The Gift in Every Experience – Choose Your Words! Studies have shown how words are of little importance in verbal communication generally. When we are communicating face to face, it’s the nonverbal communication that matters most. According to The Visual Impact of Communications, (adapted from Nonverbal Communication, (1972) Albert Mahrabian) words represent just 7% of communication, with body language (energy) representing 55% and facial expressions(tone) representing 38%. More often these days, though, we don’t have the advantage of bringing these other important forms of communication to the table and are reduced to just the words in our written electronic communication. Now words take on a much greater, even primary importance.
In this mad multi-tasking world, how often do we take extra care in carefully choosing our words when communicating, especially in delicate situations?
I recently had an experience that underscored for me the importance of choosing my words carefully. Even knowing that, sometimes stressful situations can cause us (me!) to regress, losing our ability to stay mindful in our communication.
I was working on closing one of the largest deals of my career as a lawyer. I had full charge of the direction, structure and outcome of the project. It was exhilarating and it also took me down an interesting road that I had not traveled in quite some time – experiencing the unique kind of stress that comes with tens of millions of dollars at stake and people turning solely to me for the answers. Usually, in my entrepreneurial ventures I am working with a team.
Throughout the process, I loved the work, was good at it, and the clients expressed that they couldn’t do it without me. Yet, in the stress of the latter stages of the process, I was at risk of alienating the people that I was trying to persuade through some less-artfully chosen language.
Over the years, I’d come a long distance in my communication skills. Very early in my legal career, I was once characterised as being in negotiations like “a dog with a bone.” This wasn’t a very attractive visual then, but it left an indelible mark on me because so many years later, I still remember the stinging critique.
I did not know very well then how to be a great advocate for my clients, while also maintaining good relations with the people on the opposite side of the table that I had to convince of my point of view. In the ensuing years, I’ve made concerted efforts to maintain my equilibrium in my conversations with others, no matter the context. Once two-dimensional electronic communications became the norm, we could no longer rely on body language, tone, or facial expressions to augment our words.
Words are all we have. If we want to persuade someone in an electronic communication, while also maintaining relationship, keeping them engaged and not turning them into adversaries; it matters all the more that we bring mindfulness to the words we use to communicate. As an author and someone who is comfortable with the written word who can write a good letter, I’m still as at risk as anyone of not being measured enough with my words when under stress.
So there I was, with a situation that looked like the other party was in breach of our agreement barely two days out from signing. Despite the threat, it was still imperative to find a way to communicate, to get what I needed without alienating the recipient; being accusatory, and in a way that would ensure a continued cooperative process.
As careful as I may think I’m being to remove my anger and frustration from my emails, the end result can still be that the person takes the email personally, which has the potential to create a contentious, obstinate relationship that would unnecessarily burden us and our customers. What I find works best is to be inclusive in my language, approaching the problem with the collective “we” in mind – “how can we solve this situation?” “what do you think?” “how do we proceed from here?”
How many times have you written an email or a text at a critical juncture in your business dealings that had unintended consequences? Words matter and they can derail any situation.
Today electronic communication is used almost exclusively in business. So, choosing the right words can determine the experiences you and your customers will have, and, even if your recipient does take umbrage, use it as a chance to grow more conscious in your communications going forward.
While it may take an extra minute to do, these situations are a reminder to be careful with our language, to put ourselves in the recipient’s shoes before we hit send, to recognise how our words might land. Then, we can shift into a more gracious stance that gets us the result that we need. That was the outcome of my recent situation, and it can be yours, too, if you use care in choosing your words.