And, of course, the more people believe it to be fact, the more they repeat it as such – and the more it becomes embedded in the general consciousness as being ‘right’ or ‘the truth’.
Here are three of the most common beliefs often treated as ‘facts’ in relation to communication:
1. Only 7% of people’s understanding of your message is based on the words you use
That leaves a whopping great 93% of your message being understood through your body language and tone of voice! And therein lies a fundamental misunderstanding of the original research on which this belief is based.
These figures may be accurate in a situation where you are explaining your feelings about, or attitude to, something specific – particularly if there is a mismatch between what you are saying and your tone of voice and body language. So, if you say “This is fun!” whilst frowning and in a flat tone of voice, chances are that people will not believe your words.
Admittedly much of our communication tends to focus on our feelings and attitudes – but by no means all of it. There are times when we are sharing factual information – giving directions or discussing options for a project, for example – and in these situations our actual words take on greater significance; comprising, therefore, considerably more than 7% of the message.
2. Saying “You make me feel angry/confused/angry/sad” is inaccurate because no one can make you feel anything
This statement is trotted out so often that it has become banal – and it’s not even true. If only we were all so self-controlled and self-sufficient that we could constantly choose how we feel, independent of the messages that are being communicated all around us!
But we aren’t. Human beings are social animals and we respond to what other people around us are communicating to us. I’m sure you’ll have experienced this many times yourself. Think of those times you went into a meeting feeling buoyant and optimistic, only to find yourself in conversation with two or three people who are gloomy – chances are you find your own mood being impacted.
Or consider the last time someone spoke sharply to you when you weren’t expecting it – how quickly did you either find yourself retorting equally abruptly or else feeling like you were six years old again?
Our feelings are directly affected by the myriad of people we communicate with each and every day; if you believe you can sail through this without being affected, you’re kidding yourself.
3. You can recall the details of the important conversation you had last week, yesterday, an hour ago... and will keep recalling them accurately for as long as you remember that conversation
Think of a conversation you had recently – one that mattered to you for some reason; perhaps it was your annual performance review, or a heart-to-heart with a colleague, or an angry interaction. Recall the details of that conversation.
Now think of the same conversation and recall the details again. Most people believe that they have the same recollection each time, and that the recollection is an accurate version of the conversation.
But it isn’t. We are surprisingly poor at remembering what happened in any situation, and a conversation is no exception. Even while the conversation is happening, we filter the details of the interaction based on what we want to hear, what we want to believe about the other person involved and the amount our brains can process.
Therefore, even while the event is happening, we are laying down inaccurate foundations. The next time we recall it, we distort our recollections, magnifying some details and minimising others. And the next time we recall it, we no longer remember the original event – only our first recollection of that event. And we distort that recollection slightly so we become even more removed from what actually took place.
These distortions are the cause of many heated debates after the event, when all the parties involved in the original situation have dramatically differing accounts of what took place – and each clings strongly to the view that their recollection is the right one!
Let us know some of the spurious 'facts' about communication that you've encountered in business or in life. Leave us a comment below or tweet us @CommsMasters.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net