Professor Albert Mehrabian pioneered the understanding of communications in the 1960’s. He had a career teaching and research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He currently devotes his time to research, writing, and consulting as Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA.
Mehrabian established this classic statistic for the effectiveness of spoken communications, best known as the 7%-38%-55% Rule:
• 7% of meaning is in the words that are spoken.
• 38% of meaning is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said).
• 55% of meaning is in facial expression. (what we call body language)
Mehrabian’s model above has become one of the most widely referenced statistics in communications. The model is particularly useful in illustrating the importance of considering factors other than words alone when trying to convey meaning.
Style, expression, tone, facial expression and body language in Mehrabian’s experiments did indeed account for 93% of the meaning inferred by the people in the study.
The understanding of how to convey (when speaking) and interpret (when listening) meaning will always be essential for effective communication.
A fairer way of transferring Mehrabian’s findings to modern written (memo, email, etc.) and telephone communications is simply to say that greater care needs to be taken in the use of language and expression, because the visual channel does not exist. It is not correct to assume that by removing a particular channel, then so the effectiveness of the communication reduces in line with the classically represented Mehrabian percentages. It is not that simple.