The Biggest Misconception about communication? — Nonverbal Behavior

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In an article entitled: Why You Believe, Really Believe In The Usefulness of The MBTI, Learning Styles, and Employee Engagement we looked at why we believe things that don’t even match up with our common sense.

Here’s an example: The percentage of “communication” that comes from non-verbal communication. Complete with video at bottom.

Poor old Albert Mehrabian. His research on the contributions of verbal and nonverbal components of communication are the most misunderstood, misattributed, and confused amongst all the communications discussions around the world. And what’s worse, they can’t even get his name right. It’s Mahrabian, not Meharabian.

Here’s what is commonly said:

55% of the meaning of communication is body language, 38% is in tonality, and 7% rests in the words themselves.

In fact, Mehrabian’s research said NOTHING at all about the relative contributions in general speech. Nothing. Anyone who took the time to actually look at the research would know that, but, well, most communications trainers and instructors don’t — call it laziness or ignorance, and the misconception continues, passed on person to person.

In fact, Mehradian’s results have to do with what happens when the words themselves are ambiguous, OR there is a conflict (incongruity) between the words a person uses and the non-verbals (actually and paraverbals like tone). When there is ambiguity or conflilct between the channels people tend to rely more on the non-verbals to evaluate the emotional state of the person speaking.

This Should Be Common Sense — Via Our Life Experience

Clearly though, even without reading the research, a little common sense here would tell us that the old saw about percentages of meaning makes absolutely no sense at all. If it was true, does it mean the when you read a book 93% of the meaning is lost? Because there’s no non-verbals? Of course not.

People who cite these statistics mark themselves as ignorant, and their ability to teach communication should be immediately suspect. And, yes, I hate to say this, but even Toastmasters (certainly a reputable but somewhat over praised group) is known to throw these numbers about.

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