How many of you have heard of Mehrabian’s Rule? I suspect that many of you have heard of it, but you might not have known what it was called. Mehrabian’s Rule is the theory that there are three elements to face-to-face communication. I like to call these the three Vs of communication: Verbal, Vocal, and Visual. Moreover, those three Vs make up specific percentages of our communication: 7% Verbal, 38% Vocal, and 55% Visual. This is a theory that was put forth by Albert Mehrabian in 1971.
This rule has been taught in Corporate Training Programs all over the United States. As such, many people have a basic understanding of the rule. They know that the most important part of their communication is from the visual cues they give: facial expressions, gestures, and body language. Then, the next most important part of their communication is from their tone of voice: pitch, volume, rate, rhythm, etc. Finally, the least important part of their communication is from the words they actually say.
There is a serious problem with this understanding. Many people (and corporate trainers) misrepresent Mehrabian’s Rule! The reality is that Mehrabian’s Rule applies only to communicating feelings and attitudes–especially if there is a disconnect among any of the three Vs. Think about it. Do you honestly believe that the words you use make up only 7% of how you communicate? If that were true, and kind of non-face-to-face communication would be nearly useless. Imagine if my words in this blog only represent 7% of what I want to say. It would be difficult to communicate in any electronic medium at all.
When considering Mehrabian’s Rule, always remember that it applies to feelings and attitudes that are being conveyed. Let’s look at this from a corporate training perspective. Imagine that you have been asked to teach a course about a new corporate application. You greatly dislike the application, yet you realize it is your job to teach others how to use it. In the classroom, you want to make certain that your three Vs are in harmony. If you’re saying how much the new application will help the participants with their job (verbal), but you are also rolling your eyes (visual) and straining your voice (vocal), your audience will have trouble believing you. Your three Vs are not aligned. In other words, you are unable to convey the right feeling or attitude to your audience because your words do not match your actions or your tone.
The following quote from Mehrabian’s Web site (http://www.kaaj.com/psych/) might be helpful:
“Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking. Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like–dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable. Also see references 286 and 305 in Silent Messages – these are the original sources of my findings.”
In summary, remember that Mehrabian’s Rule is always about feelings and attitudes. To convey the proper feelings and attitudes in any kind of face-to-face communication, you need to ensure that your three Vs (verbal, vocal, and visual) are aligned.