The Greatest Blog Post Ever Written
It was Mehrabian’s research back in the sixties that suggested the written word is only 7% of any communication. That the other 93% is made up of 38% tone of voice and 55% body language (including facial expressions).
There is now serious doubt amongst scientists as to the accuracy of his research as the methods he used to gather the data were dubious at best and cavalier at worst.*
However, what is not in doubt is that the general principle is correct.
Tonality and body language behind a message make up a much larger percentage of any communication than the actual words.
In other words, every single e-mail, text message, blog post or DM you write has the potential to be misunderstood by the reader. And when you realize how many such messages you send and receive it’s not just possible, but inevitable, that it will happen from time to time.
I once wrote in a blog post that I thought I was better looking than Brad Pitt and possessed a body that would make Zeus weep with shame. At least one person thought that I was being serious. And I know this because she took the time to write and tell me what an arrogant jerk I was.
I joked in a blog comment just the other day that I was an SEO genius and had fooled Alexa and Google into sending traffic to my website. The guy I was talking to who did seem to have a rod up his ass, came back and reprimanded me for calling myself a genius.
I couldn’t believe he didn’t realize I was joking, especially in the context of the, albeit rather heated, conversation.
And that’s where the answer lies to all this. He had already made his mind up about me and was just looking for information to cement his belief that he was right to think I’m an idiot.
I’m not knocking the guy (well ok I am a bit because he did appear to have had a sense of humor bypass operation) because we all do it, In fact, I’m sure by then I was unconsciously doing exactly the same thing.
Think about the last time you got annoyed with a blog comment, e-mail or text message. Did you at any time think to yourself something along the lines of:
“I don’t like the tone of that”
I bet you did in almost every instance, because that’s what we do.
Prior to the last couple of centuries we had thousands of years of evolution communicating almost exclusively face-to-face and using speech as the medium.
As such, you are way better at reading body language and understanding speech intonation and tonality than you give yourself credit for.
In the real world you’re constantly reading other people and you will usually interact appropriately. I’m not saying you always get it right, but I’m saying that at an unconscious level, you will usually get it right.
I know if I think my wife is in a bad mood and I ask her what’s wrong she will usually reply “Nothing”. I have been married long enough to know she doesn’t mean nothing.
She really means: “Can you please ask me 4 more times my angel and then I may tell you if I haven’t already buried the ice pick in your eye you insensitive bastard!”
If a good friend says you’re a horses ass with a big smile on his face, you know it’s not the same as if a random stranger tells you the same thing in a bar with a sneer on his face.
In neither of the above examples do you start to consciously sift through all the available data. You do it automatically, unconsciously, and for the most part accurately, and then come to a conclusion about what you think somebody really means.
You cannot do that with written communication.
Take this post title for example. You could have made all sorts of assumptions about it before reading.
You may have thought it was bait to get people to click through, and you’d be right, it was.
You may have thought it was me being tongue-in-cheek and messing around, and you’d be right with that assumption too.
Or you may, quite reasonably (especially if you don’t know me), have thought I’m an arrogant moron that really thinks he’s just just written the greatest post in blogging history, and you’d be wrong. It aint bad, but I’ve read better.
The reality is there is no tone in the post title any more than there is any written communication, other than the one you attach to it.
And every time you do that you risk getting it wrong.
And guess what? It gets even worse!
Not only can you not tell with any certainty the emotion and meaning behind the words you are reading, you’re also being heavily influenced by your own emotional state.
If you’re already in a bad mood you will be far more likely to want to march over here and tell me I’m an idiot for using such a title, than if you are feeling chipper.
As humans we frequently transfer feelings from one event to another, which is why an argument with a co-worker can generate to one with a family member later on at home.
What is the use of this information you may be wondering?
The honest answer is I’m not sure other than for all of us to be more aware and to avoid jumping to erroneous conclusions. It seems to me a week doesn’t pass by without me reading about some disagreement between people online and I can’t help but think, 95% of them would never happen under face-to-face circumstances.
Next time you read something that obviously is an attack on you or your beliefs just ask yourself one question.
What else could this mean?
Have you ever completely got the wrong end of the stick with an e-mail or text message? Or maybe you’ve had a communication of yours read the wrong way? Spill the beans in the comments.
* Thanks to Bengt Wendel foir leaving a comment that I may have been victim of a self development urban myth with Mehrabian’s work and that it is somewhat misrepresented. Oh well such is life, but I think the point remains the same ;-)
Paleo/Primal Experiment Update
It didn’t quite pan out as I anticipated. I did give up my beloved beer (except for a bottle of gluten free beer I checked out purely for experimental purposes you understand) and the spirits, but I have to confess to slipping back with the wine at dinner time once or twice.
The reason I haven’t posted anything is because nothing much is happening. We went back to a normal diet when our friends were over from the UK for two weeks and we’re just getting back into the Primal swing of things again now.
I’m going to stick with it rigorously until Christmas, but if I have nothing of interest to report I won’t bother blogging about it, except maybe a paragraph catch up at some point.
I must point out though, that even though I haven’t seen much of a change, I still believe in the Primal Blueprint (AL) concept because of the sheer volume of people I have spoken to that rave over it and the mountains of scientific data.