In a Digital World We Miss 65% of the Message

It is important to take the time to have real conversations so we can appreciate the nuance and full spectrum of meaning in the messages we receive. It will likely mean slower communication, but it will be much richer.

I read in interesting article that got me thinking about communication. Ray Birdwhistell wrote in “Kinesics and Context: Essays on Body Motion Communication” that words carry no more than 30-35% of a conversation or interaction. This isn’t to say that words aren’t important, but the non-verbal aspects of interactions carry a lot of weight.1

In a world where more and more of our interaction happens digitally, we are missing out on a lot of context. This isn’t exactly a new problem. For much of modern history people communicated in writing and experienced the same problem. Handwriting did help in some ways—you can spot emotions in the way people write much better than you can in type. Those types of context clues are still far more than we get when we’re communicating in texts and DMs.

In my job were we’re mostly working remotely this is something we worry about. We call meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page. I know I have misunderstood a colleague by reading tone into a message that wasn’t really there. We realize this can cause problems so we try to self correct by supplementing our digital, written communication with voice and video communication.

It is important to take the time to have real conversations so we can appreciate the nuance and full spectrum of meaning in the messages we receive. It will likely mean slower communication, but it will be much richer.


Footnotes

  1. https://www.silentcommunication.org/single-post/2016/03/20/17-Non-verbal-communication-percentage. You’ve probably heard a different statistic. Albert Mehrabian’s 1970 study’s is often misquoted to mean that non-verbal communication makes up 93% of all communication.

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