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