For too long, we’ve not seen enough faces. Several doctors I know are concerned about the impact of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations on interpersonal communications. So, I thought it would be appropriate to write about the need to maintain the standard of good interpersonal skills, even in the face of change.
Whenever I do team building workshops, one question I always ask is what people would like to see different at their workplace. Invariably, and I truly mean that, people always say they want better communications. But that answer is never good enough for me. Do they mean better or more frequent sharing of the corporate vision and the milestones being reached? Do they mean a better articulation of the objectives for the day or the week? Do they mean more frequent conversations with their supervisors and/or co-workers to get feedback on the quality of work being produced?
The word “communications” is a broad umbrella that covers many potential aspects of the workplace. I always press for more specifics. Today, I want to focus on the need to maintain good body language cues because lately we’ve been missing out on a lot of them.
Studies vary but when I teach about interpersonal communications, I refer to the following statistics:
- Word choices = 7% of communication
- Voice tone = 25% of communication
- Body language = 68% of communication
These numbers shed light on why I prefer talking on the phone rather than relying on text or email, and why I often prefer a video conference over talking on the phone.
With email and texting we can convey concepts, but the emotions and emphasis behind the words are missing. Emoticons help, but they don’t substitute for the intonation and inflections of voice.
Voices heard over a phone call help a lot, but even then our communications are only one third of what’s possible. The best and most effective communications occur face-to-face, but as you’ve probably noticed, we’ve been deprived of facial cues for a while now.
Many people with mild to moderate hearing loss have come to rely on facial cues to aid in understanding what someone’s saying. And there are more of us than you may realize. On a personal note, I have 40% hearing loss in one ear and 60% loss in the other. I’m not a fan of my hearing aid, and with the advent of facial coverings, I didn’t realize how much I’d come to rely on watching someone’s lips to aid in understanding what people are saying.
Over the past year, I’ve learned that many people have this same dilemma. The difficulty has been compounded with people wanting to maintain a safe distance from each other.
But beyond that, I and many others have observed that, overall, people aren’t as engaged with each other as they were 14 months ago. It seems that with the loss of facial cues, many people closed off a portion of their overall interactions with others. Since this tendency has an impact on our humanity, it is this issue that I want to address by offering a few suggestions.
The first, and likely most obvious, is to talk a little louder and work to articulate words. It’s amazing how much some of us “swallow” certain syllables or leave off the emphasis of certain consonants. I used to be super guilty of this, and I found out the hard way. I used to record myself when I was preparing to give professional presentations, and I was shocked to realize that some words that I thought I was saying clearly were hardly discernable. I’m not saying anyone needs to spend time recording and evaluating their speech; I refer to it only to point out how much we may think we’re being clear in our words when we’re not. If we’re wearing a face covering, articulating becomes even more important.
Second, let your hands do more talking. As the statistics above indicate, 68% of our communication is body language. If people can’t see our minor but ultimately important facial cues, we can augment by being more animated with our arm and hand movements. I realize this won’t always be possible, but when and where it is possible, more body language helps people understand what we’re trying to get across.
Third, be sure to look people in the eye when talking with them. Together with this, strive to be a little more animated with your eye expressions. Muscles around our mouths give the best body language cues when talking face-to-face, but after that our eyes can help a lot.
At least three obstacles get in the way with this third suggestion. First, most of us are accustomed to relying on the muscles around our mouth. Being purposeful in animating our eyes requires a conscious choice. Second, a lot of people are accustomed to wearing sunglasses if outside. Face coverings plus eye coverings make it hard to convey any facial expression at all, so if you’re outside, it may be best to remove the eyeshades when talking with others, despite the sunshine. Third, in general, many people are not accustomed to a lot of eye contact and will be uncomfortable with it. However, I firmly believe that making the effort will help a lot in keeping that valuable connection we have as human beings.
Finally, pay attention to the feedback you’re getting from the person or people with whom you are talking. With that, don’t be afraid to ask whether people can understand you if you think the communications aren’t what you think they should be.
Through this season of humanity, we cannot afford to hinder our communications. A little effort on our part can not only maintain a standard of good communication, but ultimately may improve it. And that can only be good for all of society.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. For more than 30 years he’s been working with teams and individuals (1:1 coaching) to help them achieve excellence. He was also teaching Emotional Intelligence since before it was a thing. Reach Daniel on his office phone, 208-375-7606, or through his website, www.MyWorkplaceExcellence.com.