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  • Jan Gleisner

Non verbal communication percentage


How much in our communication is non verbal? You are not alone if you once or twice have wondered about the non verbal communication percentage. Every month there are about 500 searches through Google about this. There is a problem thou, when looking at the result of non verbal communication percentage: It's usually wrong. Many are those who assure that non verbal communication stands for 93% of all communication, and sometimes refer to a study from 1970 by Albert Mehrabian.

The study is real. But it's not about nonverbal communication in whole, but rather about how feelings and attitudes are transfered between people (in a specific testsituation, not in real life). The results are in short: Words 7%, Voice tone 38%, Body language 55%.

Somewhere in the early years this result has wrongly been used as proof of a 93% non verbal communication percentage (Voice tone 38% together with Body language 55%). And while this misinterpretation has been used and reused for years it has become a myth. You see it everywhere and consultants and others use it as an argument for business purposes or to convince people in a specific direction. And a lot of people seem to buy it too.

The non verbal communication percentage is naturally very hard to measure at all: Only the face is said to be able to produce over 250 000 expressions. Add every kind of body movement, nuances in voice, distance, look, smell (!) etc. and you'll have one busy researcher. Beside Mehrabain's misunderstood study, the most known study in this area is done by Ray Birdwhistell, and presented in his book Kinesics and Context: Essays on Body Motion Communication. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1970). There he states that words carry no more than 30-35% of a conversation or interaction, which leaves us with a non verbal communication percentage of 65-70%. Birdwhistell also concludes that the non verbal part mainly works supplemental to the words, enforcing (or when the speaker is in doubt, undermining) the spoken message.

So while non verbal communication still is important, words should not be underestimated. Try to explain something without them, and you'll soon realize the weight they carry.

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#percentage #percent #Birdwhistell #voicetone #words #Mehrabian #feelings

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