The Myth of 93% of Communication is Nonverbal

Cell Phone Talking GirlWe have all heard of the study, “That we only use ten percent of our brains.” This myth has taken on the persona of the urban legend. It is inexplicably not true. If that were truly, our brain would atrophy to the size of an alligator’s brain. A person who is healthy without significant brain impairment is using the entire brain to process and move on.

Along the same avenue is the statistic often quoted, “Ninety-three percent of our communication is nonverbal.” This information is based on a study conducted at UCLA by Dr. Albert Mehrabian. His research was based on the utterance of a single word in which the human lab rats would deliver the word with different intents. Even Dr. Mehrabian has criticized the ninety-three percent model. He claims the intent of the study was to monitor feelings and attitudes, not channels of communication.

Despite the assertions of the professor who conducted the study, some body language experts and NLP practitioners have continued to hijacked the data to substantiate the importance of nonverbal behavior. I have heard presenters espouse this ratio, I have read the inaccuracy in books, blogs and news articles. As Francis Bacon said, “Truth is so hard to tell, it sometimes needs fiction to make it plausible.” I would like you to take a moment and really think of the veracity of this ninety three percent theory. Does it really make sense that your verbal language only accounts for seven percent of the message being delivered? How could you accurately assess the channels of communication which are constantly changing? Inside the sterile setting of the laboratory perhaps, but not in the constantly evolving world of real life communication.

Christopher Witt PhD., has written a great book on communications, Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint. How to Sell Yourself and Your Ideas. Witt said about the 93% model, “Nonsense! That idiotic claim comes from a misreading of a small group of studies done by a psychology professor more than forty years ago…that had very limited scope.”

I would agree that our nonverbal behavior could make up a large proportion of the total communication pie, but it does not approach ninety-three percent. Have you watched television without the sound? Do you know what is the message being delivered? Absolutely not.

If you are one of the few people without an iPod and forced to listen to the radio, you are missing nonverbal behavior. The broadcaster is communicating though verbal delivery only. True, the tone, pitch and speed that the words flow through the microphone provide a tremendous amount to the base of communication, but the words and choice of words have a lot to do with the message. The same holds true during a telephone conversation. You are merely monitoring verabl communication.

Avoid not being deceived by urban myths. I encourage everyone to focus on a holistic approach to communications and developing rapport.

For more tips on first impressions and developing rapport, take a look at FACE 2 FACE : Observation, Interviewing and Rapport Building Skills: an Ex-Secret Service Agent’s Guide

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