Debunking the “communication is 70% nonverbal” myth…

We all know that communication is 70% nonverbal, right?

Well, um, actually, nope.  Not at all.  The statistic has become mythical but is in fact urban folklore with little real support.

Thanks to Brandon for doing my homework for me regarding this post.  In essence, a late 1960s study intimated that in certain situations a certain amount of communication was nonverbal, and due to masses of publicity people now waltz around hurling the “fact” that communication is 60-70% nonverbal.  People have made careers out of this!

In a nutshell: Mehrabian’s study only addressed the very narrow situation in which a listener is analyzing a speaker’s general attitude towards that listener (positive, negative, or neutral). Also, in his experiments the parties had no prior acquaintance; they had no context for their discussion. As Mehrabian himself has said explicitly, these statistics are not relevant except in the very narrow confines of a similar situation.

Thanks Brandon.  Read more about it here.

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3 thoughts on “Debunking the “communication is 70% nonverbal” myth…

  1. It’s also a myth insofar as the importance of verbal and non-verbal communications varies massively across cultures. Edward Hall’s (1976) concept of “high context” and “low context” cultures illustrates the point brilliantly.

  2. And there’s more… As you point out Kevin, this is relative to general attitude, and I find the same applies to the “Towers Perrin” comments that I always cite about how employees receive communication in a business (7% media, 32% systems, 61% leadership). I think it serves to shake people up and say “hey, this other stuff is important,” but it’s risky to be too catholic about it.
    I remember an old boss I had who was a big, scary bully. She always said “I know I am not very good at listening… or talking to people… but most communication is non-verbal, and I am VERY good at that!”
    Which, of course, she wasn’t. She was just scary.

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