What Really Drives Your Message Across

If you’re like most people, you don’t recall that many exact percentages. You know unemployment is higher than usual now, but can you say exactly what percentage of our population is considered unemployed? I’m not sure of the exact figure, either, but it’s less than 8%, which is a lot lower than normal unemployment in Europe is, btw.

But, there is one statistic I know well, so well that most of my students can rattle it off in an instant: Words make up only 7% of your message.

That’s something everyone learns in communication; it’s a finding based on research by a psychologist, Dr. Albert Mehrabian, an emeritus professor at UCLA. He developed what is known as the 7%-38%-55% rule.

Here’s what it means:

Words are 7% of your message, 38% of your message comes from the tone of your voice, and 55% is the visual element.

That is why we get so upset with, “It’s now what he said, it’s how he said it.” (Reach for tissue.)

When we’re about to speak before a group, or in a sticky confrontation, we usually think a lot about the words we’re going to use, trying to be careful with our vocabulary choices.

What would make your message more effective, would be getting your mindset right, with an A-OK attitude. Attitude, or emotional energy, is what determines your tone of voice (38% of your message) and your body language (55% of your message.)

It’s not so much what you say, it’s how you say it.

Photo by Laura Christina.
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