The ‘93% of Communication is Non-Verbal’ Myth

A common statistic that is quoted by some trainers, consultants, and even the occasional uni professor, is that “93% of communication is non-verbal.”

The breakdown of communication elements they quote normally goes like this:

55% visual – facial expressions, gestures, movements etc.

38% auditory – tone, pitch, volume of voice

7% language – the actual words

Let’s think about this logically for a moment…

Language is an essential foundation of our society. Words are everywhere because they are essential to communication – much more than just 7%. Even primitive societies developed languages because grunts and hand signals were simply not sufficient.

So where does this 93% idea come from?

These figures are actually a misquote of some research performed in the 1960’s. A very smart man called Dr Albert Mehrabian was interested in finding out how communication was affected by conflicting gestures, expressions and tone so he designed a couple of experiments involving pictures of people with different facial expressions and audio using varying tones of voice and pitch.

The Real Conclusion

Dr Mehrabian’s conclusion was that when it came to the communication of emotion 7% was derived from the language, 38% from tone, and 55% from visuals.

So 93% of our understanding of other people’s emotions comes from their body language and voice. Unfortunately, that has become over-generalised over the years with people applying it to all communication.

Albert Mehrabian himself is on record as saying:

“I am obviously uncomfortable about misquotes of my work. From the very beginning I have tried to give people the correct limitations of my findings.”

and

“Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.”

Words Are Important

The reality is for the actual information and details we need to be told using words.

When we ask someone “What are you so happy about?” or “What’s wrong with you?” what we are really saying is, “I can easily tell your emotions but to get the information I need you will have to tell me using words”.

So the next time someone tells you that 93% of communication is non-verbal, take it with a grain of salt and remember the context of the original experiment.

In the meantime, before you start thinking about how you look and sound, make sure you have a well-structured message that can be followed by your audience. Good delivery helps but it won’t save poor content.

The words do matter.

David Wise

David Wise

Owner, Wise Words Communications

Share This