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Communication - What Percentage is Body Language?

By: Lucy Debenham BA (hons) - Updated: 3 Oct 2017 | comments*Discuss
Body Language Communication Convey


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)


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.

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You do know that this is one of the biggest false myths going? Professor Mehrabian himself says this is not what his findings proved and is a complete misinterpretation of his research. And if you think about it seriously, how non-sensical it is to think that communication is only '7% the words'. Look up the Mehrabian Myth on google and find out more about how wrong these figures are and how Mehrabian's research was not even about 'how much of communication is verbal/tone of voice/body language.
Alan Sharland - 15-Jul-16 @ 10:37 PM
What does it mean if a couple are holding hands and the girl is holding on but the guys hand is limp and not really holding her hand if you get what i mean
sophs - 23-Dec-15 @ 6:34 AM
@Mario. It's hard to tell from this but it could be she's a bit embarrassed or nervous if she's doing this.
Nowyouseeme - 20-Nov-15 @ 2:30 PM
Hi. I often see my ex at the church when she notices me she tilts her head down to the side with her eyes and bites her lower lip. Does she have feelings for me ?
Mario - 19-Nov-15 @ 3:05 PM
Fist time I heated such thing it was in the hitch movie by will smith I don't know how much he was accurate or based on what refernce he qouted that.
Taha - 24-Oct-15 @ 8:05 PM
@Karma. Interesting question, we don't think so but really don't know for sure!
BodyLanguageExpert - 5-Feb-15 @ 10:07 AM
trying to read body language (eyes) but does the client being left handed make a difference as to which way they look?
Karma - 1-Feb-15 @ 7:36 PM
@BT. Maybe he's about to make a move and is now too embarrassed to look you in the eye?
Billy - 5-Dec-14 @ 11:32 AM
there's this guy i know has a crush on me cos iv noticed that whenever he sees me he would stop and just look at me even from a long distance like im the only person around, this has been going on for over 2yrs. We dont really talk much though we greet each other whenever we meet, sometimes he would make small talk like asking me if im okay. Lately iv noticed that he keeps staring at my hand, i dont know if he's awarehe's doing it or not. Im curious if there's any meaning to that, can you please enlighten me.
bt - 3-Dec-14 @ 7:32 PM
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
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