A myth that sticks – Mehrabian Myth

Several years ago I was exposed to this statistic when it came to communication. People understood and made meaning of someone’s speech using three components. Plus there was a percentage distribution as well. It went like this.

7 % of understanding/ meaning came from Words / Content
38 % of understanding / meaning come from Tonality
55 % of understanding / meaning came from Body Language

It was called 7%-38%-55% Rule, for the relative impact of words, tone of voice, and body language when speaking. Needless to say, the importance of ‘body language’ and ‘voice’ were emphasised.

For several years, these numbers stuck. Why wouldn’t it?  It was repeated many times over. Seemed entirely plausible. It was attributed to a Stanford research. All was well with the world. Those were the days of innocence. Then came the internet and the truth was far more accessible.
Some preliminary reading revealed that the original idea and research was completely twisted and taken out of context.

The numbers themselves are said to have appeared in 1971, for the first time. By a gentleman by the name of Albert Mehrabian in his book titled ‘Silent Messages’. But the context and even the subject of what Mehrabian said is vastly different from what was being bandied in the open.

What Mehrabian says ( as quoted in here )

* Total liking = 7% verbal liking + 38% vocal liking + 55% facial liking

* Total feeling = 7% verbal feeling + 38% vocal feeling + 55% facial feeling

Albert Mehrabian seems to have been getting at is advocate consistency between action, message and the real self. And also between words, voice and body language. Any inconsistencies between these is going to make it difficult for the audience. And more importantly, the audience will believe ‘less’ of whats being said.

His pronouncement that the audience will perhaps rely more on the actions that are seen than the words that are spoken, perhaps have been converted simplistically into this 7 % + 38 % + 55 % theory that prima facie alters meaning.  There is ‘nothing said about the relative contributions in general speech’ ! 🙂

So, here goes.

a. Words are as important. (as ever)
b. Consistency between words, actions and tone is very important for the belief quotient to be high.

Some of these myths stick far too longer than warranted. The other day I was amidst a set of trainers, who laid bare their affection and regard for the 7-38-55 rule. Instantaneously I knew I had a topic for a blogpost.

One thought on “A myth that sticks – Mehrabian Myth

  1. Totally agree with you! This is a concept that has been abused to a great extent apart from Learning Styles! Thank you for sharing this!

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