The myth that only 7% of the meaning in a spoken message comes from the words (with 38% from voice tone and 55% from facial expression) rampantly persists amongst facilitators of communication training and leadership development. This message is alarmingly retained as a truth amongst participants in such sessions. This myth has been thoroughly busted by many professionals who have reviewed the research by Albert Merhabian that spawned the “7/38/55 Rule”. Mehrabian himself has long counselled against inappropriate use of his findings. Merhabian’s famous studies involved participants (all women) listening to a recording of a single spoken word whilst looking at a picture of a face and deciding whether the participants liked or didn’t like the message. Various voice tones and facial expressions were used with the same word. The accurate conclusion was that when a word had a positive or negative emotional content, a voice tone and facial expression that didn’t match the word had more impact than the word itself. In other words, this “rule” has a very specific relevance (the need for congruence when communicating an emotion) and is not a general truth.
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