In personal communication, the words of a speaker are just a part of his efforts to communicate. The pitch and tone of his voice, the speed and rhythm of the spoken word and the pauses between his words may express more than what is being communicated by words alone. Further, his gestures, posture, pose and expressions usually convey a variety of subtle signals. These non-verbal elements can present a listener with important clues to the speaker’s thoughts and feelings, thus substantiating or contradicting the speaker’s words.
The most commonly cited study on the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages in personal communication is that of Prof. Albert Mehrabian of the University of California Los Angeles. His studies during the 1970s suggested that words, tone of voice and body language account for 7%, 38% and 55% of personal communication. Further, his studies proposed that,
The non-verbal elements are particularly important for communicating feelings and attitude, especially when they are incongruent: if words and body language disagree, one tends to believe the body language.
For example, if a person states, “I do not have a problem with you!” while avoiding eye-contact, looking anxious and maintaining a closed body language, it is likely that the listener will trust the predominant form of communication, which to Prof. Mehrabian’s findings is non-verbal (38% + 55%), rather than the literal meaning of the words (7%). See more details on Wikipedia.
The key takeaway is that, to be effective and persuasive in our verbal communication, be it in presentations, public speaking or personal communication, it is essential to match our words with the right tone and voice and the appropriate body language.
- The Twelve Most Persuasive Words in English
- Establishing Credibility for Persuasion
- Active Voice for Persuasive Communication
- An Essential Secret of Great Speakers–Pauses in Talking