Communication is the Cornerstone of Giving Feedback

Coaching Through Feedback

As you consider being intentional in your feedback to employees, it’s important to start with your own communication skills. How you communicate feedback will impact whether employees listen or just brush it off as unimportant. Ask Fuel First answers a question to help get members started off right when giving feedback: how can I successfully communicate with employees so they will listen to my feedback?

When the topic of “communication” is brought up, public speaking often comes to mind, which may induce panic. “Glossophobia, or fear of public speaking, is a widespread phobia and one believed to affect up to 75% of the population” (Black, 2019). Although this article doesn’t focus on public speaking, it’s important to note that, in general, effective communication is a challenge for many. 

Three Elements of Communication 

In this article, we’re going to focus on three communication elements that can improve how people communicate in the workplace. 

  • Words. This is obvious because we need words to communicate. 
  • Voice quality. This refers to how you use your words: tone, pace and emphasis. 
  • Physiology. This is a fancy word for your gestures and facial expressions.

Albert Mehrabian, professor emeritus of psychology at UCLA in the early 1970s, is known for the Mehrabian Rule to describe communication where a speaker expresses feelings or attitudes toward a topic (Benzeno, 2020). Fifty-five percent of listeners will look to the speaker’s physiology to be persuaded by the speaker. In other words, if the speaker’s body language doesn’t match what they say, the audience may not be convinced. Another 33% of the audience will be listening for the speaker’s voice quality, and the last 7% will be focused on the speaker’s words to be convinced of their message. 

These statistics shed light on the importance of words, the quality of voices and body language to fully understand and embrace a speaker’s message. Let’s break down each element a bit further.

The Words That We Use 

When communicating with others, we must choose our words carefully as they align with our values. If we don’t express ourselves well, we’re at risk of being misunderstood, which can cause plenty of problems in the workplace. This is especially true for leaders who should understand that their words affect those they work with through informal and formal presentations/discussions (Creswell, 2021).  

The good news is that you don’t have to be an expert at using words to communicate effectively. Sans an impressive vocabulary, your words don’t need to be expertly scripted to capture your audience’s attention or effectively communicate your message’s intent. Your message is also delivered through your physiology and voice qualities. Ultimately, your words alone don’t express intent. Your physiology conveys more of what you think or feel than what you say alone. 

Voice Quality Matters

You’ve probably heard the expression, “It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.” Voice qualities, including tone, word emphasis, speed and volume, drive your message. For example, think back to a time when tone played a role in a conversation. Maybe it was when a frustrated patient left the practice by saying, “Thank you,” in a sarcastic tone. Contrast that with a patient who said the same thing but in a heartfelt tone. The words were the same, but the voice quality expressed each patient’s emotion at the time. 

We use tone to convey different emotions, and when combined with other voice qualities, it gives others a glimpse into our emotions, whether we are happy, sad, confident, confused, etc. Everyone needs to consider their voice qualities when communicating with others, but this is especially important for leaders, who are often looked to for guidance and seen as a representative of the practice (whether that’s an official role or not). 

Emphasis is critical to the message, but it isn’t everything. Speed and volume can also affect how well others understand you. By speaking too quickly, listeners may feel you’re in a hurry or nervous. You may lose your audience because they may become bored by talking too slowly. Volume also has a significant impact on our industry. Speaking too low might mean that people with hearing loss may not understand what you’re saying, and talking too loudly might come across as offensive, aggressive or mocking. The point is to think carefully about the way you speak to others.

Your Physiology is Speaking Volumes 

It’s no surprise that the key to success in both personal and professional relationships lies in your ability to communicate well. Nonverbal cues or “body language” sometimes speak louder than the words used and are often considered one of the most overlooked elements of successful communication. Think back to a time when you gave a colleague “a look,” and they knew exactly what you were thinking. It wasn’t mind reading; instead, you used your physiology to convey your message.  

Physiology is using your body language, expressions and mannerisms to communicate non-verbally, which is often done instinctively rather than consciously. Whether or not you’re aware, you’re continuously giving and receiving non-verbal information when interacting with others. This may include gestures, posture and eye contact, which send a strong message when combined. These powerful messages can put people at ease, build trust and draw others towards you. But be careful, as they can also offend, confuse and undermine what you’re trying to convey. And even when you’re not talking, you’re still communicating non-verbally. 

It’s essential that you are intentional about your non-verbal communication. This means that you should believe in your message, so your body language will reinforce your message. For example, if you smile at the end of a conversation, but it isn’t genuine, this may cause your listeners to question your intent. If you believe in what you said, that smile will comfort others and drive home your message (granted, your message was positive—to match the smile).  

Don’t underestimate the power of effective communication. One misstep, such as using a tone that others perceive as hostile or not genuine, can cause a series of problems. Avoid these types of issues by being intentional about how you communicate with others. By monitoring and adjusting these three elements, you can become an effective communicator. 

Check out the following Ask Fuel First articles to learn more about providing feedback to employees. 


Black, R. (12 September 2019). Glossophobia (Fear of Public Speaking): Are You Glossophobic? Psycom. Accessed online at

Benzeno, G. (2020). The Myth of Non-Verbal Communications. Center Stage. Accessed online via 

Creswell, M. (January 2021). Words Matter—the Power of Leadership Communication. Parbery. Accessed online via 

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