Tribe Culture Change | It’s not what you say (it’s the way that you say it!)
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28 Feb It’s not what you say (it’s the way that you say it!)

Chalk drawing of two people with a speech bubble over their heads filled with random symbols

I’ve just returned from an interesting week in Austria delivering SUSA Engagement training to German and Turkish lead trainers at a multi-national oil company.

Thanks to their English being far better than both my German and Turkish we spent the whole week speaking English. But to help the Turkish-speaking contingent get the best SUSA practice we found some other Turkish-speaking employees on whom they could practice their engagement skills.

This was a fascinating experience as I was observing SUSA conversations in a language that I didn’t understand. Whilst I couldn’t follow the detail of the discussion I was left with no doubt about the nature and the effectiveness of the conversation and I could see just how engaged the employee was during the exchange.

How did I know this? He was communicating his enthusiasm quite clearly through the tone of his voice and his body language. It came as no surprise to me when my SUSA lead trainer subsequently gave a summary of the discussion and told me how the employee, a cleaning team leader, had been very open about some of the problems they face and how they overcome them.

A pyramid depicting how we appear at the bottom, how we say it in the middle and what we say at the top

We all spend a great deal of time communicating and most of that time we may not be aware of what we’re doing. Communication i.e. sending and receiving messages, is vitally important in the workplace. Not just for passing on instructions but perhaps more importantly for sharing our attitudes, values and beliefs. For those with the most influence, people who are most often listened to, this is particularly important to recognise. You may be in transmit mode; sending inappropriate messages irrespective of the words that come out of your mouth when you think you’re communicating.

It’s suggested that in terms of the relative importance in communication modes:

  • The words we use account for less than 10%
  • How we say them accounts for 30-40%
  • But what we do and our actions accounts for over 50%

Perhaps this explains why emails are so ineffective and so often get misinterpreted, because they employ such a limited part of the communication process. Yet at the same time, my dog, who I don’t think can speak English, always seems to know when I intend to take her for a run.

Nick Wharton
Nick Wharton