Did you know that when you communicate (verbally, non-verbally or in writing) there are in fact two messages you are sending: A relationship message and a content message.

The content message you are sending is all about the information, the tasks, the details, and the facts you wish to communicate.

The relationship message you send is about what you think about this person. It conveys where they stand with you.   They are working out if you accept them or not, if you trust them or not, if they mean something to you or not – with all the areas of grey in between.

The way you deliver any message communicates the relationship you have with your listener.

This relationship message is communicated through your body language as well as the words you choose and the tone of your voice.

What most people don’t realise is that they are sending a relationship message 100% of the time, even when they are not aware of it.

The interesting thing is that people receive the relationship message first – before the content message.  The impact the relationship message has on them will determine how they receive the content part of your message.

Your colleagues are affected by your relationship message as well as the details of your message.  What goes wrong with communication is almost always in how you communicate the relationship message.  Mistakes in communication can be corrected with the right relationship message.

So, if you say to your assistant, George, `I need this photocopying done’ in a brisk tone, you have sent a perfectly acceptable content message, however, it’s your relationship message that will determine the success of your communication.

Your brisk tone may well indicate that you don’t think much of George, and he may well (sometimes unconsciously) conclude that you don’t respect him.  His brain is quickly recording this and reacting.  The photocopying will likely get done, but you have not enhanced your relationship with George and in fact your tone may well have damaged it. You have failed in motivating him to bring out his best for you.

The relationship message you send is the key to your successful working relationship. Take care when you communicate and make sure you convey to George, through your attitude and delivery, that you `accept’ him.

The consequences of over-emphasis of the relationship message

Be aware that if you over-emphasise the relationship message, you although you will be perceived as a people-person; approachable, and easy-going, but may equally be perceived as a people-pleaser; soft, or wishy-washy.

Conversely, if you over-emphasise your content message, you will be seen as clear, crisp and straight-to-the-point but you may also be seen as bossy, demanding, abrupt, rude, attacking, bossy or confrontational.

In summary – 

1. Recognise the impact of your relationship message. This determines how your message will be received

2. People decode what you are saying at the relationship level.

3. Stop – think before you speak – use your tone, words and body language to convey that you accept and value your colleague.