Have your heard the adage that it is not what you say, but how you say it?  This thinking was advanced by a study conducted in 1967 that held that how you communicate is 7% the words you choose, but 93% your body language and tone (38% tone of voice and 55% body language).

When this study was done, it had a major impact on communication training.  The study, however, had nothing to do with how people process information.  It focused on what was conveyed in a single word, which is much different from processing.

The study assigned only 7% to the actual words a person spoke, ranking words as the lease important.  But today brain studies show that it is much more complicated than that and words, not non-verbals, dominate.  This is a far cry from 7%.  Research continues, but studies show that listeners process words not only for content, but for the feelings the words evoke.

Of course, body language and tone remain powerful elements in communication. But especially because so much communication takes place on-line, where body language and tone don’t really play a role, the specific words you choose – not just the relevant ideas you present – whether on-line or in person-to-person conversations, are the major factor in success or failure.  Chade-Meng Tan’s story drives home the power of the specific words you choose, on how your customers react and how willing they are to make a change.

Chade-Meng Tan, a softwear engineer at Google, is a speaker and author. He was the 107th engineer hired by Google . As one of the early hires when Google went public, it was no longer necessary for Ming to work. Google offered him, and the other early hires, the opportunity to continue to work.   They could choose what they would do, provided it advanced Google’s mission.

Meng had a very difficult time early in his life and, because meditation had helped him, he believed that integrating meditation into the business world was something that would be meaningful at Google – he thought it would help people be more creative and enable them to bring their whole selves into work.

His idea for a meditation program was accepted, but when he posted his course not one person at Google signed up…. Not knowing what to do, he contacted Mirabui Bush, founder of Illuminations and meditation expert, to help him understand why there has been no interest and what he could do about it.  Ms. Bush did some research and because Google employees are mostly very young and very smart, hailing from schools like MIT and Stanford, and have been in front of screens their entire lives, she suggested offering the same course content but framing it differently to speak to his audience. Taking her advice, the big search company came up with a smart new name for the course.

Meng searched for the right language, gained senior support and, most importantly, reframed his course with a new name. Within 4 hours of posting, 140 Google team members signed up for Search Inside Yourself.  To date, the number of participants exceed 2000 globally! Meng’s title at Google is ‘Jolly Good Fellow’.

What’s the lesson here? There are many.  It may be time to put a long-standing myth about the dominance of body language to bed. Find a champion in your organization and your customer’s organization.  Seek expertise when you hit a wall.  Change a perspective from how you see something to how the customer can relate to it.  Frame information using specific tightly focused language.  To help you do this, profile your customer and find language the customer relates to.  For example, my friend was struggling to rename his business and mentioned this to me.  So we put Ms. Bush’s thinking to work by looking at his customers…  The customers that buy the kind of things he sells are mostly tourists.  They are educated, readers, art lovers, offbeat, international and an average age of 40.  His shop is located sub street level and a kind of an emporium.  We came up with the name The Underground Collector.  When he changed his perspective, he moved from his passions to his customers.

Search and listen to your customers.  Understand their world, and the language they can identify with, to capture their interests and influence and sell to them.   Your customers hear what you say two ways: how they comprehend it (be clear) and how they feel about it (have empathy).  I assume most customers understand what you say.  Take a hard look at the key words you use whether in your proposals, emails, voice mails, or conversations and ask, “How will the way I am articulating this make my customer feel?”