This article explains the 7 38 55 rule of communication or Mehrabian Communication Theory by Albert Mehrabian in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful communication skills tool.
What is Mehrabian Communication Theory: 7 38 55 rule of Communication?
We communicate globally with one another by means of language, gestures, signs and pictograms. It is almost impossible not to communicate. To get a better understanding of communication, professor of psychology Albert Mehrabian studied the importance of non-verbal communication in the 1970s. The influence of non-verbal communication is stronger than was first assumed. Albert Mehrabian studied the effects of conflicting messages.
How come that someone who is stamping their feet while yelling ‘I’m not angry’, does not come across as credible? That is why Albert Mehrabian developed the 7 38 55 rule of Communication, in which he demonstrated that only 7% of what we communicate consists of the literal content of the message. The use of one’s voice, such as tone, intonation and volume, take up 38% and as much as 55% of communication consists of body language. This 7 38 55 rule of Communication is still much used today.
But how can it be explained that a person actually listens to only 7% of the substantive message? This is to do with natural instinct. The first human had an undeveloped voice and was dependent on non-verbal communication and the utterance of sounds.
This is why non-verbal communication is deeply rooted in the brain and we still use this primarily every day.
Three basic elements: 7 38 55 rule
According to Albert Mehrabian, interpersonal communication regarding the communication model consists of three elements:
Words spoken (Verbal)
That which is literally being said. The spoken word is part of the verbal communication in this and the intonation and body language are both part of the non-verbal communication.
How something is said (use of voice). Intonation is the vocal factor and body language the vocal factor.
Body language (Visual)
Which posture, facial expressions and gestures someone uses.
The non-verbal elements in the 7 38 55 rule of Communication show a person’s feelings and opinions. When someone says something, their body language and intonation could be dominant, as a result of which there is no agreement between what they say and what they radiate.
It is a myth that we can communicate globally with people with a different language background just by using non-verbal communication. It is about the interaction, in which the non-verbal elements could be dominant.
Apart from interaction, communication is also about the fact that the verbal and non-verbal elements support one another and that these are congruent.
What someone says will then be more powerful and convincing because of their gestures and intonation. The message will absolutely be more unconvincing when there is no congruence and the receiver could be set on the wrong track.
They will unconsciously focus more on the non-verbal elements that will always dominate collectively.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? How do you communicate verbally, vocally and visually? Do you recognize the numbers within the 7 38 55 rule of Communication of Albert Mehrabian? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more suggestions? What are your success factors for good and clean communication?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Mehrabian, A. (1981). Silent Messages: Implicit Communication of Emotions and Attitudes. Wadsworth.
- Mehrabian, A. (1972). Non verbal Communication. Aldine-Atherton.
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