The 93% rule and non-verbal communication

30 May 2016

In the 1970’s Albert Mehrabian published a book on non-verbal communication called Silent Messages. In it he discussed the findings of 2 studies based on the ability to communicate one word, namely ‘maybe’. In the first study he found that people were able to tell if this word was being said in a neutral, liking or disliking way 55% more easily if they were shown a photo of the person’s expression when saying ‘maybe’.  In the second study they were asked to identify the emotion based on the tone of how a set of words was said. People were shown to be influenced by the tone more than the actual word itself. This research led to the 7% or 93% ‘rule’ that 7% of communication is verbal and 93% is non-verbal.


non verbal communication
Is this ‘rule’ valid?

Of course this study done in isolation seems ludicrous to base a rule on but yet in popular culture this is exactly what has happened.

Fast forward a few decades, what is our current understanding of the influence of non-verbal communication and how can this help us for example to become more persuasive during presentations, improve rapport building during a sales visit or just simply grow personal relationships?

Non-verbal communication is a complex set of gestures, voice tone and speed, facial expressions, posture, proxemics and even physiological changes which contribute greatly to how words are interpreted. Indeed at times non-verbal communication can be so distracting that we fail to listen to the words as it becomes more imperative to interpret them quickly.

Much of our non-verbal communication skills are learnt from infancy and can be gender and culturally based. You only have to watch the body language of two very different cultures Japan and Italy to recognise this- although there are also non-verbal consistencies between cultures. That being said as we are now increasingly global in our outlook, cross cultural communication skills, providing we are open to learning become more normal to us.

One stark example is standing in lines. The British and Americans stand in lines; generally speaking it is culturally the done thing. We don’t get too close either (proxemics). If you have queued up for tickets anywhere in Morocco or even France you may notice the opposite, a crowd of people at the counter, all extremely  able to jostle into position and think nothing of reserving positions for friends.

So how can you use knowledge of non-verbal communication to help build rapport even in a different culture?

  1. Ensure you have a confident voice full of belief in what you are saying.
  2. Make sure your hand gestures are relaxed, slow and deliberate.
  3. Match your facial expression to your words. If you are ‘pleased to meet someone’ show this on your face. Leave your distractions at home and focus on the now.
  4. Keep confident body posture that is neutral, non-threatening and open and always ensure you are not invasive of personal space.
  5. Maintain a reasonable amount of eye contact (60% or so of the time), too much is threatening and too little is suspect.

This June, ISM Training will be delivering a series of short courses  in Dubai, including one on the 93% rule. To learn all about building rapport through non-verbal communications, please  call 04 4573814 or email [email protected].

Start your course today!

We offer a comprehensive curriculum that covers all of the essential topics. Our experienced instructors will provide you with the support and guidance that you need to succeed.

    Get in touch

    Advance your career and achieve your goals

    Enter your details below & we will be in touch to discuss how we can help