It is a hard truth to wrap our heads around: that somewhere between 70 and 90 percent of our communication is nonverbal. Ninety Percent! The reality of this, even if we do wrap our hands around the truth of it, is hard to fully process.
Yet, the truth remains. What we say is about much more than what we are saying.
I recently listened to a podcast about the history of Wall Street. It explained that the sculpture on the facade above the famous columns of The Stock Exchange was called “Integrity Protecting the Works of Man”. Nice idea. Nice sentiment. But is that really true? Wall Street is not exactly a bastion of integrity. As if history could sense this, the giant figure representing Integrity (made of pure marble) was too heavy, fell and broke, and was replaced by a cheaper material. If that isn’t a microcosm for American society, I don’t know what is.
But the point here is that we cannot just say we are people of integrity. We cannot just say “I love you” to another person. If our actions do not align with our words, our actions are going to win out – they are, after all, weighed seven to nine times more heavily.
The Power of Words
From the time we are very young, we start to pick up on the power of words. I can say things and it affects people. I can say things and it affects me.
And so, from business mission statements to wedding vows, we utilize the power of words.
We realize that we need to say something. We need to say something to our friends, to our customers, to our constituents. And it needs to be important. We need to say something meaningful.
The true power of words is when we can put our agendas, our visions, our actions, feelings, thoughts, and attitudes into clear language. That ninety percent nonverbal communication does not come with a decoder ring. It can be difficult to translate. When our words align with our true vision, we have created a channel for communication. When our words do not align with our true vision, when they are placading or false, we create more chaos and confusion.
What We Are Not Saying
No matter what you are saying out loud, what you are not saying may be the most abundant thing you are communicating. You may be communicating that your kids’ emotions are not valid. You may be communicating your ideas are superior to your friends. We do this in a million subtle ways.
And the result is we are creating a dysfunctional flight pattern for our messaging. We are saying one thing with our mouths and another thing altogether with our lifestyle.
Words are cheap when they do not match our deeds. They are, as the Bible says, a resounding gong.
And this is not just a reality in terms of how/what we communicate with others. It works, perhaps even more so, in terms of what we communicate with ourselves. Our self-talk, which informs the narrative we perceive concerning our own lives and the world around us.
The most interesting thing about this, to me, is that we all know what we are supposed to say. There is something within us that knows we are supposed to talk about serving and loving others. We are supposed to say we will support our spouse and that how we treat our customers is of the utmost concern. Unlike the movies, the bad guys are not the ways saying they are evil. The bad guys are often using the same language about good, they are just doing/perceiving perverted pathways toward that “good”. So, we know the kinds of things we ought to say.
But then, in our private, secret places, we start to believe lies. We start to tell ourselves that those good things we are saying aren’t going to get us anywhere. They are not real.
And the dysfunction begins.
We are in desperate need of alignment. In order to live productive, truth-centered lives, we need to close the gap between what we are saying with our words and what we are saying with our actions/attitudes.