My niece has recently moved to China. She does not speak the Chinese language, but hopes to learn it while she is there. Here is the interesting thing I’m observing as I follow her Facebook updates and blog. She seems to be doing better at communicating with her new neighbors than our clients do in their staff meetings, even though she does not speak or understand their language.
Why would this be?
Research from UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian offers one potential reason, but we want to hear your perspective on this too. His studies suggest that as little as 7% of communication occurs through words; another 38% through sounds and 55% through body language, making non-verbal communication the primary conduit.
As I read my niece’s description of herself successfully ordering food and asking directions through a communication skill honed through years of playing charades and Pictionary, and compare that image to the last business meeting I observed, I have to agree with the study. The business meeting consisted of six participants, three via Telepresence, one on a mobile phone and two in the room, with me observing. Picture the scene.
Those visible to me have laptops open and some have a “smart phone” sitting on the table next to them (or in their hands). No one is looking at anyone. When one person speaks the others are reading whatever is on their screen, occasionally glancing up at the speaker. The commuter has his phone on “mute” so we don’t know if he is with us or not.
No one is capturing notes (though thumbs and fingers are moving feverishly over keyboards); conversation is tentative; questions are asked about information already shared but not heard. Occasionally a word will capture an ear, out of context and a rather spirited discussion erupts between two individuals, eventually ending with the words, “…that is not what I said…”.
Time is wasted- repeating, arguing, or worse- when parties miss the message and leave the meeting without having heard (or having misheard) the vital information or call to action, causing operational errors that cost much more than the collective time spent in the meeting.
Herein lays the paradox: Apparently, the more communication channels/devices we have, the less effective we are becoming at communication.
Is anyone else noticing this? Are we too distracted to see that we are attending coordination meetings but not coordinating anything; talking about next steps but not moving them to accountable action items; spending more time in meetings with diminishing added value; scheduling face-to-face meetings where no one is looking at each other?
Once an organization acknowledges the problem and commits to effective rather than efficient meetings and communication, the results can be stunning:
Perhaps a good place to start is found in the old adage, “The right tool for the job”.
I’m not suggesting anyone give up their e-mail or texting, or teleconference codes. I am suggesting that we begin by consciously choosing the appropriate tools for each communication event and leave the others to rest until they are needed (at the very least put them on silent or close the lid).
Here is something else you can do right now to move the needle closer to “effective”: Before you schedule that next meeting, or start that next text or e-mail, or phone call, take a moment to pause, and identify the purpose for the communication- what you hope to accomplish by “talking” with and “listening” to those you are engaging, and let them know too.
You will be surprised how this one simple step, providing an objective and some context for the information to be shared, can illuminate and accelerate understanding and success.
Give it a try and let us know what happens! Have any of you had success in improving the quality of communication within or between teams? Share how you’ve done it.
Oh yes, and try adding, “looking” to your listening habits. After all, communication is a team sport. Heads up!