How verbal communication has changed

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Illustration zeigt verschiedene Personen und Kommunikationsformen.

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Digital transformation, modern communication tools, social media & co. have changed the way we communicate in recent years. This applies to our everyday lives as well as to corporate communications. But what does this actually mean for verbal communication and how can we use the change to our advantage?

We have dealt intensively with this question and would also like you to understand the change and to be able to actively use the insights that can be derived from it to improve corporate communication.

What is verbal communication?

Before we go into the details, we must first understand what verbal communication actually means. Many people still confuse verbal communication with spoken language. Although it belongs to verbal communication, written language also belongs to verbal communication. We can therefore distinguish between two types of verbal communication.

  • Oral verbal communication: This is the classical spoken language. It does not matter whether we communicate in the form of a conversation, in dialogue or in the form of video conferences, telephone conversations or voice messages with the help of our language. The possibility of communicating orally over long distances has only been possible for the general public since the availability of telephones. Today, we have numerous other channels available for voice transmission. Common examples are video conferences, voice messages or podcasts.
  • Written verbal communication: As already mentioned, written communication is also part of verbal communication. Thanks to modern media, smartphones, tablets and constantly new apps and communication tools, we communicate more in written language than ever before. This is true for both professional and private life, where it’s normal for most people to write multiple Whatsapp, Facebook and/or Instram, Twitter or Reddit messages. In the company, this trend continues with modern communication tools and employee apps. Compared to oral verbal communication, all non-verbal aspects such as pitch, body language and so on are eliminated in exclusively written communication, so that a strong channel reduction takes place.

Influence of non-verbal components on verbal communication

Non-verbal communication is a decisive component of communication and is particularly important for the social behaviour of people. This includes not only body language, but also gestures, facial expressions, clothing, pronunciation, dialect or even smell. In addition, criteria such as the relationship between sender and receiver of the spoken word or the meaning of what is said also play a major role and have a decisive influence on how information reaches the recipient.

In the case of purely verbal communication, which has to get by without or as far as possible without non-verbal elements of language, a large part of this meaning is omitted. This often results in misunderstandings, as communication is reduced to the purely factual level. In direct communication, however, this only serves to transmit information. Further factors such as tone of voice, gestures and facial expressions then contribute to the fact that irony, for example, can only be clearly understood in the first place. These circumstances caused by the aforementioned channel reduction are sometimes compensated by emojis in written communication or audio and video messages, but in comparison to direct conversation a large number of non-verbal signals are still lost. 

Increase in verbal communication in the context of digitisation

Through digital transformation, we have more and more channels at our disposal through which we communicate in a purely verbal form. In particular, channels that are almost exclusively used for written communication lead to an increasing focus on the factual content in the transmission of information. This is particularly noticeable in companies with communication tools, e-mails, intranets, blogs & Co. Although the necessary information is transmitted, knowledge can be accumulated and well disseminated or shared, on the other hand part of the interpersonal social behaviour is lost, which in turn can have a negative effect on motivation, loyalty to the company as well as even innovative strength and satisfaction. 

This fact has been confirmed several times by studies such as the Gallup study. The emotional attachment to the company is reduced, since communication is hardly on an emotional level. This leads to higher fluctuation, less and less initiative and so on. If the communication concept is not good, which includes adapting verbal communication to our modern times, the negative consequences can be felt immediately and clearly. 

What can we do about it? How do you deal with the change in verbal communication and how do you use it correctly?

Levels of communication and their significance

If you look at different communication models, there are some similarities that can be found among the important models. This applies in particular to the levels of communication that play an important role in verbal communication. Here is a brief summary of what this is all about and what sociological aspects it entails. 

The levels of communication models

If you look at common communication models such as the transmitter-receiver model, the iceberg model or the four-ear model according to Schulz von Thun, a parallel is immediately noticeable:

In all models, communication consists of much more than just spoken or written languages. The language itself only serves to transmit information at the factual level. In addition, in all models a whole series of other factors, some of which are transmitted unconsciously, play a decisive role in decoding the message and interpreting what is spoken. Particular importance is attached to the relationship level, which reflects the relationship between sender and receiver. 

Whether a piece of information is perceived positively or negatively, or correctly or incorrectly, depends crucially on many other non-verbal factors that cannot be filtered out of the pure written or spoken word. A part of these factors comes from the sender himself, but another part also depends on the receiver. How the information arrives, is perceived and interpreted cannot be reduced to the pure verbal level.

The consequences of channel reduction in modern times

This circumstance gives rise to the problem that certain levels cannot be addressed at all in the context of channel reduction. However, since they are always part of communication, the recipient position plays an increasingly important role because it fills the unconscious communication levels more strongly. If, for example, the relationship level is negatively affected, positive, purely verbally transmitted information will only rarely be perceived positively by the recipient. Decisive non-verbal stimuli are missing and the relationship level is underrepresented by the sender. In addition, misunderstandings quickly increase, which coupled with the flood of information in professional and private everyday life through social media, an increasing flood of e-mail & Co. leads to the fact that an ever greater amount of information falls victim to the personal filter of each individual. 

If you really want to reach people in today’s world, you need more than a few written lines. This applies equally to the transmission of important information within the company as well as in the context of public relations or external corporate communication.

The greed for emotional content

Studies also show that the under-representation of the relationship level has a direct effect on people’s behaviour. A study conducted by ARD and ZDF in 2014 showed that over 82% of all users of the online portal consume mainly video content. According to one study, the average attention span of a person today is only 8.25 seconds (9 seconds for a goldfish) and continues to fall. This is the result of the flood of information. It has become increasingly important to be able to decide quickly whether reading a content or listening to a voice message is really worthwhile. However, in the same study conducted by Statistic Brain, it was also found that the average viewing time of a video is 2.7 minutes. In addition, video content is shared by 92% of all mobile Internet users. Even a simple info graphic significantly increases the time spent on a website and increases traffic by an average of 12%. If a landing page is even equipped with videos such as explanation videos and other moving image content, it is shared 40 times more frequently on average and the conversion rate increases by up to 86% according to a study by Coolerinsights.

The reason for this is simply that moving images can convey emotions. The relationship level can be addressed in a completely different way than would be possible with purely written content. 

Optimization of corporate communications

From the just won realizations ways and ways can be derived to counteract the changed verbal communication in the enterprise and also in the private area. Certainly, we communicate more, are always available and communicate more and more in written form. However, this does not mean that we have to follow this trend in our daily work or as a company. On the contrary: It is our task to counteract this development through targeted measures and adapted communication concepts.  What does this mean in concrete terms for internal and external corporate communications?

Optimization of internal verbal corporate communication

Especially in internal corporate communication, the change in verbal communication has dramatic consequences. The Gallup study already mentioned shows these major trends, which can certainly be described as alarming:

  • Only about one fifth of all employees feel emotionally connected to their company.
  • About 15% of employees feel comfortable at their workplace.
  • It is estimated that at this very moment at least 15% of all employees have already resigned internally.
  • About three quarters (75%) of all employees only do exactly what they were asked to do.

The commitment, the emotional attachment and thus also the life of the corporate culture and philosophy have strongly diminished. Employee fluctuation is increasing and the flood of information makes it increasingly difficult to separate important information from unimportant information.  Sometimes employees spend more and more time filtering information, processing written enquiries and using new communication tools.

This development must be countered by continuing to use digital communication channels only if they offer real added value and are actually accepted. All communication within the company should take place at eye level, regardless of department, hierarchical level or level of knowledge. Open, (whenever possible) direct and honest communication is the key to building relationships across all areas. If an employee today has the feeling that he or she is only being used as a source of information by his or her colleague or that he or she is only being contacted by his or her supervisor on the basis of instructions, motivation and loyalty suddenly drop. Every employee is valuable to the company, has his or her own opinion and wants to be heard. 

Anyone who believes that it is enough to congratulate an employee on a newborn baby or on important information that directly concerns him ‘modern’ via Whatsapp has not understood the opportunities and risks of modern verbal communication methods.

Optimization of external verbal corporate communication

What applies to internal corporate communication cannot be wrong for external communication. We have to come to terms with the fact that today everyone has become a communicator and for a long time no one has let themselves be lured out behind the stove by the anointing statements that were made in the PR department. Verbal communication means dialogue. Dialogue with customers, partners, employees and other people associated with the company. Obtaining feedback, interacting quickly and directly and working with moving images such as videos, explanatory videos and infographics must become the rule and must not remain an exception. Today, every single employee can become a brand ambassador and be involved in public relations in such a way that the company remains authentic, trustworthy and credible. 

We must abandon the idea of compulsively digitizing corporate communications. Rather, we must find ways to understand and use the digitalization of communication. Anyone who communicates today exclusively via the press spokesperson or the social media manager has missed out on the fact that the role of the PR communicator has long since changed into a multidimensional management function. 

Bild zeigt eine Präsentation in einem Corporate Meeting room.

Agile processes and organizations need agile communication concepts

Technology opens up many new possibilities. However, it is important not to forget that new channels and tools are initially just empty shells and bare architecture. Without the people who live in them, these tools quickly degenerate into ruins, and the messages transmitted through them do not reach their destination. Every company should constantly review its communication channels, the type of communication and key criteria such as customer and employee satisfaction, emotional attachment & Co. This requires a strong feedback culture internally and externally as well as a strong error culture in the area of internal organization. This also includes a good communication concept for verbal communication within the company. Which information is transmitted purely in writing, for which topics are meetings or video conferences scheduled and what belongs exclusively in the direct conversation?

At a time when verbal communication is increasingly accompanied by channel reduction, we have to evolve from pure communicators to moderators, networks and innovators in equal measure. Hierarchy levels and borders between departments, companies and customers and also to partners must become blurred in the area of communication. Open corporate communication at eye level is the motto here. In short, we have to accept and recognize a fact:

The change in verbal communication should not only be understood as a technological change, but rather as a change in how we work together.