People's Domain

[Opinion] When the tone becomes louder

The recent celebration of the Iloilo City Charter Day provided an opportunity for an average communicator like myself to listen to the message delivered by the city’s chief executive before an audience in a hotel ballroom over Facebook.

It is not the first time though that I had the chance to listen to Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog make a speech before a public audience. I had listened to him speak among audience in a community, during a campaign, and also through public statements over media interviews. Yet the feeling is constantly the same; it is disengaging each time. It sends a signal that something is not right although the message and its intentions might not be entirely wrong.

But a minute or two into the speech, one would get quickly detached. Others who are curious observers can attempt to validate this observation by attending one occasion wherein the chief executive would deliver a speech and watching and listening to him. You can gather queries from the audience of who are the chief executive’s speech writers or mentors in public speaking as one listener gets lost along the way.

It requires no reiteration, but “first impression lasts”. This old adage summons back to consciousness the many instances that the chief executive grandly failed to solidly establish a first mental image of who he is and why his message will matter. The barrier is just too overwhelming like a deafening siren from a police patrol as the receiver of the message finds difficulty in connecting with the sender.

In his book, ‘Everybody Communicates Few Connects’, author John C. Maxwell shared that “when people communicate with others, many believe that the message is all that matters. But the reality is that communication goes way beyond words.”

Maxwell explained that communication has three important components: words, tone of voice, and body language. These components was explained by psychology professor emeritus Albert Mehrabian in a study he led at UCLA (not Harvard) saying that “what may come as a surprise is that in some situations, such as when verbal and non-verbal messages aren’t consistent, what people see as do and the tone we use can far outweigh any words we use while trying to communicate.”

Mehrabian further elaborated than in situations where feelings and attitudes are communicated: what we say accounts only for 7-percent of what is believed; the way we say it accounts for 38 percent; and what others see accounts for 55-percent. Amazingly, said Mehrabian, more than 90 percent of the impression we often convey has nothing to do with what we actually say. So if you believe that communication is all about words, you’re totally missing the boat.

Listening to Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog deliver an iota of his administration’s accomplishments in every possible opportunity brings back to memory the subject matter and activate the question: is the occasion the best opportunity to report accomplishments?

One observer might dismiss the significance of the body language among the elements, but the two other components can serve as a measure why the message can be defeated and can be proved useless. The choice and the use of words definitely blew the message into the air after it failed to penetrate into the consciousness of the listener. Its intention of either to achieve appreciation or draw inspiration from the reporting was under-attained with its tone of voice more prominent and which weighed in heavier than the message it attempted to convey to the people.

Perhaps the personality behind the sender of the message can become overwhelming. Its tendency is to compete with the message and when the former prevail over the latter, it eventually swallow the message. This particular factor was also discussed by Maxwell by saying that “leaders, speakers, and teachers can develop a disproportionate sense of their own importance”.

Maxwell emphasized that “there is a very real danger for people with public professions to develop unhealthily strong egos.”

If you are not inclined to miss the boat yourself, I invite you to listen to the speech of Mayor Mabilog (it is readily available at the web or over Facebook accounts) and perhaps formulate your own assessment for constructive criticism and learning.

Unhealthy egos is a neglected concern but there are moments that it is too overwhelming – it underpins the tone of voice of public officials especially if one is a chief executive. The danger of going beyond disproportionate levels of ones appreciation of self-importance sometimes depends on how short or fast one has gained power by being in public office. It can, however, be gauged when they deliver a message.

We can learn a lot from the city’s chief executive in order to become effective sender of messages to people. But becoming effective message senders can be achieved by cultivating the qualities shared by John C. Maxwell. By doing so, politicians can effectively convey the message they intend to deliver to its people and not be blocked by distortions brought about by unhealthy ego in action.

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