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In the text-only world of email and instant messaging, a message and its meaning can be perfectly controlled by manipulation of the fingertips alone. But face-to-face interactions are, of course, an entirely different ballgame.
Our facial expressions, tone, or posture can betray our words providing important cues about how a message should be received and interpreted.
Our facial expressions, tone, or posture can betray our words (e.g., saying ‘I’m not mad’ with clenched fists and a red face) providing important cues about how a message should be received and interpreted. A number of studies have shown that ratings of a speaker are largely driven by these kinds of nonverbal factors.
In Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s landmark communication studies of the late 1960’s (chronicled in his book, Silent Messages) he found that favorability ratings of a speaker (talking about their feelings and attitudes) were 55% determined by body language and 38% determined by tone of voice. Astonishingly, only 7% was accounted for by the literal words that the speaker used. As Mehrabian’s work attests, how we say something often matters more than what’s actually said.
One way of describing the way we typically interact with others is to categorize communication into different styles.
Communication style can be thought of as the way one typically interacts with others, both verbally and non-verbally, to express a message.
Though some have expressed skepticism about people’s ability to recognize their own patterns of communication, studies of self-perceptions of communication style suggest that such assessments have practical value.
For example, university instructors are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs when using an attentive, relaxed, and open communication style that they believe is making an impression on their listeners. Patients are also more likely to understand the information their healthcare provider gives them if that person has a friendly and attentive communication style.
Interested to learn what communication styles you typically use when interacting with others? Take the quiz below and find out!
*The items used for this quiz were drawn from the Communicator Style Measure developed by Dr. Robert Norton. For more information about this scale, see this review article on the Communicator Style Measure by Dr. Elizabeth Graham.
Argyle, M., Salter, V., Nicholson, H., Williams, M., & Burgess, P. (1970). The communication of inferior and superior attitudes by verbal and nonverbal signals. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 9, 222-231.
DiClemente, R. K., Ditrinco, E. A., Gibbons, K. E., & Myers, S. A. (2013). The relationship between instructor job satisfaction and communicator style and socio-communicative orientation. Communication Research Reports, 30, 347-351.
Schrader, E. L., & Schrader, D. C. (2001). Health care provider communicator style and patient comprehension of oral contraceptive use. Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, 13, 80-83.