Q. I’ve heard it said that words aren’t as important as actions. What does that mean?

A. You may be referring to research on communication. Studies show that the way in which the message is conveyed in a two-person communication (especially when emotion is invovled) occurs in the following way:

  • Actual words account for about 10%
  • Tone of voice and inflections account for another 15%
  • Nonverbals account for 75%

Since so much of the content is conveyed through nonverbals, if there is a lack of congruence between what is said in words and the behaviors that are exhibited the message will be unclear. The receiver of the message will likely pick up on the content of the nonverbals rather than what the actual words are intended to convey.

For example, let’s say that a mother wants her son to clean his room before he goes off to football practice. Typically, as culturally expected, she will smile (or at least produce the “Mona-Lisa” look) and say something like, “It would be nice if you’d clean up your room before you go to football practice.” This is a female-speech style that is somewhat indirect and suggests a course of action rather than direct or demand it. The son may hear the words (25% of the message) but see the smile (75% of the message) and perceive that compliance is optional. He goes to football practice without cleaning his room. Why? There was a lack of congruence between his mother’s words and her nonverbal body language.

Some believe that it may be difficult, if not impossible, to be truly intimate with another human being on any level (emotional, mental, physical, sexual, spiritual) when one or both individuals are excessively adapting. Compare this to wearing a face mask and then ask, “How effective is communication between two individuals who are each wearing a face mask?”

When you are living your innate giftedness there is an authenticity that is absolutely empowering. Others often recognize this even if they can’t define or explain what it is they perceive. Spend time and energy figuring out who you are innately, where you have come from (“family-of-origin work”), and how you can live authentically for the rest of your life. Then, help your teenagers to figure out who they are innately. Their brain function may be similar to yours or very different. This type of approach to life can result in more effective communication styles and enhanced relationships.