WhisperScenario A.

You say: “How are you?”
Your friend is smiling and bouncy, and says: “I’m fine.”
Do you believe them?

Scenario B.

You say: “How are you?”
Your friend is quiet with shoulders hunched, and says: “I’m fine.”
Do you believe them?

Choosing the right communication channels

You might have heard of the Mehrabian Myth – it’s been widely quoted that only 7% of communication comes from the words we use, with 38% from tone of voice and 55% from body language. The research actually applied only to incongruent communication – that is when words, voice and behaviours do not match (as in scenario B). The theory has been extrapolated to refer to all communication, but it’s not true.

That’s so important that I’ll repeat it.


In most cases, words are much more important than 7% (although, as a copywriter, I probably would say that, wouldn’t I).

You can achieve successful communication with just words – especially if you’ve already built a relationship face-to-face or over the phone first.

Imagine attending a training course in person compared with listening in to a conference call or just reading the manual. You’ll learn more face-to-face than over the phone, and more over the phone than by just reading the words.

You can’t always expect squiggles on paper or screen to achieve an objective for you.

For some people, television is more effective than radio, and radio more than print (it’s one reason why it’s wise to add video and audio to your website).

Using the right modalities

You might have heard of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). According to NLP, people have a preference for taking in information in different ways. Some are visual, some are auditory, and some are kinaesthetic.

Imagine a box of Swan Vesta matches – you know the ones, in the yellow, red and green box with the swan on it? Can you picture it? If yes, you’re having a visual thought. Now imagine I am shaking the box with the matches in it. Can you hear it? If yes, you’re having an auditory thought. And now imagine I turn the box sideways and I am running my fingertip down the sandpaper edge. Can you feel it? If yes, that’s a kinaesthetic thought.

All of us can experience all these modalities, but we tend to favour one over the others, depending on context.

The point is that all people are different. If you want to communicate effectively, you have to know the preference of your audience and tailor your style to suit them.

Some people like words (if you’ve read this far, you probably do). Others like pictures (in which case you might find this article hard to read as there are not many visuals). Other people like numbers (those people would rather interpret data in the form of tables, graphs and charts than read paragraphs of text).

Not all people are the same. Not all people are like you.


Remember, the secret of successful communication is what reaches the mind of the communicatee, not what leaves the mind of the communicator. Your message is not what you say; it’s what your audience understands.

You have to know what they know already, what they need to know, the way they prefer to be communicated with, the filters in their mind that will edit the message you give them, and the best way to reach them.

So now we’re back to internal communications (see part 1 of this article).

If you have the job of communicating information in your organisation, it’s best to present it using all modalities and channels:

  • Use numbers, pictures and words in your weekly reports
  • Use writing, phone and face-to-face in your sales and training processes
  • Use video, podcasts and text on your website

Finally, keep your message simple. Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them what it is, and then tell them what you’ve just told them.

Do all this, and you’ll have the best chance of avoiding Chinese Whispers – such as when the message ‘Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance’ turns into ‘Send three-and-fourpence, we’re going to a dance’.

This article was originally written for Fresh Business Thinking.

photo credit: Girls Whispering via photopin (license)

1 Comment

Secrets of effective communication (part 1) | jackiebarrie.com · January 14, 2016 at 2:25 pm

[…] part 2 of this article to find out […]

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