Mehrabian's Communication Model

Learning to Communicate Clearly

Using a positive facial expression and tone of voice will back up your words if you're saying you like something.

© iStockphoto/duncan1890

Have you ever opened an email from a colleague and misinterpreted the words on the screen?

Perhaps you felt the message was critical of you or your work, when in fact that wasn't what the writer intended at all.

Or maybe you've had the experience of speaking with a client over the phone and knowing, just from their tone of voice, that you're not going to get the sale this time.

Communication is made up of more than just the words we use. Our tone of voice, facial expression and body language all play a major role in how we're understood. And if we're communicating in a situation where we can't use all of these elements to enhance our messages, we need to be very careful.

You might well have heard the popular statistic that only 7% of any message is conveyed through the words you choose. The other 93% is allegedly found in subtle clues like your tone of voice and body language. This claim stems from a study done by psychologist Albert Mehrabian in the late Sixties. But beware, it's all too often misquoted!

In this article we'll explain what Mehrabian's Communication Model really says, and look at how you can use its findings in your everyday life.

Mehrabian's Communication Model

In 1967, in a study titled "Inference of Attitudes from Nonverbal Communication in Two Channels," psychologist Albert Mehrabian revealed groundbreaking new data, relating to the relative importance of verbal and non-verbal messages.

In his original study, Mehrabian considered different combinations of "positive," "neutral," and "negative" attitude, as expressed through both facial expression and tone of voice.

For example, he used the word "maybe" to test how well people could judge the feelings of others. As a word, "maybe" was considered to be neutral in meaning. It was then read to participants using a positive, neutral, and negative tone of voice, and listeners had to judge the attitude of the speaker, based primarily on their tone of voice.

The study allowed Mehrabian to consider the relative importance of three elements in our communication: words, tone of voice, and facial expression. He wanted to discover which carried the most weight in order to know whether we listen more to what people say, or to how they're saying it.

When his research was complete, Mehrabian concluded that...

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