Have you ever seen a parent listlessly tell a child to “clean your room or else,” with absolutely no result? Have ever you asked for space in a relationship and had someone become even more invasive?
How many times have you heard a co-worker agree to spearhead a committee or accomplish a simple task—only to “drop the ball” at a crucial moment? How often have you felt covertly, or even overtly, undermined by an employee, colleague, supervisor, friend, or family member who insisted he or she was “on your side?”
This irritating, seemingly irrational behavior makes perfect sense—when you understand that what we’re saying to each other is icing on the cake compared with everything else we’re thinking, feeling, and unconsciously communicating. Studies show that during interpersonal encounters, only ten percent of human communication is verbal.
Yet in our increasingly fast-paced, technological culture, we’ve virtually become mesmerized by words as our social and educational systems teach us to neglect the nonverbal dimensions of experience. Cell phones, email, and text messaging, though incredibly convenient, further compromise our effectiveness over time as entire populations voluntarily—and unnecessarily—accept the limitations of a machine-like existence, ignoring powerful stores of nonverbal wisdom, the “other 90 percent” that arguably makes us human.
Even more disturbing for those with leadership aspirations, over-reliance on verbal communication causes accomplished, well-meaning, well-educated people to ignore the key to advanced personal and professional success: Namely that the behavior, facial expressions, body postures, feelings, commitment, intuitions, and energy/enthusiasm (or lack thereof) behind our words can either add immeasurable power to the simplest requests or seriously undermine the most eloquent speeches.
What difference would it make in your life to learn the nonverbal wisdom of the “other 90 percent”?