Do You Believe Everything You Read or the Experts Say?

by Neville Gaunt, Featured Contributor

LAST WEEK I received an invite to a day’s training on “How to improve your Communication skills”. It was from a well-known business college that I subscribe to so I opened it.

What came next was well written, engaging and as you’d expect included a full timetable of the day’s event.

The premise of the event was: “All Leaders must be good communicators. When we communicate there are 3 key components, body language, tone of voice and words to get our message across. Learn how to be a great communicator using the 55:38:7Rule….”

true or false pencilPretty powerful stuff, leaders must…

But it’s not true! – the 55:38:7 “Rule” is context specific and these figures only relate to a situation at the start of meeting, or listening to someone where we are forming an attitude (like or dislike) of someone.

In a personal email to Max Atkinson, reproduced in Max’s book “Lend me your Ears” Albert Mehrabian said:

“I am obviously uncomfortable about misquotes of my work. From the very beginning I have tried to give people the correct limitations of my findings. Unfortunately the field of self-styled ‘corporate image consultants’ or ‘leadership consultants’ has numerous practitioners with very little psychological expertise.” Albert Mehrabian (31 October 2002)

Mehrabian in our experience is also misquoted by trainers with considerable psychological experience, as it supports their training.

He is so commonly misquoted it has become a belief and whether we believe it or not, we all take action on our beliefs.

So if you went on this course (you’d be taking a day out of the office and paying for it by the way) what might be impact on your business if you acted on it?

You (and your staff because you’d have told them) have wasted time in meetings, negotiations and general communication with your clients and suppliers. Why? Because you have been trained to focus on the wrong things – body language being more important than what you’re saying and how you say it.

For the record, if you went on this course, this is what you will have been told : the following figures relate to the relative importance of the components of any message we communicate and receive:

  • 7% relates to the importance of the words we use
  • 38% refers to tone of voice and inflection
  • 55% refers to the importance of body language/face.

Context is everything. Instead of relating to any type of communication it is context specific. These figures only relate to a situation where we are forming an attitude (like or dislike) of someone. Probably therefore only relevant at the first encounter.

Let’s now just say all the above is nonsense. If body language and the tone are so important, far more than what you say, take this experiment. Ask someone you know who speaks another language and try and have a conversation. Not convinced? Watch a foreign TV programme without the subtitles. How important are words?


Neville Gaunt
Neville Gaunt
NEVILLE is the Chief Executive Officer of Mind Fit a private global consultancy focused on developing ‘can do’ people with winning minds. Mind Fit has divisions specialising in business, performance coaching, education and sports. He is an experienced finance professional with a highly successful background in international oil & gas at both strategic and operational levels. His extensive international experience includes small and large companies, public and private sectors with a proven record of optimising financial and commercial outcomes through a combination of original thinking, pragmatism and a determination to get results. He writes regularly on leadership, talent management, business development, advice for young people and recruitment with features in TeamPlayer360 (UK recruitment newspaper) and various websites like AskTheExperts. In his spare time, he’s an active spokesperson for small businesses, governor at school academies and outspoken on giving young people the employability skills they need so they can succeed in the workplace. His slogan is “making common sense your common practice” as business is simple it’s people that make it complicated.

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