2020. One of the first things I noticed during this transition was the shift from popping into a colleague’s office, or by their desk, to say good morning or ask a question, but instead increasing my utilization of emails, texts, phone calls, Slack messages, and video conferencing in order to communicate with my team. This shift made me increasingly aware of what most of us already cognitively know, which is that communication is primarily a function of tone of voice and body language, not our actual word choices. My new primary methods of communication, didn’t afford insight into the key ways that we communicate with one another, but made me rely fully on my words…and maybe some memes or an emoji here and there.
According to Psychology Professor Albert Mehrabian’s “7%-38%-55% Rule”, verbal content only accounts for about 7% of our actual communication. The rest of our communication is 38% tone and 55% body language. This means that when we email, text, or direct message someone we are losing 93% of our communication tools! There is some debate on how accurate this rule is, specifically relating to what topic is being discussed/communicated, but regardless it is globally agreed upon that a speaker’s word choice provides the least amount of insight and context to the listener.
I noticed that if I went a couple of weeks without seeing a colleague, I might receive a message from them and find myself questioning the tone of the message. I was left to rely fully on their vocabulary choices, and without the context of their other methods of communication. Luckily, video conferencing helped give a refresher to each individual’s style and tone, and served as a reminder for their overall communication style. This served as a reminder to me of where I may be leaving a void in the written communications I send to others.
For the past 4 years, most of my work communications have been relayed via email, so this shift to relying on virtual methods of communication was not entirely foreign, however I did find it noteworthy. I became increasingly aware of my own communication style, my word choices, how I construct my sentences and paragraphs to give meaning, and really giving thought to what tone the person reading my email would give my words.
Many of us have made the transition over the past few months, from working in an office setting to working from home, so it’s a good time to be mindful of our new communication platforms and opportunities to use them well. While I don’t have a golden rule for how to communicate 100% accurately when relying fully on words, my colleague recently shared this article, which gives actionable insight on how we can use our words to communicate with emotional intelligence. The article is called People Who Give Advice Like This Have Very Low Emotional Intelligence. It’s worth us all taking a moment to be reminded of the power of our words, and the room for error when we are left to rely on them fully.