C.M. Corner: How We Communicate
January 24, 2018 by Travis Chapman
We see and hear a ton of messages a day; whether it’s something we’ve heard on the radio, a billboard we saw or something that we were told by a friend. But communication is so much more than spoke or written words. Professor Albert Mehrabian, author of the book Silent Messages, found that only 7% of any message is conveyed through words! Only 7%! That is a tiny number, when we focus so much on the actual words we say. Whether or not that specific statistic is universally true or not, it really does show in numbers that what we say may not always be the most important part of how we communicate. Professor Mehrabian continued to state 55% was attributed to body language and the remaining 38% to tone of voice.
This is crucial for us as educators. Not only does what we say matter, but how we say it matters to. I always think back to growing up when mom would say “Watch your tone with me!”, or a teacher pacing at the front of the class with their arms crossed while students work on their worksheet. We may be saying or doing the “right” thing, but communicating with our body or voice that we mean or feel something else. How easy is it to tell when somebody else is frustrated, confused or upset when they say “I’m fine,” by how they say it. That same information is communicated when we teach a lesson, supervise an activity or try to redirect classroom attention. Make sure that we are taking note of things like our posture, our tone, our volume. Not only could it communicate that you’re frustrated with the class or student, but could further escalate inappropriate behavior.
Especially when trying to manage classroom behavior, make sure that your body language, your tone, your volume, your rate of speech are all working for you to communicate calm, firm authority and direction. Take note of how students are responding to what your direction. You could be saying all the right things, but communicating something completely different. If this is the case, take a moment to consider what the rest of you is saying.
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Mehrabian, A. (1981). Silent messages: implicit communication of emotions and attitudes. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub.