I show concerned parents who want to give their children the best start to life how to better understand their children.

2 Feb 2014

Communication Mystery Explained: The 55-38-7 Rule

Recently, I watched a professional speaker give a presentation and something he said really disturbed me because it’s something that is widely used, and misquoted in our society. I am training to become a better public speaker and let’s face it, we all need to communicate, so I thought it would be a good idea to bring to your attention the myths behind the 55-38-7 rule.

I’m sure many of you have heard of the 55-38-7 rule. As it goes in our society: 55% of your communication is through your body language, 38% in your tone of voice and only 7% of your message is in your words. Does that sound familiar to you…? This is a misquote in-fact.

Imagine I’m wearing a black shirt and I walk up to you and say, “Hi, I’m wearing a black shirt.” No matter what body language (excluding sign language) or tone of voice I adopt, there is no way I could convince you that my shirt is anything but black. Thus, 100% of my message is coming through in my words. I could tilt my head to the side or speak in a ‘genuinely sincere’ voice but no part of these actions will give an indication of the color of my shirt.

As I’ve said a few times, you’ve probably heard the same misquote at some point in your life. Many of you have probably even said it. It’s so popular in our society, that there must be something to it. So, what is the real deal behind the 55-38-7 rule? Before we talk about the what, let’s talk about the who: who is the man that came up with the 55-37-8 rule? His name is Albert Mehrabian. He was born in 1939 in Iran. He moved to American and worked at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) as a psychology professor. He published a book called Silent Message, in which he documented the finding of his study and the 55-38-7 rule. What he was studying was the link between body language and tone of voice (non-verbal cues), and the words we say, when communicating feelings and attitudes. Thus, the 55-38-7 rule only applies when communicating feelings and attitudes! The 55-38-7 rule does have ramifications on other forms of communication. If you would like to read more about that, check out Through the Crimson Mirror.

Here are two examples: if I told you that I was sad, or grieving for your loss, or that I felt sorry (feeling sorry is another misquote we use in our society; maybe I’ll write about it soon) for you, with a big cheesy grin on my face, you would probably think that I’m being insincere. This is because my body language is incongruent with the emotions that I’m trying to express. On the opposite end of the spectrum if I dropped my head, lowered my tone and talked in monotonous fashion, I would battle to convince people that I was happy or confident.

So there you have it, the 55-38-7 rule unraveled. Thank you all for reading and please always remember to do your research thoroughly, and more especially remember, the 55-38-7 rule only applies when communicating feelings and attitudes.

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I show concerned parents who want to give their children the best start to life
how to better understand their children.
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