Very often we say or do something that is misinterpreted. It’s interpreted in a way very different to the way we intended.
Sometimes we may use the wrong words. Or we use words that evoke an emotion that we didn’t intend or expect.
Very often though, it’s the way the message is delivered.
In the 1960’s, Professor Albert Mehrabian revolutionized the way we look at communication. At the time he was lecturing at the University of California, and is currently Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA.
Mehrabian’s research and findings (Ref) dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes help us understand why so often messages go astray and are misinterpreted, and why we and our intentions are misunderstood.
He found that:
- 7% of the message is what is actually said
- 38% of the message is how it is said
- 55% of the message what is seen when it is said
As an exaggerated example, fold your arms, look stern, raise your voice, and say to someone “I love you.” The words and how the words are delivered are incongruent, and this will cause confusion in the mind of the recipient. They will automatically focus not on the words, but how the words are delivered. So they will not hear a compliment. They’ll most probably ask “what’s wrong?”, “what did I do?”
We form our opinions, our impressions, based on the way we interpret the signals we receive.
Body language experts have told us that someone speaking with their arms folded is closed in, guarded, disinterested. It could also mean that they are cold. Or just comfortable in that position.
So what does this mean for us in our everyday lives?
Psychologists and therapists see many people in their practices where conflict and arguments are a constant in their lives. This places stress on them, their partner, family, friends and of course on their relationships.
Often the causes of these problems are deep seated and require attention and focus to be resolved.
Many times, however, the cause of the problem is simply poor communication skills. This is especially so with couples or in family relationships, where emotions, feelings and attitudes are readily displayed. And where the response is less measured, less thought through and sometimes inconsiderate. We’re often less considerate of family members at times than strangers!
A mother wanting to teach her child not to touch the hotplate just after the child almost burned their hand, will often raise her voice and say with a stern face… “I’m not angry with you.” That’s not the message the child receives.
So be aware that miscommunication can be one of the greatest causes of conflict.
We all need to think about not just the words that we use, but how we deliver those words.