A significant part of your successful communication revolves around the words you use. Adding tonality (light and shade) to the words improves your ability to influence others. Successful communication also depends to a surprising degree on your physiology, or body language.

This idea was studied experimentally by Professor Albert Mehrabian at UCLA in the 1960s. His findings on the communication of feelings and attitudes have been, by his own admission, widely misinterpreted for more than 50 years. Results from his specifically targeted experiments were used to support what became known as ‘the 7–38–55 rule’, which quantified the relative impact of verbal and non-verbal communication during an exchange between two people as: words (7 per cent), tone of voice (38 per cent) and body language (55 per cent).

If the above numbers were true, we might infer that anyone could understand 93 per cent of a foreign language merely by listening to and observing the speaker. You and I both know that doesn’t happen. The 7–38–55 ‘rule’ is in fact not a rule as much as a reference. You don’t have to hear or understand every word to ‘read’ communications taking place in your line of vision. In a crowded restaurant it is as easy to spot young lovers enjoying a romantic dinner as the unhappy couple who appear to be falling out of love.

Professor Mehrabian’s study was published in 1967, the year I was born, since which it has been frequently recycled, misrepresented ...

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