Verbal VS nonverbal communication
You may not recognise the name, but Albert Mehrabian authored some of the most famous studies in communications research. His most well-known hypothesis: When two people communicate face-to-face, how much of the meaning is communicated verbally, and how much is communicated non-verbally?
First published in 1971, his research is almost a quaint idea today, considering that a lot of organisational and personal communications uses decidedly non-face-to-face methods such as new, social and digital media.
But despite using Twitter, Facebook, blogs to communicate – and I’m as guilty of this as anyone – there’s something in Mehrabian’s research that is as relevant now as it was 40 years ago.
Let’s say you’re part of a typical audience. The next speaker shuffles uncomfortably toward the podium. He takes a bit longer than usual to get himself settled, organising his notes, fiddling with his too-tight tie, and clearing his throat over and over. Finally, after emitting a long painful sigh, he looks up and over his smudgy glasses, squints into the darkness, and after an embarrassingly long pause, says in a tight fearful voice:
“I’m very excited to be here today as I have some important conclusions from my research that will change how we think about today’s topic.”
Note the dissonance. Would you believe what he said (his verbal communications)? Or would you believe how he acted (his nonverbal communications)?
Mehrabian’s research found that audience’s perceptions – the combination of feelings, attitudes and understanding – are guided by three parts of face-to-face communications, sometimes called the 3 V’s.
Of the total message …
- 55% of this nervous man’s message came from your perception of his face and body (or Visual)
- 38% of the message came from the way he said his words (or Voice)
- Just 7% came from the words alone (or Verbal
If you take these figures on face value alone, it suggests that the receiver (the audience) overwhelmingly trusts the non-verbal aspects of the speaker: 93% vs. 7%. In other words, as an audience member, you trust what you see and hear, more than you trust the actual words.