You’ll no doubt have heard this statement by the Austrian communication expert Paul Watzlawick. But what does it mean exactly? The answer is simple: People communicate all the time – whether they want to or not, and whether they are talking or not. That is because it is impossible to avoid sending out signals (verbal or non-verbal) to those around you. There is one simple reason for this: Communication is not only about information and communication does not solely take the form of speech.
Did you know that only 7% of the impact you achieve through communication depends on the information you are conveying? 93% of the impact depends on the way in which you present that information: 53% is determined by your appearance and body language and 38% by your voice and tone (I’ll explore this more in another blog). After all, we often choose our words very carefully, especially when preparing a speech or presentation – but do we devote the necessary attention to the manner in which we communicate? Many of us certainly neglect this aspect. Watch a video of yourself sometime and you will learn much more about the impact you have.
You communicate most effectively when your message, tone and body language are in harmony – in other words, when you mean what you say and when the person you are talking to senses that you are genuine. At the same time, the other party can contribute to mutual understanding by actively listening to your words and responding constructively – be it verbally or non-verbally (e.g. by nodding).
Always forming relationships
Many people nevertheless equate communication to sharing information and speaking. However, Watzlawick discovered that people always enter into a relationship with the party with whom they are communicating. For example, you may subconsciously note the mood of the person you are talking to and then say what you wanted to say in a different way – or perhaps say only part of it. The manner in which people communicate is also influenced by the relationship between them: Two friends talk to each other in a different way to a manager and his employees.
In the case of purely written communication, it is more difficult to perceive how the other party responds due to the lack of non-verbal signals. As a result, it is more common for misunderstandings to arise in written communication. There is simply more scope to interpret what exactly the person sending the message means or intended to say. You should therefore take care when communicating via social media and consider how your message could be understood. Would you convey the same information at a public event for example or shout it across the street? What reaction could it trigger among other people?
Four levels of communication
Friedman Schulz von Thun, a German communication expert and psychologist, refined the approach defined by Watzlawick and identified four different levels of communication:
- The matter layer: factual information
- The relationship layer: I express what I think of the receiver of the message (verbal or non‑verbal) and the nature of our relationship
- Self-revealing: The speaker expresses something about himself
- Appeal: The sender wants to make the receiver take action, adopt a view or reach a decision.
Maria Geisel from www.alphalernen.de aptly summarized the most frequent communication errors that we make:
- To believe that we can communicate without the relationship aspect – i.e. on a purely factual basis.
- To look for someone to blame when misunderstandings occur rather than seeking a solution. Here, I would add that when disputes arise, each party believes his viewpoint is correct but there is no objective opinion on this. You can find out more about this in my bog on conflict management that will be published shortly.
- To not be aware of one’s own attitude and expectations regarding the communication Situation.
- To believe that the sender of a message is always understood in the way he intended.
On this final point: The decisive factor is not the message you want to convey but rather how it is understood by the receiver. A great deal occurs at a subconscious level in this context. After all, the following responses by the receiver ultimately determine how your message is received:
- Does the receiver sense that you value him?
- Are you using language the receiver understands, without unnecessary jargon?
- Do you come across as genuine? Do you truly mean what you say?
- Is your interest real? Is your message free from any concealed appeals?
Resilient people are able to ‘put themselves in the shoes of others’ and communicate accordingly. They actively listen to what is being said and give constructive responses. They are able to inspire trust in people and this prepares the ground for a time when they may need to communicate a difficult message without their relationship with the other party instantly being destroyed. I wish you every success in communicating!
© Claudia Kraaz