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De-Coding Effective Communication: Could Meta-Messaging Hold the Key?

Author by Elizabeth Fleming

Having worked as a clinical mental health provider prior to shifting my career and applying my degree to the workplace, I can confidently say:


The number-one reason relationships, projects, and businesses fail is a

lack of effective communication.



Communication is a core tenant of all successful businesses. It is the building block upon which thoughts become ideas, ideas become plans, and plans become reality. So why is it that communication is so incredibly hard? Why is it that something can make sense so perfectly in your own mind, but colleagues and clients have trouble understanding? Why is it that you can say one thing, but people can interpret it so differently?


The answer:



Meta-messaging, also known as meta-communication, is at the most basic level - communication within communication. It is the body language, mannerisms, leadership styles, personality, and behavioral preferences that combine with your words to become codes. Codes that help you articulate your thoughts and help the people around you understand what you are trying to communicate to them.

We communicate with one another all the time, even when we aren’t speaking. Consider the 7-38-55 Rule of Personal Communication proposed by Albert Mehrabian. According to this rule, it is estimated only 7% of any message is embedded in the words spoken; the rest is made up of tone of voice and body language. It is impossible to avoid codes being sent to others via nonverbal communication, as it helps others to interpret and respond to us while we are interpreting and responding to them. Meta-messaging are the underlying messages, the nonverbal cues, which provide meaning to our words.

Effective communication occurs when we have insight into the codes and personality preferences of others. When we understand how others view the world, prefer to work and communicate, and the ways in which these preferences manifest behaviorally, we are setting ourselves up for success. Possessing this knowledge allows us to adjust our own behaviors and communication styles in such a way that leads to efficiency, effectiveness, and an overall balance of communicating directly while caring personally.

So here are a few tips:

  • Learn about the preferences of those around you – are they cautious and data-driven, caring and relaxed, purposeful and strong-willed, or sociable and persuasive?


  • Harness your active listening skills – be attentive and truly listen before developing your own response.


  • Ask for feedback – focus on developing a growth mindset and be willing to accept feedback on how others perceive your communication style.


  • Embrace diversity – focus on the strengths everybody brings to the table and work to empower the voices around you. Challenging yourself to appreciate the opinions and ideas of others is the driver of innovation, creativity, and effective teamwork.


Next time you are interacting with a friend, family member, colleague, client, or the cashier at the grocery store, remember that being effective and successful is more than verbal communication alone - it is the integration of context, personality preferences, nonverbal codes, insight, and awareness.




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