A piece of research and the findings thereof have become almost legendary in the business of training and consultancy. It resulted from research conducted by Professor Albert Mehrabian, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at UCLA.
According to Mehrabian there are three primary modes of communication, words, tone of voice and body language. He further postulated the theory that the relative importance of each was as follows:
- Words 7%
- Tone of voice: 38%
- Body language: 55%
There are some apparent anomalies in this theory that bear some examination outside the scope of this blog but in essence many psychologists frankly consider the theory to be a myth. For example it would assume that we could understand 55% of someone on TV speaking with the sound off, or if the respondent were speaking in a foreign language that we didn’t understand.
I love words and one of my habits in my youth (I must have been a strange child) was to look through the dictionary to find unusual words and to understand those that I had heard.
Communication needs words that are relevant to both the speaker and the listener. We all have heard of the three saddest words in the lexicon, Would, Could and Should and their use in decision making or not decision making as the case may be.
For example : “I should have done something about it….” or “I would have done something if…” or “I could have done something and now…”
Have you noticed that not only are those words used to explain or excuse failure or a mistake but they all also have a negative connotation?
What is more they all refer to events in the past in an atmosphere of regret, vacillation and indecision, none of which do much for self-confidence.
If we now convert these words to the present tense, Should to Shall, Would to Will and Could to Can, miraculously it seems, that they all change from being negative to being positive and almost always leading to action.
Moral: use Can, Shall and Will, rather than could, should and would wherever possible.
There are two more words, just three lettered, that can change our lives if we use them properly and with thought. They are both conjunctions, that is, words that come between two other words or phrases and they are as follows:
“AND” and “BUT”
Think about it. How often do we use each of those words in daily conversation and how often do we examine the possible consequences?
BUT is used to introduce a phrase or clause contrasting with what has already been mentioned, or alternatively, is used to indicate the impossibility of anything other than what is being stated.
Both of those definitions imply disagreement and it has been wisely said that when we use BUT, it destroys everything that has been said before.
Vistage UK speaker, John Cremer, uses a simple exercise to illustrate the difference between BUT and AND. He positions two people opposite each other and one starts with a suggestion for action. The other responds by saying, “Yes, AND….” to take the suggestion further and the conversation continues in this strain.
Then the method changes so instead of using AND the respondent says, “Yes, BUT….”. Following Mehrabian’s theory the body language changes absolutely with shoulders tending to droop and a negative atmosphere being generated.
We had another Vistage speaker who specifically banned the use of BUT all morning and rang a bell when when anyone spoke the dreaded word. The morning was extremely positive as a consequence.
We need to think about our use of some words, particularly those that are negative and that drain the energy out of a conversation. In communication especially if our words really do only constitute 7% of effective communication, always look for opportunities to use Can, Shall and Will rather than Could, Should and Would and particularly work to eliminate the use of BUT. That will input energy rather than drain it out of the conversation.
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