Communication experts and trainers often refer to Albert Mehrabian research on inconsistent messages of feelings and attitudes that have become known as the “7-38-55 rule”.
Misinterpretation of Mehrabian’s research is that these percentages are the relative impact of words, tone of voice and body language in communication. This is not true. Imagine that you are watching the evening news without getting the information. You see the speaker, you hear the voice, but you don’t get the content. You would not understand anything… unless you have subtitles 🙂
The “7-38-55” generalization from the initially very specific conditions in Mehrabian’s experiments is a common mistake. The rule is based on two studies: “Decoding of Inconsistent Communications” and “Inference of Attitudes from Nonverbal Communication in Two Channels”. Both studies were focused on communication of positive or negative emotions via single spoken word. The first study compared the relative importance of the meaning of the word with the tone of voice. The second study dealt with facial expressions and vocal tone. Mehrabian combined the results of these studies to obtain the “7-38-55 rule”.
On his website (http://www.kaaj.com/psych/), Mehrabian clearly states:
“Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking. Please note that 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.”
Source: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Mehrabian
To make it simple… the “7-38-55 rule” can be applied in the following situations:
- When the content is known to both sides in communication
- When there is mismatch between verbal and nonverbal communication
If you are interested in developing your communication skills check NLP Center and Atria Group training programs for effective communication development: Persuasive Communicator, PCM Communication or NLP Communication.