The Weakness of the Spoken Word

“Behavior includes what we say, how we say it and all of our accompanying actions. Of these three elements of behavior, the most powerful communicator is the nonverbal behavior of our actions. Next in line is tone of voice, and the least powerful element is our actual spoken message. “

The Delicate Art of Dancing with Porcupines, by Bob Phillips

Mr. Phillips then gives us these percentages:
Non-verbal behavior – 55%
Tone of voice – 38%
Actual spoken words – 7%

Our actual spoken words make up ONLY 7% of our communication. Oh my goodness! With so much communication done today electronically – email, text, social media and websites – with just the written (re: spoken) word and no body language or voice inflection to support what we say, misunderstandings can and do happen all too often.

I’m as guilty as the next person of shooting off an email too quickly and not taking an extra few seconds to re-read what I wrote with the ear of the recipient. A harsh tone is all too easy to put across when it absolutely was not our intention. I’d like to share an example with what I am talking about. In the same day, I wrote the following to two people whose blogs I follow. Their names have been changed.

Hi Sally,

I truly understand that video is a popular medium on the web. However, when I get around to reading blogs and articles etc. it is usually in the evening when my ISP is slowest. If I click on a link, such as the one you sent out today and find a video waiting, with no text to accompany the video, 9 times out of 10 I will just move on to the next article. Also, you need to consider your readers who are hearing impaired. I would encourage you to always have hard copy accompanying a video.

Best Regards,

Heidi McCarthy

Sally’s response was:
Hi Heidi,

First, thanks so much for reading the blog and taking the time to write, it’s truly appreciated. We do try to try to mix mediums as much as possible but I will ask the team to explore the possibility of putting a synopsis under the videos when it makes sense / is practicable.

Thanks for your feedback.



Dave’s response was:
Thanks, Heidi. I really appreciate that tip!

Dave’s reply was short (which was OK since it was sent from his smartphone per the message that was below his reply) – but he definitely let me know that he got the point I was trying to make.

Sally’s response was polite and professional. But when I read it, I heard something that I truly believe, having followed Sally for a few years now, was not her intent. What I heard was that accommodating her hearing impaired readers was of little or marginal concern especially when she said “synopsis” and not full text. Since my sister is hearing impaired this is a subject that strikes close to home.

See all the subtleties of spoken / written communication when there are no other clues to help us understand the other person’s intent? You may have read Sally’s reply and thought it fine – especially if you do not have a close friend or family member who is hearing impaired. But that just adds another level of complexity to the challenge because what may sound perfectly reasonable to ‘me’ isn’t for ‘you’.

So I would encourage you before hitting that ‘send’ button, take just a few extra seconds to re-read what you wrote and ‘hear’ what you said.

Author's Bio: 

Heidi McCarthy has been customer focused her whole life, getting a good orientation in her first job working as waitress while putting herself through college. After college she worked in the corporate arena for 8 years where she learned the ins and outs of working in a corporate culture including customer service working with and traveling to clients across North America. Next she worked with her husband in his salvage diving business where dealing with the “rich and famous” taught her much about people’s expectations. Running a consulting business she started working with Custom Training Institute. The consulting soon became a full time job, where she became the General Manager and Director of Operations. This job showed Heidi the immense need for what has become her specialty niche – customer service in the electronic universe.

Additionally, Heidi has the ability of being able to see holes in systems that on the surface look to be good and solid. And, she loves to teach – to share what she has learned .

Heidi’s passion for excellence in business caused her to found Toughest Customer, where today she helps companies grow and retain customers through improved customer service, extreme client care and understanding the 21st Century tools we use today.