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Are You Sending Mixed Messages?

Six ways to make sure you are sending the right message

mixed messagesWhat do you think about when it comes to verbal communication? Giving a presentation? Networking at an event? Talking with your friends and family? How much do you focus on the words you say? Probably a lot.

The truth is, when we are communicating in person, the message we send depends on a combination of several forms of communication. These include the words we speak, our tone of voice and our personal presence.

Of this trio, what is the most important component? Many people would say it’s the words we speak. However, the overall impression we make is determined only seven percent by words, 38 percent by our voice and 55 percent by our personal presence, according to studies done at UCLA in the 1960’s by Albert Mehrabian, PhD. *

So next time you evaluate your communication skills consider more than the words you speak. Here are six ways to make sure you are sending the right message.

  • Think about the words and music in your conversation. Do they agree? Or do you sound “out of tune?” Sarcasm is a good example of words and tone that do not agree.
  • Always remember to smile when it’s appropriate. Studies have shown that people can “hear” the smile in your voice when you’re on the phone.
  • Remember that we all walk around in our personal bubble. Our casual-personal zone is from 18 inches to about four feet. Getting closer may be perceived as too intimate or aggressive. This also means respecting other people’s territories, think of this when you enter someone’s office space.
  • Consider what your desk/chair setup says to your visitors, for example, placing a visitor’s chair on the opposite side of your desk creates a barrier, placing the chair next to your desk invites more intimacy.
  • Consider your “artifacts.” These are the things you own like jewelry, eyewear, shoes, handbags, etc. They all say something about you. For example, have you been wearing the same eyeglass frames for the past ten years? Trendy eyeglasses will help you appear open to new ideas
  • Evaluate your overall image at least every five years. Do you look like you stepped out the 80’s or 90’s? Make sure you are projecting the image that you want people to see.

Women, in particular, often sabotage themselves when communicating at the office. Instead of being seen as strong and confident, they are viewed as hesitant and unsure of themselves. There are several ways to change this perception.

  • Speak clearly and assertively. Eliminate “qualifiers” like “maybe” and drop “tag” questions like “don’t you?” at the end of your statements. Instead of saying, “I think maybe we should change the end of the presentation, don’t you?” say “We should change the end of the presentation.”
  • Smile and nod your head only when you want to signal agreement. Women often smile in an effort to make the other person feel more comfortable and nod to indicate that they “hear” the other person.
  • Don’t become the shrinking woman. Be conscious of standing tall and claiming your space at the table. For example, don’t sink into your chair, spread out.

Creating a clear message takes practice. We need to choose the correct words, consider our tone of voice and our personal presence. Given all the components it’s easy to send mixed messages. The key is to make sure that each component is sending the message you want to convey.

* Silent Messages, Implicit Communication of Emotions and Attitudes, 2nd Edition, by Albert Mehrabian, PhD

About Annette Richmond, MA

Annette Richmond, MA, CARW, CCELW, is a Certified Resume Writer, Certified LinkedIn Profile Writer, and former recruiter. Her career advice has been featured by Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, Business Insider, Monster, Vault, and WSJ. She helps motivated, senior level professionals tell their unique career story. She also serves as executive editor of career-intelligence.com.


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