Nonverbal communication and body language


The 7% rulefact, fiction, or misunderstanding, Volume 2011 Issue October, October 2011 | BY Philip Yaffe

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Volume 2011, Number October (2011), Pages 1-5

The 7% rule: fact, fiction, or misunderstanding Philip Yaffe DOI: 10.1145/2043155.2043156

In 1971, Albert Mehrabian published a book Silent Messages, in which he discussed his research on non-verbal communication. He concluded that prospects based their assessments of credibility on factors other than the words the salesperson spoke—the prospects studied assigned 55 percent of their weight lớn the speaker"s body language and another 38 percent to the tone and music of their voice. They assigned only 7 percent of their credibility assessment to the salesperson"s actual words. Over the years, this limited experiment evolved khổng lồ a belief that movement và voice coaches would be more valuable to lớn teaching successful communication than speechwriters. In fact, in 2007 Allen Weiner published So Smart But... discussing how to put this principle to lớn work in organizations.

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Phil Yaffe thinks that the 7 percent rule is a pernicious myth. He debunks the notion that in an oral presentation, what you say is considerably less important than how you say it. He rejects the clalặng that nội dung accounts for only 7 percent of the success of the presentation, while 93 percent of success is attributable lớn non-verbal factors, i.e. toàn thân language and vocal variety. The myth arises from a gross misinterpretation of a scientific experiment. It needs to lớn be put khổng lồ rest both for the benefit of presenters & the sake of scientific integrity.

Peter J. Denning Editor

Have you ever heard the adage that communication is only 7 percent verbal & 93 percent non-verbal, i.e. toàn thân language và vocal variety? You probably have, & if you have sầu any sense at all, you have sầu ignored it.

There are certain "truths" that are prima face false. And this is one of them. Asserting that what you say is the least important part of a speech insults not only the intelligence of your audience, but your own intelligence as well.

The whole objective sầu of most speeches is to convey information, or to lớn promote or defkết thúc a point of view. Certainly, proper vocal variety và body toàn thân language can aid the process. But by their very nature, these ancillary activities can convey only emphasis or emotion.

The proof? Although today we presumably live sầu in a visual world, most information is still promulgated in written size, where vocal variety and toàn thân language play no role. Even the "interactive" Internet is still mainly writing. The vast majority of people who surf the Internet do so looking for texts, with which they may interact via hyperlink, but it is still essentially text.

Likewise with a speech. If your words are incapable of getting your message across, then no amount of gestures và tonal variations will vị it for you. You are still obliged to lớn carefully structure your information và look for "le mot juste" (the best words or phrases) khổng lồ express what you want to lớn say.

So just what does this "7% Rule" really mean?

The origin of this inimical adage is a misinterpretation, like the adage "the exception that proves the rule." This is something else people say without examining it. If you believe that this is actually true, I will demonstrate at the over of this article that it isn"t. But first things first.

In the 1960s Professor Albert Mehrabian and colleagues at the University of California, Los Angles (UCLA), conducted studies into human communication patterns. When their results were published in professional journals in 1967, they were widely circulated across mass media in abbreviated khung. Because the figures were so easy to lớn rethành viên, most people forgot about what they really meant. Hence, the myth that communication is only 7 percent verbal and 93 percent non-verbal was born. And we have been suffering from it ever since.

The fact is Professor Mehrabian"s retìm kiếm had nothing to vì with giving speeches, because it was based on the information that could be conveyed in a single word.

Subjects were asked khổng lồ listen to lớn a recording of a woman"s voice saying the word "maybe" three different ways to lớn convey liking, neutrality, and disliking. They were also shown photos of the woman"s face conveying the same three emotions. They were then asked to lớn guess the emotions heard in the recorded voice, seen in the photos, and both together. The result? The subjects correctly identified the emotions 50 percent more often from the photos than from the voice.

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In the second study, subjects were asked to listen to lớn nine recorded words, three meant to lớn convey liking (honey, dear, thanks), three khổng lồ convey neutrality (maybe, really, oh), & three lớn convey disliking (don"t, brute, terrible). Each word was pronounced three different ways. When asked to lớn guess the emotions being conveyed, it turned out that the subjects were more influenced by the tone of voice than by the words themselves.

Professor Mehrabian combined the statistical results of the two studies và came up with the now famous—& famously misused—rule that communication is only 7 percent verbal and 93 percent non-verbal. The non-verbal component was made up of body language (55 percent) and tone of voice (38 percent).

Actually, it is incorrect khổng lồ gọi this a "rule," being the result of only two studies. Scientists usually insist on many more corroborating studies before calling anything a rule.

More to the point, Professor Mehrabian"s conclusion was that for inconsistent or contradictory communications, body language & tonality may be more accurate indicators of meaning & emotions than the words themselves. However, he never intended the results khổng lồ apply lớn normal conversation. And certainly not to lớn speeches, which should never be inconsistent or contradictory!

So what can we learn from this research to lớn help us become better speakers?

Basically, nothing. We must still rely on what good orators have sầu always known. A speech that is confused và disorganized is a poor speech, no matter how well it is delivered. The essence of a good speech is what it says. This can be enhanced by vocal variety & appropriate gestures. But these are auxiliary, not primary.

Toastmasters International, a worldwide club dedicated lớn improving public speaking, devotes the first four chapters of its beginner"s manual to lớn organizing the speech itself, including a chapter specifically on the importance of words in conveying meaning & feeling. Only in Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 does it concern itself with toàn thân language and vocal variety.

I don"t know how khổng lồ quantify the relative sầu importance of verbal to non-verbal in delivering speeches. But I have no doubt that the verbal (what you actually say) must dominate by a wide margin.

One of the most famous speeches of all time is Abrasay mê Lincoln"s "Gettysburg Address." Its 272 words continue khổng lồ inspire 150 years after they were spoken. No one has the slighkiểm tra idea of Lincoln"s movements or voice tones.

Now, what about that other oft-quoted misconception "the exception that proves the rule?"

If you reflect for a moment, you will realize that an exception can never prove sầu a rule; it can only disprove sầu it. For example, what happens when someone is decapitated? He dies, right? And we know that this rule holds, because at least once in history when someone"s head was chopped off, he didn"t die!

The problem is not with the adage, but with the language. In old English the term "prove" meant lớn thử nghiệm, not lớn confirm as it does today. So the adage really means: "It is the exception that tests the rule." If there is an exception, then there is no rule, or at least the rule is not total.

Native English speakers are not alone in continuing to lớn mouth this nonsense; in some other languages it is even worse. For example, the French actually say "the exception that confirms the rule" (l"exception qui confirme la règle), probably because it was mistranslated from English. This is quite unequivocal, leaving no room for doubt. But it is still wrong.


Philip Yaffe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1942 và grew up in Los Angeles, where he graduated from the University of California with a degree in mathematics và physics. In his senior year, he was also editor-in-chief of the Daily Bruin, UCLA"s daily student newspaper. He has more than 40 years of experience in journalism and international marketing communication. At various points in his career, he has been a teacher of journalism, a reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal, an trương mục executive sầu with a major international press relations agency, European kinh doanh communication director with two major international companies, & a founding partner of a specialized kinh doanh communication agency in Brussels, Belgium, where he has lived since 1974. Amuốn Yaffe"s recent books are The Gettysburg Approach to lớn Writing & Speaking lượt thích a Professional and Science for the Concerned Citizen (available from Amazon Kindle).

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