Great communication is not about what you say, it’s about how you make others feel

Two smiling women

Let’s try a quiz:

What is the purpose of words within the context of communications?

a. A device that we use to communicate with others

b. A device that complicates matters

c. A device that is redundant

d. None of the above

e. All of the above

Now let’s explore the options one by one.

It’s undeniable that the usage of words is a contemporary practice, since our forebears in ancient times may probably not know what words are. It is only in recent times that words are introduced into the communication process. If this is the case, then how do we humans communicate in the past? Body gestures and facial expressions maybe? If this is indeed the case, then I believe that we can safely say that emotions rather than rationality dominate. This is because emotions are more closely aligned with our nonverbal expressions (we often laugh/yawn – depending on our emotions – before we even realise it) while words are more aligned with rationality (we usually compose our thoughts and sentences before speaking up, unless we are angry which makes us extremely irrational). Since our emotional responses often precede rational responses, it will be interesting to explore the quiz questions above within the context of this assumption.

When we consider option a, it’s undeniable that we use words as a communication device or tool to communicate with others. Coupled this with the fact that emotions precedes rationality in human communications, we can safely assume that words serves as a secondary and complementary communication tool that we employ alongside our primary emotional  (nonverbal) responses. Words are thus an extension of our primitive nonverbal communications. Hence, words can be considered as the lacquer that is applied on the basic foundation of human nonverbal communications. The statistics of 55% body language (nonverbal), 38% vocals (nonverbal) and 7% words (verbal) further confirmed this (although personally, I still see the strong significance of words. And where I feel that the current indicated low percentage of 7% has done it a severe injustice). With this additional tool, humans are able to extend their communications to the written form (which is almost not possible before). However, when it comes to the verbal structure, users of words sometimes compromise their own effectiveness in their communications with their -at times- contradicting nonverbal responses, of which shaking one’s head while saying “yes” is one unusual albeit humourous example. I believe that you can think of another.

This leads us to explore option b, where it’s indeed a fact that humans often send contradictory signals in their communication process in both their verbal and nonverbal signals. Using the abovementioned examples, there are some who even said that “when someone shakes their head and says ‘yes’, take ‘no’ as the answer.” This is so true. Considered within the context that our emotional responses not only precedes our rational responses but is a stronger indication of our intended message (how many times have some of us showed an immediate sign of irritation when we are interrupted by a sudden ringing of a phone call in the midst of a task before we picked up the receiver, composed ourselves and respond with a rational, polite “hi!” ?),  words often complicate rather than facilitate the communication process. We  can observe this in our daily experiences: some boyfriends/girlfriends saying “yes” verbally all the time (so that they can be together with their other half [rational]) until their patience ran out and  they lose their cool [emotional], some children saying “yes” to parents (to avoid further conflicts [rational]) until their freedom threshold  is reached and they started rebelling  [emotional] while some employees say “yes” all the time to their bosses (so that they can be seen as a great team player [rational]) until their personal commitments get infringed and they started to reconsider their career options [emotional and in this instance, rational at the same time].  It can be observed that for each of the examples, there’s an almost eternal conflict between our emotional and rational self. While our rational self has enabled us to conform to societal norms, it’s usually the emotional self which will ultimately reign. And this is no surprise since it’s the latter that is our most primitive response. It’s our emotions which have ensured our survival, not rationality which is nevertheless a rather new creation. It’s primitive fright that makes us run from danger, not our self-imposed rationalisation.

This brings us to option c, which seems to suggest the discarding of words entirely. I believe that you will agree with me that we can live without words. Living in a world filled with words but devoid of nonverbal communication signals will make us automatons and androids (which I believe that none of us will want to be in) but living in a world filled with emotions but devoid of verbal communication signals makes communication all the clearer, doesn’t it? After all, we used to come from this world. However, it seems that agreeing that words as a communication device is redundant reinforces the fact that words complicates matters [option b] but contradicts the effectiveness of using words as a communicating tool [option a]. However, if we look closely, we will see that all three options a,b, and c do not contradict one another, since we humans are a bunch of dilemmas and enigmas ourselves. We understand the challenges that words pose to communications but we still prefer using rational words over emotional ones (especially in email correspondences in the workplace). It has often puzzled me that the workplace favoured a logical/rational responses where an emotional response might be a better option. In a retrenchment situation, compare a scenario where a worker is informed to leave by a letter with an alternate scenario of a personal chat session with his supervisor).  Emotions has often been considered to be the causes of biasness, the roots of favouritism and the sparks of conflicts but this is being too pessimistic and cautious. On a more positive note, we should not forget or ignore the fact that emotions are also the bonds that bind colleagues and their bosses together, the string that creates esprit de corps/camaraderie and the glue that gels team players together. Until organisation understands the significance of emotions, option c will never be accepted. But personally, as an individualist, I will accept option c as a “yes”.

The abovementioned arguments have apparently placed option e as the answer. Please feel free to disagree but let us now consider how communication can be improved if we communicate by appealing to the emotional aspects of others, rather than tackling their more rational sides.

When we communicate with others, we are often judged by others by what I call the “feel”.  The term “feel” is merely a substitute that serves as an approximation to what is actually being assessed about us by others.  It is very challenging to break down the concept of “feel” into its proper components, in the same way that a photographer finds it challenging to explain to an amateurish learner of photography why a particular photo “feels” right when the former snapped the photo at that precise moment in time. But I will like to give it a try with the following equation:

Feel = Aura of a person (which is formed based on their life experiences and their receptivity to it, as well as their thoughts in this life, culminating in a positive, neutral or negative state) + their nonverbal cues (which includes eye contact, facial expressions, physical appearances, paralinguistic, eye contact etc)

Similar to chemistry where various chemicals are combined together to form specific concoctions, we tend to assess someone based the combination of the abovementioned factors. This is the reason why we take well to some individuals but not the rest. And the most amazing thing is that this assessment of ours often occurs at the subconscious level, thereby rendering us helpless to our intuitive assessment of others. This is also the reason why we are able to observe at a glance during a party/social gathering whom to talk or relate to. This method is often done unintentionally and the accuracy level of assessment may not be perfect. But I believe that accuracy level is rather high. And it works to our advantage since we are able to “read” someone without even having to talk to them.

And this selection of conversation partners forms the first step of emotional connections. It’s a hard fact to accept but it’s true that emotional connection is a stronger human connection as compared to rational connection. And it’s also true that we do not connect well emotionally with everybody. This is where we need to choose selectively. However, does this mean that we are only genetically wired to connect with certain individuals? No, as we can communicate with anybody, but only with effort and patience from all communicating parties.  But does this mean that we are able to bond stronger with some while not with others? Yes, since emotional connections works well with people who are more relational but less so with individuals who are more task-oriented.  However, going back to the first point on connecting with everybody, I will like to highlight that this is possible through the use of three factors: developing a deep and strong understanding and acceptance of varying personalities of others as well as being caring. Deep within our human psyche, all of us want to be accepted and loved. And if we are able to express this emotionally to the other party, it usually works. Hence, we can conclude that we can communicate and connect with anybody.

I am a strong advocate of emotional connection but it’s usually the ladies that have the edge in this aspect of communication. But I believe that guys can master this too.

It’s probably merely a matter of mindset, yes?


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