What % of Communication is Visual?

According to most experts, who have studied communication extensively, 55% of communication is visual. That is really not too surprising to most people. Have you ever worked with someone for a year or so on the phone and then one day met them in person. Most people look surprisingly different in person once you meet them. I remember growing up with the “American Top 40 Countdown” hosted each weekend by the famous radio personality and voice actor – Casey Kasem. His voice was larger than life. He just projected a huge voice and you just knew he was a big guy. Then one day I flipped on the TV and there he was, “Hi, I’m Casey Casum your host of today’s show.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. He looked nothing like the guy in my head. He was certainly hansom, but much smaller than the guy who lived in my head for all those years. The visual is so powerful that if we don’t have it, we will create it – even if it is wrong.

Here is what experts say makes up the complete picture:

  • 55 % Visual (Eyes)
  • 38% Volume and Tone (Ears)
  • 7 % Word Meaning (Dictionary)

So if this is correct, what does all this mean? Well let’s think it through. When we are on the phone we lose 55% of our communication power. But we still have the words and their tone. But we are still missing over ½ of the power of our communication. Remember when you met that person after first working with her on the phone for a year or more. This is proof how wrong we can get the message. But does it really matter that I was picturing a super model because of the incredible voice Linda had? Then when I met her she wasn’t a super model, but just a down to earth nice pleasant looking young lady. She still had the same great voice and pretty soon her looks were connected to her name and voice in my brain.

Let’s take this another step. What current form or forms of communication fit the following pattern?

  • 55 % Visual (Eyes)
  • 38% Volume and Tone (Ears)
  • 7 % Word Meaning (Dictionary)

That’s right, you know it already: Emails and text messaging, which are outpacing phone calls and in person meetings by a long shot. Have you ever received an email or text late in the day from your boss saying something like, “That’s fine, we can talk it over tomorrow.” Was he/she saying this is a calm voice or was he/she upset and barking a reply back at you? Well you don’t know. You didn’t have the visual or the tone (volume) to go with it. If you are lucky, you got a smiley face . But otherwise, you are left guessing and if you are anything like me, I tend to fill in the worst scenario. Then I worry about it all night – usually for nothing.

There has to be a better way. Well the better way starts by knowing that email and text (and lot of other social media) is a communication vehicle bumping along on a flat tire. It can easily be misunderstood. So the lesson I learned from gaining the perspective on the communication percentages is this:

  1. Initiate causal communication (or other low impact work related communications) using emails, text messages and other text based social media.
  2. When the communication has a greater importance: pick up the phone.
  3. When the communication outcome is critical to your future, go in person and talk face to face.

I have fond memories of my father, several times, sitting me down or taking me somewhere away from the distractions of a full house to talk about a serious matter. The serious matter was usually about me getting my act together and making better decisions about my future. He was not always smiling and he certainly never screamed – he didn’t need to. I knew he was serious, just by making the appointment with me. But thinking back, these talks made some real positive differences in my life. And I am now certain that a phone call would have missed the mark. And an email or a text message could have never made a positive lifelong impact like his face to face talks.

John Graham

John F. Graham is Co-Founder of Accelerated Professionals.  Accelerated Professionals is a course for young professionals that bridges the gap between business operations and the board room.  If you’re looking to increase your prospects of moving from support staff to management, our short 6 week course will give you the boost you need to present yourself confidently and get the executive staff to lean in when you speak. 

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