One thing I always find painfully annoying is the amount of disinformation out there about communication. That is particularly true of some of the more widely accepted maxims of communication that have become so ingrained in the minds of business people they are never even questioned.
Yet, just a modicum of critical thought or even a little bit of reading of the actual research many of these maxims claim to be based on quickly reveals them for the nonsense they actually are.
So, in an effort to right the ledger a little, here are five myths of communication that need to be debunked and banished from your consciousness.
1: Tell 'em, Tell 'em, Tell 'em
One of the most frequent pieces of advice I read and hear for fledgling speakers is 'Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em, tell 'em, then tell 'em what you told them.'
In other words: index, present, summarize.
The problem is, this is boring. By the time you're telling them what you told them, half of your audience has either walked out or fallen asleep. If this was so effective then surely every tribe on the planet would be presenting their oral history this way, but they don't do they?
They tell stories and every leader who wants to communicate effectively needs to learn to do the same. Stories are not only engaging but they provide us with context and a way to remember key messages. Bullet point indexing approaches do neither.
2: Delivery Matters More Than Content
The eternal fixation with surface displays is never far away and the most pointed example is the advice that delivery is more important than content. Delivery is important and when done well certainly provides the icing on the cake, but it isn't the cake!
In the business world you are primarily judged on your content and much of what is perceived as a delivery problem is, in fact, a content or structure problem.
Most executives are reasonably confident in front of an audience and most posses reasonable presentation skills. Sure they could be polished but when you talk about the same sorts of things to the same sorts of people day in and day out you don't really need much of a range.
The real problem is not how you are saying something, the real problem is what you are saying.
Illogical, poorly structured and irrelevant presentations are the most common issues I see in leadership communication, not diabolically bad delivery.
3: Body Language
Obviously we use body language as part of our arsenal of tools to convey meaning and to underscore expressions of emotion. However, the idea that we can use those same tools to interpret someone else's meaning is fatally flawed.
There is no universal meaning for any gesture or movement of any part of the body.
There is no way to accurately interpret what a gesture or movement of the body might mean. Understanding someone's body language requires intimate knowledge of the person and even then can be misinterpreted.
4: Left Brain/Right Brain
One of the most commonly accepted axioms of communication is that certain functions of the brain are controlled by certain hemispheres; people are divided in to those who are biased towards a rational approach (left brained) and those who are more creative (right brained). It also happens to be grossly inaccurate.
You are whole brained.
While certain brain function such as speech may be predominantly located in one part of the brain, the truth is that none of these work in isolation. The brain and its function are connected and work in unison.
You can no more be right brained than you can be 'front-brained' or 'rear brained'. In fact, the whole idea is hare-brained and should be consigned to the wastebasket of fantasy.
5: 93% of Communication is Non-Verbal
Another myth from the wastebasket of fantasy - this time based on research that has been taken completely out of context. Albert Mehrabian conducted some famous experiments where he tried to determine how emotion was communicated when signals are conflicting.
His findings were that 7% of meaning was from words, 38% from tone and 55% from the visual.
Put those last two numbers together and you get 93% of all communication as non-verbal. It is inherently silly.
Do you only understand 45% of a phone call? If I were to start speaking a foreign language in front of you would you automatically understand 93% of everything I said?
The answers speak for themselves.