I drive a lot, mostly around the DC metro area.  And I’ve seen some crazy stuff during my travels (is that person flossing—really, how about 2 hands on the wheel!).  This week I was heading south on a major secondary road in Montgomery County, MD and the woman in the SUV behind me was having quite a phone conversation.  With her earbuds in, I was at first concerned she would hit me because she didn’t seem to be paying attention to driving.  I kept an eye on her for several miles due to the fear of collision (talk about distracted driving) and eventually became amused because her hand gestures were big and bold—both hands flying up and down in big motions, index finger jabbing the air and so forth.  She was completely into whatever conversation was going on.  Then I wondered who was on the other end of this phone call.  Friend, colleague, family member, bad customer service rep?  It was too bad that they were not getting the entire conversation.

What does that mean?

Body language comprises about 50% of communication; words about 7%; pace and tone the remainder.  Clearly the woman in the car was pretty excited about what she was saying.  I’m sure the recipient could tell that by her rapid pace and perhaps sharp tone.  But the recipient was still missing 50% of the conversation.  They couldn’t see her hand gestures, facial expressions, and finger pointing.  Because of this disconnect, the opportunity for miscommunication was substantial.  We continue to see this dilemma as we use email and social media more than phone calls and meetings.  By not sitting and discussing face-to-face, we miss nuances that allow us to engage in more meaningful and productive discussion. If you are leading a meeting, body language can tell you a lot about who’s “in” the meeting and who’s checked out.

Why should we care?

Business leaders should care because miscommunication costs money.  Whenever possible, please have your meetings face to face if important decisions or discussions are required.  I, too, was missing 50% of the woman’s conversation so I didn’t know if she was happy or mad, passionately in favor or against whatever her topic was.  When you’re in a meeting, being present is required for listening to occur.  If you’re on your cell phone checking emails, you’re missing part of the conversation.  You need to observe and listen to the speaker to catch all of the conversation.  Meetings cost time and money so we need to be as efficient as possible when they happen.  Whether the meeting is between two or multiple people, all parties should be focused on the agenda at hand and listening to 100% of the discussion.

I made it home without incident and still wonder what that conversation was about and why the car was the best place for that hot discussion.  Get 100% of the communication, not 50%.  That way you won’t be left wondering if…..

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