Dr Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, UCLA, well known for his publications on the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages, comes to two main conclusions in his studies :
1. There are basically three elements in any face-to-face communication which are words, tone of voice and nonverbal behaviour.
2. The non-verbal elements are particularly important for communicating feelings and attitude, especially when they are inconsistent i.e. if words disagree with the tone of voice and nonverbal behaviour, people tend to believe the tonality and nonverbal behaviour.
According to Mehrabian, the three elements in point one above account differently for our liking for the person who puts forward a message concerning their feelings: words account for 7%, tone of voice accounts for 38%, and body language accounts for 55% of the liking. They are often abbreviated as the “3 Vs” for Verbal, Vocal & Visual.
For effective and meaningful communication about emotions, these three parts of the message need to support each other – they have to be “congruent”. For example:
Verbal: “I do not have a problem with you!”
Non-verbal: person avoids eye-contact, looks anxious, has a closed body language, etc.
It becomes more likely that the receiver will trust the predominant form of communication, which to Mehrabian’s findings is non-verbal (38% + 55%) rather than the literal meaning of the words (7%). This is known as “the 7%-38%-55% rule”.
So, in summary Mehrabian found :
- 7% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in the words that are spoken.
- 38% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is the way the words are said.
- 55% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in facial expression.
Mehrabian did not intend the statistic to be used or applied freely to all communications and meaning as they frequently have been. They derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike) so unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.
You must have the proper context of the body language you’re receiving to understand what it means.
To decode the secrets of body language, you must learn to recognise how you see people.
You must understand how people see you.
Then you can begin to understand more of what is being communicated to you.
If someone is interested in you, then their pupils will begin to dilate. Even if they seem disinterested, this body language cue will cut through the uncertainty you may be experiencing.
Some people talk with their hands all the time. If their palms face upward while talking, then you can be confident in their friendliness. If not, then you’re being pushed away.
People will copy others when there are high levels of trust present.
Don’t be offended if someone seems to be mirroring you. It likely means you’re on the same wavelength, that’s all.
If you’re talking with someone who is slouched while sitting, there’s a good chance you’re being ignored.
If that person is sitting up straight or making frequent eye contact, then they’re engaged and interested in the conversation.
The secrets of body language can also be used to determine if someone is telling the truth.
People tend to look in the direction of their hand dominance when trying to recall an actual event.
That means right-handed people will look to the right when trying to recall something.
If that person looks to the left, then they are working up a believable lie to tell you.
Body language is something you can use for self-communication too.
If you’re trying to lose weight, for example, try placing a mirror in your kitchen. That way, you’ll be forced to look yourself in the eye when you reach for an unnecessary snack.
You can also swap out thin glasses for large ones to reduce how much you drink.
Even something as simple as humming before you need to speak with someone, make a public presentation, or leave a voicemail can reduce coughing and other vocal disruptions.