Communication comes from 3 areas inside of ourselves. We have physiology, tonality and our words … and all of those contribute to the meaning of our communication.

In fact, a study done by a gentleman in the University of Pennsylvania, I believe it was in the 1970s suggested that 55% of the meaning of our communication comes from physiology, 38% of it comes from a tonality that we used (tonality is the way that we used our voice and the tone of voice) and then 7% is from the actual words that we use.

So we need to recognize that the majority of the meaning of our conversation is coming from non-verbal means – totally non-verbal means.

When we look at how we can harness the 55% of our meaning that is physiology, it’s a really good idea to think through some basic things about communicating effectively. The first and the biggest in-road to delivering great communication is having a great smile – smiling. Even if you are on the phone, if you can smile you can tell that someone is smiling. You know what I mean?

Eye contact is really important… being able to look people in the eye when you are
speaking to them in person.

How you look, or how you groomed yourself… taking care of how you look is vital. It all contributes to the meaning of your communication.

Shaking hands… having an appropriate level of physical contact congruent the culture and the environment that you are in.

Displaying attentiveness… that might look like an occasional nod of the head or a look of concern at an appropriate time. So, the key is being able to display attentiveness, not just to be attentive… but to show the person that you are being attentive.

Using appropriate hand gestures to help explain yourself. It’s important to have an awareness of personal space and recognizing that you know everyone has a different level of personal space.

Some people are happy with you being close and some people prefer that you be further away.

Most people will create their own personal space when they walk up to start a conversation… if they stand back, don’t step closer because that’s where they are comfortable.

We’re also able to harness the 55% power of physiology by observing. Don’t be staring over the shoulder looking at something else… be observing them, what they do and anything that they’re pointing out to you with their own non-verbal language.

The other powerful tool that you have at your disposal to be able to create rapport is the ability to match and mirror. If someone is standing in front of you and they put their weight on one foot and one hand on their hip… then you can match that position.

In doing so, there’s a level of unconscious familiarity that the person has with you, because your body is in the same shape as theirs.

Does that make sense?

If they’re sitting down and they’ve got their legs crossed, you might cross your legs as well, because again, there’s an unconscious level of familiarity through this matching or mirroring process.

Mirroring basically means that if you’re sitting opposite them and they’ve got their right leg crossed over their left, then you would cross your left leg over the right to be an exact mirror image.

Matching means that if they’ve got their right leg crossed over their left, you would
cross your right leg over your left.

Either is appropriate… it’s just about how you can be most like the person that you’re communicating with? So, understanding how all of those components of your physiology go into creating rapport and creating a space for better communication is a really powerful first place to start.

Recognize that your tonality is also important. In fact 38% of the meaning of your communication comes not from the words that you choose, but from your tonality.

For instance, if you said to a customer, “absolutely, we can do that for you!” compared to “huh, absolutely… we can do that for you”. It’s the same words, but the meaning is totally different. The first one is “I’m really happy to help, of course we can do that”. The other one is “God, you’re a pain, I’ll do that if I have to!”

You do need to recognize that your tonality is everything in terms of getting a message across, so understanding that is vital.

Tonality becomes even more important on the phone. If you think about it, the 55% of physiology is totally absent so tonality becomes an even bigger part of your communication.

It’s a good idea to listen carefully to the person you’re speaking with… if they speak a little more quietly, then you should bring your volume down. If they speak a little more loud and exuberantly, you should speak a little bit more loud and exuberantly. You’ll notice that you often do this naturally anyway.

You know when you’re listening to someone on the phone, you can often guess who they’re talking to by the way they change their voice. We do this naturally anyway so it’s a good idea to recognize that and be able to match the tone of voice of who you’re speaking to, so that you can give them that feeling of familiarity.


The final 7% of your communication comes from the words you use. You can see now how your words are the least important aspect of communication… so building great rapport means more attention to your physiology and tonality and less to choosing the right words.

Learning how to recognize these subtle communication aspects will help you connect and build rapport in your 1:1 conversations. It’s worth practising with a friend… see if they pick up on any of your unconscious, negative habits that may affect the way you are perceived by others.

7 Responses to “The 3 Meanings of Effective Communication”

  1. Am blessed to have read your interesting blog. To be reminded that the least effective way of communicating is via words, however attractive and seductive they can be. Building bridges toward common ground through tonality, mirroring and matching are also quite fascinating.

    The art of communication is a world of endless intrigue and there is so much more to discover from within. With practice we can even discern which organ of the body is genteraing and contributing mostly in the communication being received. Keeping centred and speaking with open heartedness is by far the quickest and most effective way to disarm anothers mindful defences.

    From the place Rumi calls – “beyond right-doing and wrong-doing”, common ground can always be found. It is from this place all humans can find common ground to begin building from. From here there is hope for all humanity and a better world.

    Here’s wishing you all a thoughtful, joyful, deeply connected day in all that you say, feel, do, experience and learn from.

    Kindest regrads

  2. Agreed, words are not enough, but that’s what most people focus on in their preparation. It’s not what you say, but the way that you say it. Regards Vince

  3. Agreed, it ain’t what you say it’s the way that you say it.
    So often you come across speakers who think that simply presenting their script will be sufficient to get the audience diving for their credit cards.

    On several occasions I have heard different people present the same subject but only one of the presentations resonated because it was performed rather than just spoken.

  4. Great post Jo! More evidence of your complete arsenal of presentation skills.

    Presenting and communication is a journey for me, one where I have grown from trying to say clever and impressive things to focussing on engaging the listener(s) and building rapport, with good content at the heart. The biggest lesson I have learnt is to be other-person centred and in tune with their thoughts, cues, feelings etc.

    kind regards,

    Hitul Thobhani

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