Sharing information with people is an everyday event in the business world. The challenge for most Creative Executives is to communicate in a way that allows their team to hear and understand. Business folklore has it that communication can be broken into three creative categories; the dance, the music and the lyrics. No one knows exactly where this analogy originated, but it's been handed down from one leader to another and is an especially helpful guide when communicating to creatives. This is due to the conceptual and subjective nature of the content and also because the audience is often the creator, which heightens their sensitivity to constructive criticism. When choosing a communication path with your creative team, it is best to err on the side of sensitivity and attentiveness.

The Dance
60% of communication is through body language, which includes facial expressions and the placement and movement of arms, shoulders, and legs. Body language is also referred to as three-dimensional communication.

The Music
25% of communication is oral, also known as two-dimensional communication. Contrary to what may seem obvious, oral communication does not include your words. Instead "the music" is about how things are said through tone, accent, personality, speed, volume and pitch.

The Lyrics
15% of communication is the actual words and this is considered one-dimensional communication.

It is important to remember that there are two sides to communication and regardless if a person is presenting in a ballroom or conversing with a small group, the "dance" is a major element of that communication. In addition to the speaker, the individual or people receiving the communication must also be aware of their body language. Consider the audience member who is scowling or a colleague who crosses their arms when you approach them with a question. Being an active listener involves appearing alert and nodding in agreement or understanding.

Knowing that the vast majority of what is said will be glossed over in favor of reading body language and tone is important when managing a team, especially a creative one. Creatives are stereotypically a sensitive crew--a strength when it comes to designing. But this same sensitivity can be exhausting when you need to carefully select your words to avoid emotional reactions. So while it can be difficult to provide creatives feedback on seemingly subjective matters, managers can significantly improve their communication and message by being more aware of facial expressions and subtle shifts in body movement. In fact, mastering the "dance and music" can set managers apart from their peers and contribute to positive upward feedback from direct reports.

Consider the Creative Brief: there are endless stories of meetings to discuss the brief at which everyone participated, but walked away with a completely different understanding of what was needed. Now imagine if in those meetings someone was fully focused on moderating the conversation based on body language instead of words. Consider the potential outcomes if an adjustment in the seat, a raised eyebrow or small smile were noted and questioned in the process. What do these mean? Agreement, displeasure, discomfort, excitement? These changes in body language are the keys to truly understanding whether people are on the same path or going in different directions. This is not mind reading. It's noting the body language and learning to read it--forms of active listening.

Strong communicators will ask thoughtful questions, such as "is this making sense to you" or "are you ok," at specific crossroads in the conversation to ensure others are in agreement or understanding. Those same communicators understand that while the words are meaningful, it's the body language and tone of their delivery that will make all the difference. Both phrases can be said in a compassionate tone with welcoming face or in a condescending tone and aggressive facial expression.

It might seem counterintuitive that words are only 15% of total communication because so much effort is put into choosing words. On the other hand, it can be empowering and comforting to understand and apply this knowledge. Think about how much more effective we can be when we apply this knowledge and make a concerted effort to note our own body language and tone of voice, as well as those of our colleagues.

As a creative team leader, consider yourself the conductor of a symphony, your creative department. Recognizing that the Dance, Music and Lyrics of communication is instrumental (sorry, I had to) to your team's effectiveness and in ensuring a strong team atmosphere and an abundance of creativity.

For information about how Cella can add value to your business through consulting, coaching, and training, please email [email protected].

Rena DeLevie, a Cella consultant, is a people-oriented transformational leader with 23 years experience in the creative industry (Talbots, J. Crew, Kenneth Cole, UBS, Cole Haan); first as an art director for 8 years, then in Creative Operations for the past 15+ years. Her passion is to help companies and people succeed by listening, analyzing and proposing solutions for organizational structure, streamlining communication, financial accountability, increasing efficiency and reducing expenses.