Tag Archives: communication

Even Brian Tracy can get it wrong!

Shooting foot small

Brian Tracy is a highly regarded ‘guru’ in the field of self development – a self-styled Best-Selling Author and Success Expert. He’s someone I have long respected for the wisdom he writes and says. But today I received a promotional email from him that put a severe dent in that esteem. This is what he wrote:

“According to Albert Mehrabian of UCLA, there are 3 elements in any direct, face-to-face communication. They are the elements of words, tone of voice, and body language.

The Elements of Words

 Words only account for 7 % of any message.”

When I first heard that claim, I thought, “What rubbish!” Then a friend of mine, the late Philip Smee, delivered a speech on the subject, in which he revealed that even Albert Mehrabian would have said the same.

It is now well established that Dr Mehrabian never made such a claim, and spends his time denying it. His test results have been repeatedly quoted out of context. So when Brian Tracy repeats the error, I am concerned about the quality of his research and of his understanding of the communication process.

Earlier in the same email, Mr Tracy wrote, “Nearly 85% of what you accomplish in your career and in your personal life will be determined by how well you can get your message across …”

And also, “Nearly 99% of all of the difficulties between human beings, and within organizations are caused by breakdowns in the communication process.”

As I am in the business of improving the communication skills of my clients, I want to use those stats. I want to quote Brian Tracy as the authority for them and for the notion that effective communication skills are vital for business leaders.

Like him, I believe that good communication skills will help you achieve clarity in what you think, say and do, and help you become known as a respected communicator wherever you go.

I want to quote him. But, as he has joined the legions who mis-quote Albert Mehrabian, should I do that?

I once walked out of a seminar in which that same Mehrabian mis-quote was made, on the grounds that the speaker couldn’t teach me anything if he was prepared to trot out that old chestnut. Because I have held Brian Tracy in such high esteem for so many years, I hesitate to dismiss him out of hand.

But I think he’s shot himself in the foot.

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Is there a sub-text?

Chinese words

Chinese words

Elsewhere, someone has written a blog on the following quote from George Bernard Shaw: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” I am in the middle of such an example myself.

I wrote in a Facebook forum asking for help with a problem a friend was having. One person replied asking me to call him on his mobile number. But another person wrote saying it was not the only option. Just that. He did not specify what the alternative might be.

Concerned not to offend the first person, I wrote privately to the second person, asking what other options there might be. He chided me for writing privately about a matter I had already put out in the open. That set me back on my heels, so I paused to reflect on the crossed wires.

Why were we at odds over this? Perhaps it was a cultural difference. Perhaps it was my Oriental background that prompted me to consider the possibility of giving offence by going after some alternative, having just had one offer of help.  I also considered the possibility of person no.2 wanting to dismiss the offer of person no.1.

Let me clarify that I would have had no problem in accepting a specific alternative offer. The problem, in my mind, was in seeking, publicly, an alternative to the first offer — appearing to look over the shoulder of the first person for something better, by asking, openly, for some other option.

It may seem a tiny distinction, and person no.2 went on to write that ”Sometimes it’s worth considering that what is said can be a simple statement of all that is to be said, without subtext.” So my attempt at sparing the feelings of one helper has got me into trouble with a second one.

In the areas of diplomacy and negotiations, isn’t the subtext often the more important communication? Shouldn’t you consider that your “simple statement of all that is to be said” may unwittingly carry some more important subtext?

It happens all the time in cross-cultural communication.

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Making good contact with your audience

It was the Final of the annual Anglo-Irish public speaking contest. A long-standing Toastmaster with a good record in these contests took to the stage, and the largely Irish audience pulsed expectantly.

It was a brilliant text, full of clever linguistic jokes, puns and even verbal pictures. But one minute into the speech, the audience’s expectations had been replaced by a sympathetic tolerance, as they disconnected from the speaker and waited politely for him to finish.

What went wrong?

Two things: first, it was a written text, not a spoken one. The text that’s written to be read is not the same as the text that’s written to be said.

Secondly, it was a recitation from memory. The speaker spoke AT the audience, not TO them. They sensed it and reacted accordingly.

The language was too clever to be received and understood on the run, at 150 words a minute. Some of the vocabulary was unfamiliar, the sentences were long, and the meaning of some sentences was obscured by subordinate clauses. It’s like telling a story, and breaking off in the middle to give some background material that adds nothing to the story, but gets in the way.

The speaker had written the text, and on the stage he was focused on recalling all 900 words (or thereabouts) in the right order. You could see it in his eyes. That’s one of the biggest dangers of delivering a speech from memory.

The next speaker started by throwing fortune cookies into the audience, which engaged their attention immediately. He then related his message to the message in his own fortune cookie, speaking to the audience in terms that they readily understood and could relate to. So of course he won.

To help you avoid a misconnection with your next speech or presentation, when you are preparing your material just imagine a member of your audience asking you these three questions:

1. What exactly do you want me to understand and remember?
2. Why should I care about that?
3. Why do I need to hear that from you (and not someone else)?

When you are delivering your speech, imagine that same person sitting somewhere near the front, waiting for you to answer those 3 questions.

As you address that person, you will ‘feel’ a connection with the audience. It will make a huge difference to the outcome.

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What is the real meaning behind what people say?

You are a communicator — that’s why you are on this page. So you can have fun thinking about the real meaning of the statements below.

These are just a few examples of the double-speak that we all engage in. But I wonder if we always hear the sub-text when someone says:

I hear what you say

I see where you are coming from

I hope you like strong tea

I’ll get back to you on that

Here, let me get you a coaster

No, no, I’m not offended. I can take a joke.

The conference covered a lot of ground and there was a full and frank exchange of views

You look really young

Please don’t mind me

It’s not that I don’t believe you …

Q. How do you like him?
A. Actually, I hardly know him
A. He’s very good at his job
A. He means well
A. I’ve got nothing against him

Q. How do you like my house?
A. It has that lived-in look
A. It makes you feel at home
A. What an interesting colour scheme
A. I hate a home where everything is neatly put away

Q. You’ve heard my complaint. Will you put it right?
A. I have listened with interest and made a note of your views
A. I’ll make these points clear to all concerned
A. I assure you I will keep it top-of-mind
A. I’ll look into it, first chance I get

I hope I’m not interrupting

Forgive me, but …

You must come over for dinner some time

We’re all in this together

Now, how about some of your own?

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