Commentary: What type of communicator are you?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Wieser
  • 78th Air Base Wing command chief

We’ve all heard the typical question, “Didn’t you get my email?” or better yet, “I tried calling and left a voicemail, but you never returned my call.” The art of leadership is a common theme in many professional developmental courses; however, we sometimes fail to learn and practice the art of communication with our fellow service members. 

Albert Mehrabian, author of “Silent Messages,” extensively studies the art of communication and discovered that non-verbal communication, to include body language and tone of voice, is 93% of our ability to effectively communicate. Only 7% of communication is the spoken word. I will break down the three most commonly used methods of communication – email, phone and face-to-face – to discuss their effectiveness.

In today’s working environment email is essential. This one-way method of communication is great to disseminate information to a plethora of individuals simultaneously, to simplify the logistics of communicating across oceans and time zones, and for very simple conversations. Yet, email cannot convey the sender’s body language or tone of voice, which is 93% of effective communication. Without the sender’s non-verbal communication in the message, the receiver is left to infer or assume the sender’s intent. In my experience, this assuming can create hours of extra work.  

Communicating via the phone improves one’s communication effectiveness because now the sender is able to convey their tone of voice along with the message, a 45% improvement from email. Adding tone of voice to the message is a significant improvement to the message because the receiver now receives more information and has to assume less. If you have ever received an email in ALL CAPS or with !!! to punctuate every sentence, you understand the importance of understanding tone of voice. I would also like to say that a phone call, when you can’t meet face-to-face, is a more personal way of conducting business. This is especially important when dealing with personnel or sensitive issues.

The best way to communicate, and the only way to be 100% effective, is to communicate in person, face-to-face. Being able to convey the message along with tone of voice and body language provides the full message to the receiver. I understand that this method isn’t always possible in the globally separated world in which we live; however, many times we are not separated by oceans but choose not to take the time to meet face-to-face.  In-person communication can take a little extra time on the front end, but significantly reduces the risk of miscommunication and superfluous work later. It can also be uncomfortable to discuss sensitive or negative issues in person; yet, we owe it to each other and those that we are leading, both directly and indirectly, to give them our undivided attention. 

While the percentages can be argued, the underlying truth is that effective communication is a function of the sender’s words, tone and body language when the message is communicated.  Face-to-face communication is the only method of communication where we have a chance to be 100% effective.  As senders we need to ensure that our body language and tone of voice are in-step with the message, and as receivers we need to evaluate the complete message.  The only way to get better is to practice. 

How effective is your daily communication?