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Do you ever think about what you’re saying to others when you’re not speaking?

Whether or not you agree with the notion that it’s how you say something rather than what you say that matters, one of the most widely referenced statistics in communications today is Professor Albert Mehrabian’s communications model, the overly-simplistic interpretation of which is that:

  • 7% of meaning is in the words that are spoken.
  • 38% of meaning is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said).
  • 55% of meaning is in facial expression.

Put into context, Mehrabian’s equation (also renowned for being misinterpreted) is primarily concerned with the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages surrounding the communication of feelings and attitudes (i.e. like and dislike).

However, regardless of any debate around this particular data, there’s no doubt that the significance of non-verbal communication is tangible. Because guess what — human beings leak!

According to Joe Navarro, a former FBI counterintelligence officer and a recognised expert on non-verbal behaviour, our body language betrays the truth. We think, verbally, that we’re saying something, but our body can broadcast something entirely different. In his best-selling book, ‘What Every Body is Saying’, he explains how simple non-verbal behaviour can be incredibly powerful — not only by influencing what others think of you, it can establish trust, and reveal confidence, moods and motives.

The effects of the pressure mounting on former Chelsea FC manager, Jose Mourinho — in his battle to remain in the Premiership title race — were under the spotlight recently when Professor Geoff Beattie of Edge Hill University analysed his body language. Find out what the smallest of clues revealed about him here.

Unquestionably, our body language or non-verbal cues can completely alter the message we want to convey. The very reason we can communicate without speaking is because we have the same emotions. Of course nowadays, we spend so much time online, and communicating by text, we use ‘emoticons’ or ‘emojis’ to express the mood of our message. (I suspect that’s a whole other blog topic for another day).

As a leader, it’s important to take time to reflect and think about what this means — the way we present content for example, can be equally, if not more important, than what’s actually said or written down. It’s also good to take notice, stop what we’re doing, and ask questions about any incongruent behaviours or signals we see. Does someone in your team have a gripe? Learn to read the signs.

Back to my original question — are you aware of the messages others are picking up from you?

Tania Watson is the founder of Creative Coaching and an executive coach, organisational consultant and leadership specialist. Creative Coaching is a successful company dedicated to the development of senior leaders in organisations through one to one coaching, intact team development and group facilitation. If you or someone from your organisation would like to have a no obligation conversation about how Creative Coaching may be able to help, please email Tania directly at

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