September 1, 2014

In Workplace Communication, Words do Matter

words do matter
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Since the 1970′s, communication experts have been citing research results released by Dr. Albert Mehrabian on the related value of three vital components of human communication:

  • Words
  • Tone
  • Body language

Mehrabian’s report reinforced reports released in the late 1960′s by the Journal of Consulting Psychology and the Journal of Personality and Psychology.

That research claimed that in a very limited scope of interpersonal communication, that the message conveyed was impacted:

  • 57% by the body language of the communicator
  • 38% by the tone
  • 7% from the words

This communication model is now called, “The Mehrabian Myth.”

I believe, in most every context, words have significantly greater impact, as a recent client experience points out. My client is the CIO of a major division at her company. The division she oversees is named CCIS for Central City Information Services.

She and I have been working together to create a more engaged, motivated workforce in a public governmental setting. To do so we’ve created formats for employees to interact more, share ideas and make higher-level contributions to the future of their division. It’s been a refreshing approach after years of stagnancy in the division and its leadership.

After a recent coaching session, my client decided to change the name of her division to be more inline with what she wants it to become. It’s a subtle change. So subtle it will not even change the division’s acronym of CCIS. The new name will be Central City Innovation Services.

Notice the difference between what “information” and “innovation” conveys.

Providing “information services” in the public sector (or any sector for that matter) is reactive. This is what this division has been facing for years as it tries to react to the requests that come in from other departments and divisions in their city.

My client wants her division to become proactive, bringing ideas for innovative city services to their internal customers and stakeholders. Just one word shifts the focus and the expectations for 36 employees in this division.

Making this shift does not require any tone or body language to make it 100% understandable, inspiring and motivational.

That’s the power of one word, by itself.

Leaders must start paying more attention to the words they use to make their messages more powerful, inspirational and motivational.

Motivational Photo via Shutterstock

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Personal Branding Blog The Personal Branding Blog is part of the Small Business Trends Publisher Channel, offering branding and career advice from Dan Schawbel and his team of experts. The blog helps professionals build a powerful brand to remain competitive in the job market.

7 Reactions

  1. What you said is true. Unfortunately, there are some people who think that their actions cannot be read simply because they are not saying anything. Sometimes, what they are trying to do is quite obvious. Some employees are acting for their own gain. Good thing I am a firm believer of karma where good things eventually return to you anyway.

  2. Language is full of nuance, so words make a difference. The connotation of a word can be even more important than the denotation. And connotation can change. Think of the word “gay”. It’s meaning has shifted with time.

    In an era of digital communication where we’re often not face-to-face and the words are typed, the word choice is solely responsible for communicating the intent.

  3. A word has a meaning. Innovative (social media) communication is an important key to a successful workplace.

  4. I agree completely. Words are very important. They are important in how we manage and lead others, and they are important in how we effectively communicate to the marketplace regarding our company and brand. Personally, I think the impact of body language is overestimated. I do believe it can have an impact in supervisor and employee conversations, but not nearly as much as some researchers say it does. For example, a person’s body language may be perfect for the situation, but if the words that come out of their mouth are always disempowering to their team members, they have failed them as a leader, and ultimately won’t get the results they are looking for.

  5. Obviously, it can be applied to both personal and work life. The word Information change to Innovation is really powerful. Not only was it powerful, it also broaden the scope of word. It became more relevant, exciting and challenging. It points to even greater direction and higher goals.

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