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Greater Seattle Area, Washington, United States
You know the saying, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it?” For 26 years I’ve been helping organizations, teams and individuals figure out how to do just that: say IT so that it is effective, genuine, believable and fosters trust and respect. To learn more about how I might work with your group, please check out my website below.
Does this language make my “but” look too big?

When we say something like, “Your report is good BUT…you missed the data from Study X” our intention is to soften the blow of what’s wrong with the report, but the impact is that the receiver only hears that big old BUT and what comes after it. If you want to create a more positive communication climate (thus improving working relationships and increase the likelihood of task success), try to cut down (or eliminate) your use of “but” and by using one of these alternatives:

1.    Substitute “and” for “but:” “This is a good report and I noticed that it still needs the new data from Study X. As soon as that’s added, we can send it to the client.”

2.    Make what’s “good” about it clearer:  “Your report does a great job of explaining the reasons for the delay on the project and your writing is clear and concise.“

3.    Then use another sentence for what needs to be added or fixed: “Your report does a great job of explaining the reasons for the delay on the project and your writing is clear and concise The information from Study X needs to be added, and then we can send it to the client.”

I’ve had some folks tell me they don’t find that “and” works, and that they still get pushback. I think the difference is the level of trust and respect in the relationship. If it’s not high, go for the two-sentence approach.

The easiest way to break the “but habit” is to catch it in writing first. Review your emails and reports before hitting send, and notice if a rewording would help the receiver “hear” both what’s right and what needs to be changed. Once you start to catch yourself “but-ing” in writing, you’ll begin to catch it before you speak it as well.

It’s a powerful tool… but you have to remember to use it.
When 7% Doesn’t Add Up

Have you every stayed up all night worrying about what you’d say the next day when faced with delivering a poor employee evaluation, or when you knew you needed to offer "feedback" to someone (ok, criticize their work) or when you wanted to ask for a raise? Well, if you believe the oft-sited statistic that only 7% of meaning comes from words, and the rest comes from nonverbal communication, then you were losing sleep for nothing.

If that 7% is true, then why, oh why, do we wordsmith?  Why do we care what we write? Why, oh why, does an ill-chosen word trigger defensiveness? How, indeed, can words hurt?

7% seems kind of low, doesn’t it? Actually, it is. A 2011 article in Psychology Today, Is Nonverbal Communication a Numbers Game? by Jeff Thompson explains why. The 7% figure was determined during two narrowly focused studies. In 1972, Dr. Albert Mehrabian asked subjects to listen to a recording of a woman saying a single word, such as "maybe" three times, while conveying three different emotions such as dislike, like or neutrality. Subjects were also shown three different photos of a woman’s face showing the same three emotions. People were twice as likely to identify the emotion from the photo, than from the single word. In addition, when subjects simultaneously saw the photo and listened to the recording, if the recording and the photo seemed contradictory, subjects were more likely to believe the facial expression. This suggests that congruence of message IS important. You can check out a thorough explanation of the research in this Ubiquity blog.  

All these years we've seen the 7% “rule” applied to conversation, to conflict management, to giving speeches and what’s been the impact? Perhaps a devaluing of the words we chose? A sense that spending time on word choice was, in fact, a waste of time. That it was OK to “just spit it out” without worrying about HOW we said what we said? Oh, the horror! Dr. Merhrabian didn't draw that conclusion and neither should we.

Is nonverbal communication important? Sure. Does it convey 93% of meaning? Nope. Now we can go back to staying up all night, worrying about the right thing to say. Pleasant dreams.