The World of Work Project

Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Communication Model: It’s More Than Words

Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Communication model says that only 7% of communication takes place through the words we use, while 38% takes place through tone and voice and the remaining 55% of communication take place through the body language we use.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Communication Model

We are often told that tone and body language play a huge role in the our communications. This is part of the reason that emails are less effective that telephone calls, which are less effective than video calls which are in turn less effective than face to face meetings.

Based on research, Albert Mehrabian has concluded that only 7% of communication takes place through words while 38% takes place through tone and voice and the remaining 55% take place through body language.

The clear lessons from this research is that we need face to face communications, at least some of the time, if we are to communicate effectively together.

Mehrabian's 7-38-55 Communication Model shown as a pie chart
Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Communication Model shown as a pie chart

So What?

Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Communication Model provides some key lessons for the world of work.

Firstly, we should we be aware of what we are communicating to others through our tone and body language. We convey huge amounts of information this way. As leaders and managers, it’s important that we understand what we’re communicating and that we try and communicate intentionally.

Secondly, we should also ensure that we can listen effectively. One way to think about this is the SIER Hierarchy of Active Listening, another is the Six Facets of Effective Listening for Better Connection. Of course, listening too is about more than just words. We need to learn to observe tone and body language, and understand what people are really communicating to us.

Learning More

Effective communication is a key skill in the world of work. We’ve written several other posts on the topic. These include the tongue in cheek ABCs of communication, the 7 Cs of communication and 10 Tips for Better Presentations. We’ve also written a bit on persuasion and influence. Posts include Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Persuasion and Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.

We’ve also explored the important role that communications and stories play in organizational change. You might enjoy this podcast which explores that idea.

The World of Work Project View

We are slightly wary of the precise numbers within Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Communication Model from a work context. Even Professor Mehrabian called out words of caution around the absolute accuracy of these percentage in his work. He noted that his research focused on the communication of emotions and feeling, and acknowledged that contributing factors will be quite different when different topics are being discussed.

Regardless of the exact accuracy of the model, or the specific topics of conversation that it relates to, we like it. We know the numbers could be somewhat incorrect, but we still think the underlying message, that words alone don’t constitute communication, is very important.

Many individuals and leaders fail to appreciate the importance of other means of communication. By focusing on non-verbal signs from others they can improve their awareness of others and their awareness of the impact of their words and actions on others.

Sources and further reading

Where possible we always recommend that people read up on the original sources of information and ideas.

This post is based on original work by Albert Mehrabian. You can read more in his book “Silent Messages: Implicit Communication of Emotions and Attitudes“.

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