Body Language Myth:
The 55% – 38% – 7% Rule
When we communicate we use and body language, tone of voice and words to get our message across, commonly referred to as the 55:38:7 Rule.
But it’s not true – it is context specific and these figures only relate to a situation where we are forming an attitude (like or dislike) of someone.
In a personal email to Max Atkinson, reproduced in Max’s book “Lend me your Ears” Albert Mehrabian said:
“I am obviously uncomfortable about misquotes of my work. From the very beginning I have tried to give people the correct limitations of my findings. Unfortunately the field of self-styled ‘corporate image consultants’ or ‘leadership consultants’ has numerous practitioners with very little psychological expertise.” Albert Mehrabian (31 October 2002)
Mehrabian in our experience is also misquoted by trainers with considerable psychological experience, as it supports their training.
So what is all that to you? What’s the impact on your business?
He is so commonly misquoted it has become a belief and we all take action on our beliefs – therefore you and your staff have wasted time in meetings, negotiations and general communication with your clients and suppliers. Why? Because you have been trained to focus on the wrong things.
For the record, this is what is commonly trained : the following figures relate to the relative importance of the components of any message we communicate and receive:
- 7% relates to the importance of the words we use
- 38% refers to tone of voice and inflection
- 55% refers to the importance of body language/face.
But now you know it’s not true. This is not what the original research by Albert Mehrabian concluded.
Context is everything. Instead of relating to any type of communication it is context specific. These figures only relate to a situation where we are forming an attitude (like or dislike) of someone. Probably therefore only relevant at the first encounter. So the words could still be the most important part of the message. The body language and tone of voice are what we mainly use to assess whether we like the person delivering the message.
Want to have some facts and science about how our minds work and how to improve performance? To learn more and how you get into a Mind Fit state take the simplest first step and read the book Mind Fit For Success , by Graham Williams