Home > Ask Our Experts > Communication - What Percentage is Body Language?

Communication - What Percentage is Body Language?

Author: Lucy Debenham BA (hons) - Updated: 13 September 2014 | commentsComment
 
Body Language Communication Convey

Q.

Typically what percentage of communication is made up from the body language of the speakers? I've heard 55%. Is this reasonable?

(Mr Rod Jones, 13 January 2009)

A.

The percentage that you have quoted is basically correct, but isn’t always relevant to all modes of communication.

The figure 55% comes from some research that Albert Mehrabian undertook in 1971, the results of which are still often quoted today. Mehrabian basically came to the conclusion that communication, on a face-to-face basis, is thought to consist of three separate elements:

  • Words (what is actually said)
  • Tone of voice (how we say the words)
  • Body Language

All three of these elements can be conveyed at the same time to express an overall message. Often, the tone of voice and body language are combined to become the most powerful form of communication. However, body language – which forms a large part of non-verbal communication – is often used on its own, and is thought to be one of the most ‘telling’ modes of communication. Through his research Mehrabian also surmised that proportionally, the three elements were not of equal importance. He claimed that in face-to-face communication, the majority of what is put across is portrayed through non verbal communication:

  • Words (the literal meaning) account for 7% of the overall message
  • Tone of voice accounts for 38% of the overall message
  • Body Language accounts for 55% of the overall message
Therefore, through face-to-face communication, the nonverbal communication becomes the most powerful mode of communication when conveying feelings or attitudes – e.g. “I like this”, “I don’t like this”. It is much more likely, therefore, to be the primary indicator.

For instance, imagine that a man and a woman are having a blind date. The man asks the woman if she’s enjoying herself. The woman isn’t enjoying herself at all, but wants to be polite, so she says “yes, I’m having a really nice time”. The literal meaning of the words she uses conveys that she is enjoying herself. The tone of voice she uses in conjunction with the words may, however, betray the words she’s speaking. Her closed, awkward body language may also express that she’s not enjoying herself. So the two non-verbal communication elements may give away the fact that she isn’t having a very good time, despite saying she is.

However, it’s worth noting that Mehrabian has since noted “…Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable”. In essence, the 7% figure can be misleading as it could imply that the words we say are of relatively little importance. This isn’t the case - the above equation is only really relevant when the words we are saying are at odds with the body language or tone of voice we’re using.

You might also like...
Leave a Comment...
What does it mean when I'm angry and my eyes fully dilate and all you can see is black also my eyes pulse and I'm not having a laugh with you about this it's true
Bitch - 18-Aug-14 @ 7:25 PM
Is it classed as a very intimate act when someone kisses your neck (an almost spur of the moment act)?
Kirst - 2-May-14 @ 3:17 PM
Also, although these figures are a generalisation, they might well vary between men and women, as women talk about their feelings and emotions much more than men (at least typically), and women are more attuned to listening to what's said than men, although they, too, respond to non-verbal cues like facial expression and body language. I think it's best to take this as a guide, but hardly an exact science.
Emily - 25-Jun-12 @ 2:23 PM
Leave a Comment or Ask a Question...
Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Notify:
  Notify me by email when a response is posted
Validate:
Enter word:
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the BodyLanguageExpert website. Please read our Disclaimer.