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Whenever we join any course related to communication skills, the very first lecture is on non-verbal communication and the importance of body language. We have been told repeatedly that 7 percent of meaning is conveyed through spoken words, 38 percent through tone of voice, and 55 percent through body language.

But we have been told lies all along.

In fact, the body language does not constitute 55 percent of the message. Let’s explore this further.

Nonverbal communication thinker Albert Mehrabian gave the 7-38-55 Rule in his 1971 book ‘Silent Messages‘ but the psychologist has himself clarified that his rule was misjudged by many (including our communication skills tutor).

Mehrabian has clarified that the weightage assigned to non verbal communication does not hold true if someone is not talking about his feelings or attitudes (i.e like-dislike).

I am reproducing an excerpt from his own website clarifying this:

Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable“. The equation Mehrabian refers to is: Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking.

This clarification very well conveys us the idea that the weightage of 55 percent assigned to the body language holds true according to the research only while conveying feelings and attitudes.

Body language is not 55 percent of communciation

For instance if someone is showing his/her liking towards the opposite gender, the body language can be assigned the weightage of 55 percent in the conversation equation; however, while making a business deal involving no emotions, the body language would not be that much important and in such scenarios, words would matter a lot.

In his book, Mehrabian has also noted that a pleasant setting increases the chances of positive interaction between people, be they co-workers or neighbours as compared to unpleasant settings. He has explained that in hot and crowded places, people are not likely to be positive towards each other in general. This explanation seems accurate as social interactions take place in centrally air conditioned halls. Consider, for instance that people interact with each other positively in wedding functions than at funerals.

Other Interesting Findings from Silent Messages

Mehrabian’s book is incredible in a sense that it shares the secrets to building more friendships and associations. The expert outlines that to develop more friendships and increase integration among community members, housing units should be arranged in a specific manner. The expert confirms that as the distance between houses increases, the chances of friendship decrease. He, however, says that when hostile groups of people are brought together, their relation does not improve despite closeness.

People living close to each other geographically would likely become friends

Moreover, the author has also outlined how use of active and passive forms in conversations reflect on the level of responsibility. The expert confirms that when someone is using passive form, he or she is less likely to take responsibility; in other words when passive voice is used, the speaker is himself/herself not sure.

For example consider two sentences:

  1. My analysis has forced me to say that…
  2. I have come to the conclusion by analyzing…

In the first sentence, passive voice has been used and so the speaker is not sure of what he is talking about or in other words is shying away from taking responsibility. In comparison, the speaker visibly takes more responsibility in the second sentence as it is in the active voice.

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