The way you say something, not what you say, is the most significant component in communication. Only seven to thirty-eight percent of communication is verbal. The rest of the information is conveyed by your tone, body language, and other nonverbal cues. This indicates that if you say anything without intonation or eye contact, it will have the opposite impact on the listener as if you were standing right next to them and smiling!
What is the 7-38-55 Rule?
You would be surprised to learn that, only 7% of communication is conveyed through words. In other words, what you say accounts for less than 10% of how your message will be interpreted. 38% of communication comes from voice tone and 55% from body language.
So, where did this 'rule' come from?
Professor Emeritus of Psychology (UCLA) Albert Mehrabian's publications on the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages serve as the source for this information. Mehrabian draws two conclusions from his research. In face-to-face communication, there are three main elements: words, tone of voice, and nonverbal behaviour.
Second, nonverbal behaviour is crucial for communicating feelings and attitudes, especially when they are contradictory. To put it another way, if words contradict the tone of voice and nonverbal behaviour, people are more likely to believe the tone and nonverbal behaviour than the words.
How to use this rule?
The idea is that for your message to be effective, you must be a skilled nonverbal communicator. This entails speaking with assurance, being conscious of where and how you stand or sit, establishing acceptable eye contact, and so on. To put it another way, use all of your senses!
When conveying your message, keep this  point checklist in mind. This checklist might assist you in delivering your message in the most effective manner possible. Remember, it's not so much what you say as it is how you say it that matters.
- Be Confident
Good eye contact and good posture will help you to appear more confident.
- Speak Clearly
If your message is unclear, it won't get across no matter how well you say it! Take the time to craft a clear message before speaking. If necessary, practice with colleagues or friends until everyone understands what you are trying to say.
- Use Appropriate Tone
Make sure you speak in a way that is appropriate for your audience and situation. For example, if everyone around you is stone-faced or serious then speaking with a big grin on your face may be inappropriate.
- Avoid Distractions
It is important to be aware of distractions such as background noise or your internal thoughts and feelings that can make it more difficult for you to communicate effectively. If necessary, take a moment before speaking to clear any distracting emotions from your mind and focus on the message at hand.
- Keep Eye Contact
Good eye contact is important for engagement and trustworthiness, but there are times when it can be inappropriate or simply unnecessary to lock eyes with your audience (e.g., during a business meeting). If you aren't sure whether or not to make eye contact, go for a glance rather than avoiding eye contact altogether.
- Use Gestures Appropriately
If using a gesture at this time isn't necessary, don't force it. Go ahead and scratch your nose or massage your ear if you need to. If you're not sure or it would be improper (for example, during a business meeting), simply keep your hands and feet steady and avoid unnecessary inflections in your tone of voice.
- Listen to Your Audience
You may need to adjust what you say based on how well it is received, or perhaps offer additional information if someone asks a question. Be flexible! If the audience doesn't understand something that's okay. You can either clarify your point or move on.
- Repeat Key Points
This helps to ensure that everyone has understood the message and also makes it more likely for people to remember what you have said! Try using a phrase such as "So, in summary..." or "In other words" at the end of your sentence so that people will be more likely to remember what you have said.
- Ask for Feedback
If the message isn't clear ask your audience for feedback! If they don't understand something try asking them "Do you follow?" or even better, "What's your understanding of this?" This is an excellent way to check in with them and make sure that everyone has understood.
- Follow Up
If you are sending an email, follow up with a phone call or in-person meeting if necessary to get your message across! Just because it's digital doesn't mean that people will read everything and remember what they have read. If the point of your communication is important enough then make sure that you take the time to follow up.
Mehrabian's model is significant. It helps explain the value of various communication elements. Adapting a model to new situations requires caution. Please note that the percentages do not apply to all communication situations.
Rather than generalizing the Rule, it is useful to discuss the model as follows:
- Those who believe words alone can convey meaning must realize that nonverbal cues can also be used to convey meaning.
- Nonverbal communication is important, but carefully chosen and delivered words are even more so.
- It's easy to misunderstand words when we can't see a person's face.
- When unsure of how to interpret words, we may focus on nonverbal cues.
- Our assumptions and judgments about people are based on incomplete information.