What we say vs. How we say it

In class last evening, I made a comment about how we say things (i.e., the words we choose, the delivery, our body language, etc) is just as important as what we have to say. And I wanted to elaborate more on this topic, as I believe it is extraordinarily important, especially when considering the issues surrounding diversity and inclusion.

When I say the word “communication,” what comes to your mind? My guess is that the majority of people think primarily, if not solely, of verbal communication. Speech. And yes, speech is incredibly important. But, as I re-learned in Communicating Science the other night, 85% of how we communicate is through our body language. Only 15% is verbal.

Learning to communicate effectively must be about the words we choose and how we deliver these words. Has a really nice southern lady ever said “Bless your heart” in a way that made you believe you were actually being chastised? (Not that it always means that. Sometimes it is just a nice thing to say). In this example, the words being used are nice, but the delivery (tone, body language) tells us that the words weren’t necessarily meant in a kind way.

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On the opposite end of the spectrum, who has received a text that says “ok,” and then spent the next two hours trying to determine why the person whom texted you is upset? It happens to me all the time. And 9 times out of 10, the person isn’t mad. But I can’t tell that because in texting, I cannot see this person to get any visual cues, and I cannot hear the tone behind the words. My senses are limited and thus, meanings are misconstrued.

As another example, have you ever been in an “argument” with someone else, and either one or both of you keeps talking over the other? In situations like this, people tend to not listen and just keep thinking about their counter-argument. Being in a long-term relationship myself, I know that how my fiancée and I communicate when we disagree is imperative to how the argument goes. If either of us starts yelling and not listening, communication breaks down. If either of us just say “you are wrong and this is why,” communication breaks down. A better approach is to acknowledge the other person’s perspective (i.e., “I hear what you are saying AND this is how I perceive XYZ).  I capitalized “and” in that sentence because people often put the word “but” there. “But” has a negative connotation. It tells the other person that you are about to disagree with them and is dismissive. “And” suggests that you are open to what the other person has to say AND you respectfully have a different opinion.

This topic may seem sort of random, but I feel it is imperative to increasing tolerance and acceptance of those different from ourselves. Nobody wants to hear that his/her/their opinion is wrong. People are much more willing to change their opinions or at least listen to yours if you communicate respectfully. So, next time you find yourself in a position when the person you are talking to has a very different perspective of the world, remember that the words you choose and your delivery of these words can make or break any chance of changing the other person’s mind.

2 Replies to “What we say vs. How we say it”

  1. You touch in a very important idea here, language if it’s spoken or body language can affect the way we express our opinions. For me as an international student sometimes it’s to choose the right word that expresses what I’m trying to say, nonetheless, using them correctly to get my point across. So you topic and idea is not random at all, we really need to listen to people and choose the right spoken and body language to express our opinions.

  2. Good point, I agree! There is definitely a difference between content of delivery of conversation. This is essentially my research area so it’s great to here others thinking about this as well. 🙂

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