Dissonance in business communication

Illustration of Dissonance in Business Communication

Overcoming dissonance in business communication

Dissonance in business communication occurs when your message and behavior do not say the same things to your audience.  According to dictionary.com dissonance can mean disagreement or incongruity.  This often to happen when a spoken message is delivered to someone who exhibits body language or behavior that indicates another message entirely.  For instance the message to a co-worker: “Great news!! Bob got promoted!” is partially interpreted by what is said, but if the speaker said it in an annoyed, rude, or pensive fashion then the message really doesn’t seem to be great news at all.

Illustration of Dissonance in Business Communication
Bad Body Language

The message is interpreted by the listener and both the message and the messenger are judged by the speakers delivery.

Now you may be thinking to yourself that you’re fairly successful at business communication when speaking to people so this doesn’t apply to you.  Maybe it doesn’t but it when looking at this type of situation I can say that I know I’ve made these types of mistakes at times and it certainly applies to me.  In my efforts to obtain better human relations skills I came across a work of Dr. Mark Goulston titled Just Listen.  In it Mark talks about this type of dissonance and lists (among many other things) a survey which you can get your close friends and business constituents help you with to identify areas that might be keeping you from getting through to people.

Dissonant Behavior Survey:  Survey several people who are close to you about how you might rub people the wrong way.  Let them know that you are trying to improve your business communication skills and ask them to identify the top three ways from the list below that you might annoy someone.  Be sure to accept their judgements without criticism and thank them for their help.

Dissonance creating behaviors:

  • arrogant
  • hyper
  • needy
  • overly opinionated
  • impulsive
  • rigid
  • nit picky
  • passive
  • indecisive
  • demanding
  • hostile
  • stuffy
  • over sensitive
  • sly
  • untrustworthy
  • mellow dramatic
  • rude
  • shy
  • pessimistic
  • abrupt
  • excessively perky
  • close minded

Once you have received the results of your survey compare them and look for areas that they all agree on. If you really want to be effective with this survey ask your sources to elaborate on the behavior they identified.  They will probably be reluctant to be directly critical of you and tell you that others “may or could” view you with the traits they mentioned because they won’t want to offend you.  Ask them what it is that could make you seem that way and what they think you could do about it.  You will then have the information needed to directly analyse your own behavior and improve your method of face to face business communication.

In the weeks after completing the survey study your own behavior as you interact with people and look for manifestations of the behaviors you identified.   Once you’ve reached a higher level of self awareness about your targeted behaviors you can go to work on them.  For instance you could talk to the people you work with or do business with and tell them that you are trying to improve your performance in the targeted area because you’d like to become more effective in the role that you deal with them in and then ask them how you can do better in that particular area in the future.  If the trait is so ingrained in your personality that you cannot change it then you can pre-disclose the matter in future face to face business communication to keep it from being a distraction from your message.

I hope this helps someone as much as it has helped me. If you’d like more information about this method read or listen to Dr. Goulston’s book Just Listen,

– Joel
Meridian, MS

Author: Joel Caton

Business Consultant and Web Developer from Meridian, MS