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Posted by on Oct 9, 2012

Communications: The Subject We Know Everything About

soup_can_communication1-300x220In preparation for this blog, I did a little research. I found thousands of websites to support my search and I picked one that looked interesting. There were 75 fresh articles on 18 categories of Communications. I find it fascinating that there is so much new and exciting information concerning the oldest of processes – human to human contact.

I’m sure you’ve all seen the Mehrabian (Albert Mehrabian, 1939-) study which describes communications in the verbal/nonverbal dimension using the following formula:

Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Visual Liking

His findings were erroneously summarized as “93% of communications is non-verbal.” Mehrabian says,

“Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.”

If I were answering the question, “Where’s Sally?” I could send you an email which described the street address of her hometown, the room in the home to look in, and the character of her appearance and you could find her without ever hearing me or seeing me speak. The communications can be complete without the nonverbal component. If all communications depended on nonverbal for completeness, then instruction manuals, checklists, and textbooks would be totally ineffective.

For communications in the realm of feelings and attitudes, “Total Liking” is a feature of the receiver and it’s called congruence. In this context, congruence is the alignment of words (Verbal Liking), voice tonality (Vocal Liking), and facial expressions/body language (Visual Liking) so that the receiver can believe (Like) the message. Mehrabian suggests that if there is incongruence, the receiver is more likely to believe the nonverbal (tonality and facial expressions/body language) than the verbal, the actual words used. Truly, when we are conveying messages of feelings or attitudes, we want the receiver to have congruence about the message.

We actually pay highly for an entire profession who use the Mehrabian formula to absolutely lie to us: they are Actors. Watch a movie and you are transported to the feelings and attitudes of a character in a most believable fashion. As a matter of fact, if we are not in a state of congruence about the character message, we usually tout this as “bad acting.”

I’d like to introduce you to another formula in communications which I think has great influence on the Project Manager. A very close friend of mine says this,

“The more sensitive the message, the richer the medium.”

Let’s take a moment to discuss medium or the method of transmission for the message. The richest possible human to human medium would be face-to-face, one-to-one. In this method, both the transmitter and the receiver can use the Total Liking formula to evaluate message congruence during a conversation or meeting. We can then move to one-to-many like a classroom or staff meeting where we are all in the same room; effective, but not as intimate. Then we can move to video conferencing, teleconferencing, and on to email and snail mail. Each successive medium begins to reduce the ability to see the transmitter (Visual Liking) and to hear (Vocal Liking) the transmitter, thus reducing the opportunity for receiver congruence about the message.

By combining medium and Mehrabian, the Project Manager can choose the most effective communications for the message. To properly communicate the feelings of promotions, firings, performance, etc., face-to-face, one-to-one is the better medium and allows for the best possible congruence. Move down the scale to effectively combine words with tonality, with facial expressions/body language, to convey the message with the best possible congruence if congruence is required. Don’t forget that the formula was discovered for communications of feelings and attitudes. Not all communications are about feelings or attitudes so congruence is not always required. As we can all attest, the lowly email works fine for many project communications needs. “The more sensitive the message, the richer the medium.”In preparation for this blog, I did a little research. I found thousands of websites to support my search and I picked one that looked interesting. There were 75 fresh articles on 18 categories of Communications. I find it fascinating that there is so much new and exciting information concerning the oldest of processes – human to human contact.

I’m sure you’ve all seen the Mehrabian (Albert Mehrabian, 1939-) study which describes communications in the verbal/nonverbal dimension using the following formula:

Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Visual Liking

His findings were erroneously summarized as “93% of communications is non-verbal.” Mehrabian says,

“Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.”

If I were answering the question, “Where’s Sally?” I could send you an email which described the street address of her hometown, the room in the home to look in, and the character of her appearance and you could find her without ever hearing me or seeing me speak. The communications can be complete without the nonverbal component. If all communications depended on nonverbal for completeness, then instruction manuals, checklists, and textbooks would be totally ineffective.

For communications in the realm of feelings and attitudes, “Total Liking” is a feature of the receiver and it’s called congruence. In this context, congruence is the alignment of words (Verbal Liking), voice tonality (Vocal Liking), and facial expressions/body language (Visual Liking) so that the receiver can believe (Like) the message. Mehrabian suggests that if there is incongruence, the receiver is more likely to believe the nonverbal (tonality and facial expressions/body language) than the verbal, the actual words used. Truly, when we are conveying messages of feelings or attitudes, we want the receiver to have congruence about the message.

We actually pay highly for an entire profession who use the Mehrabian formula to absolutely lie to us: they are Actors. Watch a movie and you are transported to the feelings and attitudes of a character in a most believable fashion. As a matter of fact, if we are not in a state of congruence about the character message, we usually tout this as “bad acting.”

I’d like to introduce you to another formula in communications which I think has great influence on the Project Manager. A very close friend of mine says this, “The more sensitive the message, the richer the medium.” Let’s take a moment to discuss medium or the method of transmission for the message. The richest possible human to human medium would be face-to-face, one-to-one. In this method, both the transmitter and the receiver can use the Total Liking formula to evaluate message congruence during a conversation or meeting. We can then move to one-to-many like a classroom or staff meeting where we are all in the same room; effective, but not as intimate. Then we can move to video conferencing, teleconferencing, and on to email and snail mail. Each successive medium begins to reduce the ability to see the transmitter (Visual Liking) and to hear (Vocal Liking) the transmitter, thus reducing the opportunity for receiver congruence about the message.

By combining medium and Mehrabian, the Project Manager can choose the most effective communications for the message. To properly communicate the feelings of promotions, firings, performance, etc., face-to-face, one-to-one is the better medium and allows for the best possible congruence. Move down the scale to effectively combine words with tonality, with facial expressions/body language, to convey the message with the best possible congruence if congruence is required. Don’t forget that the formula was discovered for communications of feelings and attitudes. Not all communications are about feelings or attitudes so congruence is not always required. As we can all attest, the lowly email works fine for many project communications needs. “The more sensitive the message, the richer the medium.”

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