The 93% rule and non-verbal communication

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].

Despite local differences in etiquette, it doesn’t matter if you want to improve your sales skills in Dubai, London, or Singapore there are four main elements that will improve your sales technique.

1. Be the Adult in the Room

The successful salesperson knows that when they sit down to talk to a client about a product or service, they are the expert in the room on that product or service.

Your customer may have researched you and called you into a meeting, they may know a lot about the different kinds of products available in your industry, but essentially it is you, the company salesperson who knows most about your company’s offering. And if you don’t, you shouldn’t be in the meeting in the first place.

By understanding that you are the most knowledgeable person on your service, you can talk with confidence and be able to show why it’s the right fit for the customer.

2. You are there to sell a product, not make a friend

Getting too close and personal with people in business is not what makes a great salesperson. That doesn’t mean you are have to be cold and impersonal, it means you have to remember the difference between making a friend and making a sale.

3. Ditch the Ego

Johnny Bravo

An over-sized ego could land you in hot water!

Too much bravado, over-confidence or excessive ostentation from you will be off-putting to potential customers. When you walk into a meeting there will be plenty of egos in there already, you don’t need to add yours to the mix. By turning down the volume on you the salesperson, you allow your product or service to get a greater slice of the attention, so it becomes the star of the show.

That doesn’t mean you forget the first point of being the adult in the room: you know your product and you know how it will benefit the customer.

4. Question, then Listen and Watch

One of the big mistakes a salesperson can make is to do all the talking. Firstly, many people think they’ve told you everything about themselves or their business, but every successful salesperson knows that very often the customer hasn’t told the whole story. By asking questions you learn a lot more about what the company needs from your product.

You may think that you have a good idea of how the company can use your products, but by asking the right questions and listening to their answers, by the end of the conversation you will learn what they really need.

Not only does listening to what people say, and watching their body language, give you a better understanding of how you can help that company with your services, it also shows that you have a real interest in their business. That interest will earn you, the salesperson, more respect from the room, and as a consequence you’ve just added a level of respect for your product.

To learn more about how you can really improve your sales technique, the Institute of Sales and Marketing offer professional level courses for successful sales skills in Dubai. Find out more and book a place today /