Communicating effectively using words!

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Here are some of my own ideas and opinions on how to communicate effectively using the written word and how different it is to face to face or mouth to ear!

Verbal communication is one of THE main things that sets us humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, and it is surprising just how badly we use our unique skill on a day to day basis.

We use three main methods to communicate with each other; words, intonation, facial and body posture.  You may be interested to know that words only play a very small part in how we communicate compared with the other two.

When we talk face to face with someone (the most effective method) we hear words, we hear the intonation and emphasis put on different words and phrases and we see how the person uses their facial expressions and body posture.

When we talk to someone on the telephone, we lose the ability to see their facial expressions and body posture, which is a major factor in communication, but retain the ability to hear their words and how they are spoken.

When we email someone or write a letter or leave feedback, all that is available are a string of letters making up words and sentences.  However, and this is very important, that is all you have...just words.  Words without emphasis or intonation or expression.  That is where we can let ourselves down as effective communicators.

Consider the following four words used in a question:

What are you doing?

Now, what does that question mean to you as the reader?  I can imagine that different readers place different meaning to the question simply by how they interpret it as an individual.

By placing emphasis on different words or using tone of voice or facial expressions to highlight different words it is possible to make the same four words, in the same order, mean different things.

For example by placing the emphasis on the word 'what' and standing with your hands on your hips with a frown on your face may make the question the type an angry parent may use when they find their child has just painted the fridge maroon (yes I did it as a child!)

Take another example, where the emphasis has been placed on the word 'are' along with a raise of the eyebrows and maybe a smile....same words, same order, totally different meaning!

By placing the emphasis on the word 'you' and using a stern facial expression the whole question then becomes aggressive and threatening.

The point that I making here is it is very difficult to attach effective meaning to the written word, but perhaps you can consider using a few simple techniques to help convey a clearer meaning when sending emails, questions to buyers/sellers or leaving feedback.

For example, typed words in capitals can be perceived as the equivalent of shouting or being aggressive, words in a red font can also be seen as aggressive. 

To add emphasis try using bold fonts (this is quite a firm emphasis) or to make something appear special use italics (much softer).  Underlining words or phrase works in much the same way.

Written communication can be used very effectively by applying a few simple techniques and confusion about the meaning of the written word can very easily be avoided....but just think how often you have read an email or a message or even feedback and got hold of the 'wrong end of the stick'.


The writer is a Psychology graduate and Master Practitioner of Neuro-linguistic Programming who specializes in effective communication.

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