“It’s not what you say, but how you say it.”

It’s a phrase we hear time and time again. You could say it is over-familiar. You might call it a cliché. However, it’s well-used for one very, very good reason – it’s true.

Imagine the scenario: The manager shuffles to his feet. He pulls his ill-fitting suit jacket onto his sagging shoulders. He fails to catch the eye of anybody in the room as he flicks through a scruffy looking notepad. He looks as though he just wants the moment to be over. Finally, he clears his throat and begins to speak in a monotone, barely audible voice…

Compare the above with this:

The manager rises confidently to his feet and stands tall. He holds his head high, catching the eye of some members of the team at the back of the room – getting their attention instantly. He straightens the jacket of his smart suit jacket. He looks happy and contented. His notes are ordered neatly on the table, but he leaves them there for a moment as he strides forward and begins to speak in a loud, clear and engaging voice…

Non-verbal language vs verbal language

In the above examples, the actual words spoken by the managers would be exactly the same – but they would leave a very different impression and have a markedly contrasting effect on the audience.

Why? Because your appearance, your tone, and your manner all matter considerably. It really is the case that, in a business environment, the way you say something is as important (if not more so) than what you are actually saying.

It all begins at the interview stage

To get into the business environment you want to work in, you first need to successfully navigate the interview stage. Here, the adage ‘It’s not what you say, but how you say it’ rings loudly true.

Naturally, any successful candidate will also need to say the right things at interview too. However, mentors guiding their mentees through the interview process would be wise to focus on more than just the wording of what a candidate should say.

There needs to be style and substance. The candidate needs to consider how they say something, how they look, how they stand/sit – and ensure that they are an active engager throughout.

The classic and still widely-accepted rule about effective communication was developed by Professor Albert Mehrabian. He found that just 7% of meaning is gained from the actual words that are spoken. However, almost 40% of meaning is derived from the way the words are spoken (paralinguistics). Finally, 55% of meaning comes from facial expression.

Similarly, studies suggest that a poor argument that is delivered in a convincing manner will be believed more than a sound one, presented in an unconvincing fashion.

People do judge a book by its cover

Rightly or wrongly, humans do have a gut instinct and their first impressions do count. Non-verbal signals strongly influence the impression we form of people. So, it does matter how you project your voice. It matters if you have the right level of professionalism for the role you are interviewing for.  As an example, for roles that interact with the C-Suite, the most common phrase I hear is, “Executive Presence.”

It’s about your overall impression that you give people and it encompasses how well put together you are, how you carry yourself, how you speak and respond and last but, not least, what questions you have.  Many an interviewer will view your potential in part by whether you ask good, thought provoking questions.  This may be a topic to delve into further in another post.