Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Fostering Constructive Communication, Part Two

By Scott E. Friedman, Andrea H. HusVar, and Eliza P. Friedman

Several weeks ago, we began discussing the value of constructive communication—whether in business or in everyday life.

We also had a think about why most people struggle with it.

You may recall that, according to studies at the University of Minnesota, the average person remembers only about half of what he or she has heard—no matter how carefully he thought he was listening.[1]

Over the coming weeks, we’ll take a look at some ideas informed by science to help families more constructively communicate with one another.

The first strategy is memorializing agreements in writing.

Research at places like Florida State University and Michigan State University revealed that an average listener will remember only about twenty-five percent of what was said only two months after listening to a talk—and that we are likely to forget from one-half to one-third of what we heard within eight hours. Putting agreements in writing will help reduce misunderstandings that result from innocent, but faulty, recollections.[2]

Another idea is to sensitize individuals to the importance of non-verbal communication.

Non-verbal communication can occur in a variety of ways, including through gestures, body language (posture), tone of voice, facial expression, eye contact, etc. It can also occur through choices in fashion, hairstyles, and perfume or other scents. We also communicate non-verbally through space (for example, consider the location and decor of an office), time (consider, for example, whether one is punctual or consistently late), symbols (for example, using emojis), and sounds (such as a choice of ringtone on a phone).

Interestingly, we can even communicate silently, the meaning of which can be positive or negative, depending on the context, to reflect, alternatively and as only one example, either rapt attention or lack of interest. Sometimes we communicate non-verbally by multi-tasking, such as, for example, when listening to someone but, at the same time, checking emails. It can be both intentional and deliberate, or unintentional and unconscious. It can reflect emotions like happiness, unhappiness, interest, curiosity, annoyance, empathy, etc. Perhaps the most famous work on the importance of non-verbal communication was done by Albert Mehrabian.[3]

While the subject is of continuing debate, Mehrabian is well-known for proposing that words account for only about seven percent of how we process a message; the balance is by considering tone of voice (accounting for about thirty-eight percent of how we process a message), and body language (accounting for about fifty-five percent of how a message is processed).[4]

Families in business together can use this information to help insure that their non-verbal communications are thoughtful and constructive; doing so will help enhance interpersonal relationships.

Our propensity to misunderstand each other continues to accelerate due to the increased use of technology to communicate as it is difficult to express emotions and feeling in emails, texts and tweets that only require a form of written text—at a time when researchers have established the importance of non-verbal communication—for effective communication.

Join us back here next week as we continue our discussion of effective communication strategies—including how a simple smile can make a big impact in business.

[1] Ralph G. Nichols & Leonard A. Stevens, Listening to People, Harv. Bus. Rev. (Sept. 1957),

[2] Id.

[3] See generally, e.g., Albert Mehrabian, Silent Messages (1971); Albert Mehrabian, “Silent Messages”: A Wealth of Information About Nonverbal Communication (Body Language), (last visited Mar. 20, 2017).

[4] Mehrabian, supra.

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