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Non-verbal communication revisited

By on January 19, 2015
Picture courtesy of imagerymajestic and

When we teach non-verbal communication in our NLP Practitioner class, we often use the famous (or perhaps ‘infamous’) study by Prof. Albert Mehrabian that suggested that body language, tonality and words accounted for 55%, 38% and 7% respectively of communication (the so-called ‘7-38-55 rule’).

Of course, Mehrabian’s research was carried out in a specific context, in particular when there was an incongruence between what was said, and how it was said, then body language was most persuasive, tonality next, and the words used were least persuasive. Discussion of the rule is criticized because it is often generalized beyond this specific context. Some commentators will say that 55% of any communication is body-language, or that 93% of any communication non-verbal (body-language and tonality); Mehrabian’s work does not say this.

However, what is clear, as a generality, is the primacy of non-verbal communication. The reason for this, at least in our view, is that non-verbal communication is primarily received unconsciously, while the conscious mind is tacking the words used. The unconscious mind rules!

Another study that repeats Mehrabian’s research, with similar results, was carried out in 2006 by Prof. Michael Argyle and his colleagues. You will find a link to the research below. In this study, friendly, neutral or hostile messages were delivered in a friendly, neutral or hostile manner. The non-verbal message was between 6 and 12 times more impactful than the verbal message, a finding not dissimilar to that of of the much maligned Prof. Mehrabian. In addition, when there was a mismatch between the verbal and non-verbal communication, the speaker was deemed to be insincere, unstable or confusing.

And that is why it is important to master your own non-verbal communication!

Two experiments are reported here in which Subjects were asked to rate videotapes of a performer reading friendly, neutral and hostile messages in a friendly, neutral or hostile non-verbal style… The communication of friendly and hostile attitudes by verbal and non-verbal signals – Argyle – 2006 – European Journal of Social Psychology


Picture courtesy of imagerymajestic and

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