Whatever can be misunderstood, will be misunderstood

It is an unfortunate truth that whatever can be misunderstood, will be misunderstood.

As inevitable as death and taxes, this Murphy’s Law of communication is especially true when the message is unwelcome. Whoever is in charge of sayings probably needs to change Bullock’s famous quote to include this:

’Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes and Misunderstandings

Leaders – especially when trying to change something (because pretty much all change is unwelcome for at least some of the people some of the time) – must factor this into their thinking.

We must assume that, whether by genuine accident or convenient design, even our most-beautifully crafted and benevolent utterances will be misunderstood.

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Mythbusting: Albert Mahrabian and his dodgy percentages

A friend of mine was on a Communications Skills course the other day.

Part of the course covered the importance of non-verbal communication, using Mahrabian’s famous 7%/38%/55% equation showing the relative importance of verbal / paralinguistic / facial expression in communication

This was simplified into a content v style dichotomy, emphasising the importance of style (the 38% + 55%: how it was said) over content (the 7% verbal: what was actually said).

My pal was unconvinced that content was only worth a measly 7% of the message and style a whopping 93%.

This is mixing two concepts together, and not really understanding either: the style v content debate is one thing, the (over-)simplified (usually incorrect) use of Mehrabian’s equation is another.


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