93% of communication comes from non-verbal signs… or does it?

Have you heard this one before? “Only 7% of communication comes through words, the rest comes from non-verbal communication: 38% from tone of voice and 55% from body language.” Did you ever wonder whether this was actually true? It seems a little extreme: is a wink more effective than hard facts when you’re pitching a proposal to some senior executives?

Interestingly enough, the claim is false. As Dale Emery explained some time ago, its origin is in some research published by Albert Mehrabian in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The thing is, Mehrabian’s work was focused exclusively on personal communication about feelings of like or dislike: when people are talking to one another about how much they like/dislike each other. In Mehrabian’s own words, from his website:

… 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.

Robert Befus provides an indepth analysis of this as part of his Presentation Facts series.

So to apply this finding to every other form of communication, and particularly to business communication, is a gross misrepresentation of the research.

Whenever you hear someone attempt to perpetuate this hoax, set them right.

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