Communication model by Albert Mehrabian

Mehrabian communication model - ToolsHero

This article explains the communication model by Albert Mehrabian in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful communication skills tool.

Communication model: 7 – 38 – 55

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 a communication model, 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 -model is still much used today.

Communication model by Albert Mehrabian - ToolsHero

Cause

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

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.

Intonation (Vocal)

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.

Dominant

The non-verbal elements in the communication model 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.

Congruence

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 Communication model 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.

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More information

  1. Mehrabian, A. (1981). Silent Messages: Implicit Communication of Emotions and Attitudes. Wadsworth.
  2. Mehrabian, A. (1972). Non verbal Communication. Aldine-Atherton.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. I completely agree with the 7-38-55 Model…. Even though verbal communication has been used well… I have learnt something interesting that our brains still heavily rely on our senses to decode the full information to get meaning…Seems as though we put so much effort on the verbal aspects of communication that we forget to really emphasize on the significance of also portraying yourself in a way that your non-verbals go hand in hand with the communication you give verbally.

  2. I think everyone who reads this also needs to do a bit of research as to how applicable the 7% 38% 55% ratio is to general communication and the real world. From the quick background checks I have made on the internet it seems Professor Mehrabian himself has tried to make people aware of the limitations of his two studies and he never intended that his results should be misinterpreted and then be applied to everyday forms of communication. His studies only looked at a very narrow, specific form of communication and focuses on feelings. His ratio has never been proven, it was only a suggestion put forward and the methodology of the experiments is also open to criticism as is the combining of the results of two separate studies to produce the ratio formula. I suspect that the irony of the misinterpretation and the subsequent miscommunication is not lost on Professor Mehrabian.

  3. Interesting article about Professor Mehrabians study; my reading is that it only really holds true when the message being communicated is ambiguous and therefore some of examples hold true and others that I have seen do not. I think that if we link this with our knowledge of the people we are dealing with, either through our well tuned intuition or a formal assessment then we not only understand when people act out of character, but we also get to read their responses differently.

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