Monday, November 10, 2014

Mis(sed) Communications

Most of us have at one time or another heard a variation of the following phrase: "Over 90% of all communication is non-verbal."  While we usually hear this said as a way to get us to spend more time in person with others, there is another more subtle message buried within. (keep reading)

I have traveled to six continents in my life and have been able to experience life where English was not spoken or understood.  After a certain number of experiences in these conditions I compared what I had seen with my brother.  He had spent time in Army as a Korean language specialist up on that wonderful strip of dirt known as the "DMZ". (He called it a speed bump for the North Korean army)  My brother told me that he had been taught by his instructors that peoples of all nations tend towards the same behaviors when they cannot communicate with others.  He told me that the natural human inclination is to "dehumanize" or see people as "lesser" if they do not speak your language.

Back to the subtle message from the first paragraph.  The primary reason to speak with people (both talking the same language) in person is that it is difficult to (a) be misunderstood when face to face and (b) be treated discourteously.  Yes, it still happens but it is much more rare for someone to be rude to you in person.  That's just evolutionary behavior in practice.

Let's now think about the business environment.  How many times has one of the following happened to you?
  • You sit in close proximity, if not directly adjacent to someone who sends you an email when they could literally just turn and verbalize the same thing
  • You call someone and receive an email or text in response
  • Either you receive an instant message from a colleague or vice versa
  • You get into an (angrily) escalating email "flame" war with a colleague
  • Someone sends you a direct voicemail instead of calling you the "traditional" way
These behaviors and more happen every day in almost every company of size.  For the younger generations (Y and now millennials), texting and instant messaging have become the de facto way of communication both in and outside of the office.

Different groups of people have experienced and overcome the challenges of communicating to people who aren't there in person.  In the radio business, the use of sound effects, music, and other non-verbal audio artifacts are used.  Video games have morphed from the days of pure text into the use of graphics, sounds, and now "haptics", which are tactile feedback devices.  Newer generation console controllers vibrate and do other things - what the entertainment industry refers to as "4D effects".

The Chinese language, "hanzi", is the third oldest major active language in the world (behind #2 Doric Greek and #1 Hebrew).  It is a marvelous language because it incorporates sound, visual, and context.  This is something the ancient Egyptians tried, but were never quite able to get the context portion advanced enough to make it a world-presence.  The sound and graphic parts are obvious, but the characters in hanzi also have specific meanings tied to "how" they are used.  If you don't believe me, try comparing Mandarin to Cantonese.  They both use the same hanzi characters but the meanings are *much* different.

Today, with English, the language is evolving enough that there are several successful attempts underway to include graphics and context.  This process is being accomplished through the use of the "emoji" character keyboard.  Can you understand what I'm saying here, solely in emoji?:


It's absolutely critical for you to be an effective communicator if your desires include being a great leader who has upward career mobility.  Whenever possible, communicate in person or at the very least, by telephone or video conference.  Don't be that person who only communicates by email, text, or voicemail.  The faster and more effective you can communicate, the more you can get done.  The natural consequence for you will be a higher status coupled with the belief that you are, or can be, a superior leader.


  1. Thank you Pam! I always like to get feedback on these posts. I'm glad that you enjoyed it.