Communication is more effective when it is congruent. That is to say, your words match your tonality which matches your body language. You are communicating that you believe what you say.
There are a set of statistics, 7%, 38%, 55%, that are often used to back up the importance of this congruence, but unfortunately they are usually misinterpreted, leading to an ironic failure in authentic communication.
The 7, 38,55 stats are rolled out by communication trainers to make the point that tonality (38%) and body language/facial expressions (55%) are important in getting your message across. This is unfortunate for credibility, a myth!
Think about it. If verbal communication only accounts for 7% of a message then we could all communicate by mime, charades would be easy and we could watch foreign language films with the sub-titles turned off.
Try this: Turn to a friend or colleague and try to communicate without words, “I feel deeply about global warming because I think, as humans, that we have a responsibility to our environment and the generations that follow us.” It’s not possible but according to some so-called communication experts we should be able to get 93% of this message across.
This is, of course, impossible – because the words we choose are important.
The Origin of the Myth
The originator of the 7-38-55 theory was Albert Mehrabian, Ph.D of UCLA. He speaks of it in two books, Silent Messages published in 1971, and Nonverbal Communications published in 1972. In these two books, he refers to research projects which were published in various professional journals. .
Mehrabrian was interested in how we decode inconsistent messages such as whether we like or dislike something and found that the facial component of communication carried a 2/3 waiting to the verbal 1/3. Consider having to say you like your hosts cooking when it tastes like burnt rubber.
The Journal of Consulting Psychology, 1967, Vol. 31. No. 3 contains a description of an experiment using the neutral word “Maybe”. This research combined with another from the Journal of personality and Social Psychology, 1967, Vol. 6, No. 1 on Decoding of Inconsistent Communications created the .07, .38, and .55 coefficients.
Yes! Facial Expression and Body Language are Important, but…
The problem with overgeneralizing this research is that it misses out the importance of backing your message with substance.
If you know your stuff, you’ve done your research, and you believe you have something of value to share, then ensuring your body language, tone and facial expression are congruent will enhance your message and increase your influence.
If you lack substance, and are relying on #fakenews, #pseudoscience or just not prepared, then all the body language classes in the world will not save you in the long run.
You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. Abraham Lincoln
Improving your Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication
The research clearly shows that when communicating you must remember that your body language facial expressions and tone give listeners clues as to how to decode our message. But the message should be solid.
It’s what you say AND how you say it.”
To get you message across; get your facts right, make a connection between your facts and what they mean to you and your audience, and let your face and hands show you believe it.
But they won’t remember the facts
So to seemingly contradict myself,
People won’t remember what you said..
Your audience is unlikely to remember your facts, they will remember how you made them feel. And to make an audience feel, you need to tell a story. Storytelling is as old as our species, but it is the new leadership competency.
STORY + BODY LANGUAGE + FACTS = LASTING INFLUENCE
The facts give you the credibility, but the story will make you memorable!