Occasionally we hear about studies that give unbelievable “facts” and expect us to believe them. Unfortunately, these are often myths passed down by trainers rather than actual results. Take for example the “fact” that nonverbal communication overwhelms other channels that we have.
The speaker will tell us that studies show that 93% of communication is nonverbal so we need to pay attention to how something is said. It’s one of those myths.
In this case, there is such a study, but its conclusions have been stretched beyond reasonable bounds. Albert Mehrabian studies the relative importance of various channels of communication in the late 1960’s. His results are often reported as concluding that in all communication:
- 7% happens in spoken words.
- 38% happens through voice tone.
- 55% happens via general body language.
That’s not what his study concluded. He looked at situations between partners (husband-wife, boyfriend-girlfriend, etc.) in order to study the communication of feelings. Within that type of situation, his formula is:
Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking
His conclusions don’t apply to all types of communication. As Mehrabian states on his website: “Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.”
His studies do point to some important concepts:
- Meaning from a situation doesn’t come from something simple. It’s a combination of a variety of factors.
- Emails, where tone can’t be heard, are fraught with the possibility of misinterpretation.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of language in communicating. Words matter.
If you want to read more for yourself, go to: