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Dec 31, 2019

Do words matter a lot ?

By Zarkti

Words matter but not as much as you think. So what your tone & body say that words don't?

This article is inspired by Albert Mehrabian's and from Never Split the difference by the FBI investigator.

According to Albert Mehrabian's rule, only 7% of a message is based on the words. The rest 93% is related to 2 other factors.

In communication, a speaker’s words are only a fraction of his efforts. The pitch and tone of his voice, the speed and rhythm of the spoken word, and the pauses between those words may express more than what is being communicated by words alone. Further, his gestures, posture, pose, and expressions usually convey a variety of subtle signals. These non-verbal elements can present a listener with important clues to the speaker’s thoughts and feelings and thus substantiate or contradict the speaker’s words.

The most commonly and casually cited study on the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages in personal communication is one by Prof. Albert Mehrabian of the University of California in Los Angeles. In the 1970s, his studies suggested that we overwhelmingly deduce our feelings, attitudes, and beliefs about what someone says not by the actual words spoken, but by the speaker’s body language and tone of voice.

In fact, Prof. Mehrabian quantified this tendency: words, tone of voice, and body language respectively account for 7%, 38%, and 55% of personal communication.

The non-verbal elements are particularly important for communicating feelings and attitudes, especially when they are incongruent: if words and body language disagree, one tends to believe the body language.


According to Chriss Voss, the author of Never split the difference, and a formal FBI investigator, our brains process feelings & intent not just words.

If a speaker’s words and body language differ, listeners are more likely to believe the nonverbal communication of the speaker, not his words. For example, if a person states, “I don’t have a problem with you!” while avoiding eye-contact, looking anxious, and maintaining a closed body language, the listener will probably trust the predominant form of communication, which according to Prof. Mehrabian’s findings is non-verbal (38% + 55%), rather than the literal meaning of the words (7%.)

When building rapport with people, try these 2 voice tones. The first one: Speak in a deep, calm, soft, slow & assuring tone. The second one: Speaking smile. Light, encouraging, playful & positive.

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