The 7-38-55 rule was created by University of California psychology professor Albert Mehrabian and mentioned in his book Silent Messages. The 7-38-55 rule describes the multi-faceted way in which people communicate emotions, claiming that 7% of communication occurred via spoken word, 38% through tone of voice, and the remaining 55% through body language.
Understanding the 7-38-55 rule
Mehrabian argued that 7% of communication occurred via spoken word, 38% through tone of voice, and the remaining 55% through body language.
That is, the way a listener deduces feelings, attitudes, or beliefs about what someone says to them is largely based on non-verbal communication.
“The non-verbal elements are particularly important for communicating feelings and attitude, especially when they are incongruent: if words and body language disagree, one tends to believe the body language”,
Mehrabian once explained.
The 7-38-55 rule is useful in a formal or informal negotiation process and is also used by law enforcement during interrogation.
Limitations of the 7-38-55 rule
The 7-38-55 has attained somewhat of a cult following as a “one-size-fits-all” approach to personal communication.
However, Mehrabian clearly states his rule is only applicable in situations where voice tonality and body language are inconsistent with the words spoken.
In other words, it cannot be assumed that nonverbal behavior dominates communication in every context.
The rule is also useless in a digital context where communication is word-based or where the listener cannot see the speaker talking.
There are also several limitations to the original studies themselves, including:
Highly artificial context
In the study, communication tests were based on the judgment of the meaning of single, tape-recorded words.
Final figures were obtained by combining the results of two rather unrelated experiments.
What’s more, data is only related to the communication of positive or negative emotions or situations with high ambiguity.
In the second of the two studies, men were excluded entirely.
Other applications of the 7-38-55 rule
Despite the limitations to his research methods, Mehrabian nonetheless highlighted the role and prevalence of nonverbal communication in a variety of contexts.
His findings have been used to study the interactions between power, influence, and social attractiveness.
The social impact of his work is also apparent, with “The Mehrabian Snowball Effect” describing the ways skewed polling data could influence voter behavior.
His emotional scales – once used to measure the reaction of study participants – have also been used to gauge consumer reactions to products, services, and even various shopping environments.
Furthermore, the scales have been used to measure the emotional reaction of employees to their workplace and the effects of an advertising campaign on recipients.
Lastly, Mehrabian’s rule has important applications for first impressions and subsequent customer retention.
- Sales Training: Sales professionals often undergo training that includes understanding the importance of body language and tone of voice in influencing customer decisions. They learn to align their verbal communication with non-verbal cues to build trust and rapport.
- Crisis Communication: During a crisis or emergency, public officials and leaders are aware that their body language and tone can significantly impact how the public perceives their response. They may receive training to convey empathy and reassurance effectively.
- Public Speaking: Public speakers, including politicians and motivational speakers, are coached on how to use body language and tone to engage and connect with their audience. Effective non-verbal communication can enhance the delivery of their message.
- Interview Skills: Job seekers are often advised to pay attention to their body language and tone during interviews. Maintaining eye contact, using confident body posture, and speaking with a positive tone can improve their chances of success.
- Psychology Research: Psychologists and researchers may use the principles of the 7-38-55 rule to design experiments and studies related to communication and emotion. For example, they might investigate how people perceive sincerity based on verbal and non-verbal cues.
- Marketing and Advertising: Advertisers and marketers consider the 7-38-55 rule when creating ad campaigns. They aim to evoke specific emotions through visuals, music, and voiceovers in addition to the ad’s message.
- Conflict Resolution: Mediators and conflict resolution professionals understand the importance of non-verbal communication in resolving disputes. They pay attention to the parties’ body language and tone to gauge their emotions and guide the conversation.
- Customer Service Training: Customer service representatives are trained to use their tone of voice effectively to convey empathy and understanding when dealing with customer complaints or issues. Non-verbal cues like active listening are essential in these interactions.
- Leadership and Management: Effective leaders are aware of their non-verbal communication, especially when addressing their teams. A leader’s body language and tone can impact employee morale, motivation, and trust.
- Relationship Counseling: Therapists and counselors often work with couples or individuals on improving communication skills. They address issues related to tone, body language, and the congruence between verbal and non-verbal messages.
- The 7-38-55 rule describes the multi-faceted way in which people communicate emotions. It was created by psychology professor Albert Mehrabian, who noted that 7% of communication occurred through spoken word, 38% through tone of voice, and 55% through body language.
- The 7-38-55 rule has been misunderstood and misused by the general public since it was released. The rule is only applicable to situations where there is discord between verbal and non-verbal communication. It does not necessarily suggest that 93% of all communication is non-verbal.
- Despite the limitations of the research on which it is based, the 7-38-55 rule has important applications in sales and negotiation. It has also been adapted to analyze voter and consumer behavior, social attractiveness, and the impact of product or business names on first impressions.
- Definition and Origin: The 7-38-55 rule was formulated by psychology professor Albert Mehrabian and is outlined in his book “Silent Messages.” It proposes that communication of emotions is composed of 7% spoken words, 38% tone of voice, and 55% body language.
- Components of Communication: Mehrabian’s rule asserts that a significant portion of how people interpret emotions, attitudes, and beliefs is conveyed through non-verbal cues, including tone of voice and body language.
- Usage and Application:
- Negotiation and Law Enforcement: The rule finds use in both formal and informal negotiation settings and is also employed by law enforcement during interrogation to assess credibility.
- Limitations: However, Mehrabian emphasized that the rule is applicable only when verbal and non-verbal cues are incongruent. It’s not a blanket rule for all communication contexts.
- Limitations of the Rule:
- Contextual Constraints: The rule doesn’t apply universally, especially in digital communication or when non-verbal cues are absent.
- Artificial Study Context: The original studies were conducted in highly controlled settings, using single words to judge emotional meaning.
- Incomplete and Unreliable Data: The rule’s figures are a combination of unrelated experiments and are limited to positive or negative emotions with ambiguity.
- Other Applications:
- Despite its limitations, Mehrabian’s rule has been applied to study power dynamics, social attractiveness, voter behavior influenced by skewed polling data, and reactions to products and advertising campaigns.
- Emotional scales developed by Mehrabian have been used to assess reactions to workplaces, products, and advertising.
- First Impressions and Customer Retention:
- The rule has implications for first impressions and customer retention. It’s been found that names of individuals, products, or businesses impact public perceptions.
- Key Takeaways:
- The 7-38-55 rule, formulated by Albert Mehrabian, explains the proportion of communication attributed to spoken words, tone of voice, and body language.
- The rule has been misinterpreted by the general public. It’s relevant only when verbal and non-verbal cues are contradictory.
- Despite its limitations, the rule has applications in negotiation, sales, social attractiveness, and studying emotional reactions to various stimuli.
- It underscores the importance of non-verbal cues in conveying emotions, attitudes, and beliefs in communication.
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