You may have heard that only 7% of a conversation can be attributed to verbal communication - the words a person uses. But where did this notion come from and is it actually true?
In 1971 Professor Albert Mehrabian wrote a book titled Silent Messages.
The book mentions that:
- 7% of communication is attributed to the words the person uses
- 38% can be attributed to how a person sounds when communicating
- 55% on how the person looks when communicating
These figures are commonly used to say that this it true for all communications, however, that is somewhat misinterpreting the original findings that Mehrabian wrote about. To clear up the misconception check out this light-hearted short video from Creativity Works explaining some of the facts behind the figures.
What Mehrabian actually said was that we get most of our understanding is from tone of voice and body language rather than the actual words. So, when the two are clearly in conflict, we instinctually trust the non-verbal every time. Or at least the impact of the non-verbal is significantly higher than the verbal. This is where the 7% vs. the 93% comes in.
The importance of using the correct words cannot be underestimated. You may recall the case of President Trump in Helsinki, where he claimed to use an incorrect word (would vs. wouldn’t).
When developing any effective workplace communication all areas play an important role. Using a few simple rules on the outset prior to a presentation can avoid undue complications or misinterpretations later on. If we look at the areas Mehrabian studied at Stanford University, words, vocal tone and body language we can establish some guidelines for developing good communication.
Words – say what you mean
Begin with the correct words and ask yourself are they conveying the accurate message, do the words cover your core principals of what you believe to be true. Further reading on Effective Communication.
Vocal Tone – matching the words
The number one rule is to be clear with the message you are giving. If you understand what you are saying and believe it to be true, this will leave no room for ambiguity. The intonation in your voice should reflect the words you are speaking and in workplace communication clarity is key. Remember you don’t have to shout like Brian Blessed, but a good way to start to improve your intonation is to record yourself and play it back. Listening carefully as to where improvements can be made and what you might want to change.
Body Language – reveal your true sentiments
Body language is a fascinating subject and to delve deeper into this interesting topic read the incredible book What Every Body is Saying, written by Joe Navarro, an ex-FBI special agent.
In short, the body subconsciously mirrors what is on a person’s mind. If you are happy with the content of your message and feel it is supporting your principals, the body language will reflect this. Trying to massively alter your body language could potentially lead to problematic situations and is best avoided. However, your body language should be in line with your message and it’s a good idea to record and watch your presentation to ensure that is the case. Watch for nervous habits or posture so that you can modify where necessary.
We hope you think this short blog has been communicated effectively. Finally, on the topic of words, we would like to close with a well known quote of Buddha.
"Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace"
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