Mehrabian Communication Theory: A Summary
Alec McPhedran 20 May 2023
“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.” Albert Mehrabian
The Mehrabian Communication Theory, often referred to as the "7-38-55 Rule," is a theory developed by Albert Mehrabian, a professor of psychology. The theory suggests that communication can be divided into three elements: verbal, vocal, and visual.
According to Mehrabian, the relative importance of each element in conveying meaning differs. He claimed that when there is inconsistency between the verbal, vocal, and visual elements, people tend to rely more on nonverbal cues to interpret the message.
Mehrabian explained the breakdown of the average percentages associated with each element.
It's important to note that the Mehrabian Communication Theory specifically applies to situations where emotions or attitudes are being conveyed. The theory does not hold true for all forms of communication, such as technical or factual information.
However, it's worth mentioning that the 7-38-55 Rule has faced some criticism and has been misinterpreted over time. The percentages are often mistakenly applied to general communication situations or taken out of context. It's essential to understand that effective communication is a complex process, and the relative importance of verbal, vocal, and visual elements can vary depending on the context, cultural factors, and individual differences.
Albert Mehrabian's website
Alec McPhedran is the managing director of Skills Channel TV, the training company for busy creative talent. He specialises in one to one coaching, facilitated learning, media training and team development. For further information, contact 00 44 121 366 87 99 or visit www.skillschannel.tv.
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