julia@iclc.com.au leonie@iclc.com.au

No 70% of communication is not non verbal.

Posted by Julia Milner on Jun 13, 2018 in Blog

No, 70% of communication is not non verbal.

Clearly one of the most important skills for a leader to master is that of communication. But there is a myth that populates the discussion about communication. That myth is that 70% of all communication is non verbal. I would suggest to you that this a massive under estimation of the power of your words.

The problem is that believing these flawed numbers could lead you to over prioritise the learning of certain skills.

Mastering non verbal messaging is a great skill but it doesn’t override the skill of communication via the use of what you actually say. The 70% figure comes from research that is questionable in its ability to be translated into the real world.

Lets examine some realities.

I would like you to think about the greatest speeches, the greatest presentations you have ever heard. When I think about those the first thing that jumps to mind for me is Winston Churchill’s use of the English language. Now I am not asking you to buy into Winston Churchill’s political philosophy. I would ask you to think about how he conveyed messages to the broader public and in particular how he conveyed messages to the English and British public. In the absence of TV etc this was done primarily via radio. Of course there are other great orators that have spoken across time. An example being John F Kennedy spoke about a manned mission to the moon, again I would like you to think about that or Martin Luther King with his “I have a dream” speech.

When you thought about Winston Churchill, when you thought about John F Kennedy, when you thought about Martin Luther King did you think about their non verbal presentation, did you think about their body language? I bet you didn’t. I bet you thought about the actual words they used and how they used those words. The tone of their voices, the use of pauses etc. When people talk about Martin Luther Kings speech and they talk about “I have a dream” they don’t say he was standing in such and such a way and he was presenting his body in such a way. They talk about the power of the words and how the words resonated across decades. So the message is being skilful with the way you present orally makes a difference in terms of influence and persuasion, of course body language has a part to play here and how you present yourself is going to impact upon people. But lets be honest, when people walk away from your presentations, when people walk away from interacting with you they are going to be impacted by how you physically presented yourself but they are going to be significantly more impacted by what you actually said.

Late last year I had a conversation with a colleague and I suggested that I was going to focus on one particular thing for this year and this was going to be my big goal, if you like, for this year.  My colleague went away and reflected upon that and he asked himself “what would it be like if I did what Alex is suggesting, what would it be like if I committed to this?” and his decision was to do exactly that, he made the same goal for this year as I did. Now again if you ask my colleague he could roughly tell you where we were but he could not tell you how I was standing or how I was dressed, he would not be able to tell you how I was using my hands in the conversation or my facial expressions, what impacted upon him was the use of powerful words. Words that resonated with where he was in life. I would strongly suggest to you that getting the words right makes a massive difference.

Great leaders recognise this and make learning, to use words powerfully, a priority.