Debunking the 55%, 38%, 7% Rule

Debunking the 55%, 38%, 7% Rule

Most of us have blithely accepted this precept at face value. In fact, I’ve heard several Toastmasters glibly refer to this rule when making a point about the importance of gestures and vocal variety in public speaking.
Have you ever wondered where these percentages came from? Have you ever considered that they may have been misinterpreted and applied erroneously? Would it surprise you to know that the 55%, 38%, 7% Rule is a myth?
Words only 7%? (Nesse caso, pra quê meta-modelo de linguagem, não é mesmo? No mínimo uma contradição gigantesca) – Todas as colocações neste formato no posto são comentários meus

No one would argue that non-verbal expression and tonality are inconsequential to effective communication. Yet, logically does it make sense to relegate words to a meager 7% of the message?
Examining the origins of that rule, Dr. C.E. “Buzz” Johnson, a Certified Trainer of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, wrote in a 1994 issue of Anchor Point magazine:
“…If these percentages were really valid it would mean that the learning of foreign languages could be greatly abbreviated. After all, if the words only account for 7% of the meaning of communication, we should all be able to go to any country in the world and simply by listening to the tone and carefully observing body language, be able to accurately interpret 93% of their communications!”Veja este vídeo como exemplo lúdico ilustrativo deste questionamento.

How many of us have 93% accuracy in immediately discerning the cause of a baby’s cry, or even in understanding the communication of our pets? When a baby cries we know she is unhappy, but does it mean she is wet, hungry, lonely or sleepy? When a dog barks, we know it is drawing our attention to something, but is it a visitor, an intruder, or simply a strange noise? Without the words, we still miss much of the meaning.

A few well-chosen words can make the difference between a mediocre speech and a speech that enthralls
As Toastmasters, we learn to work with words, because a few well-chosen words can make the difference between a mediocre speech and a speech that enthralls, entertains and captures the heart. The right word can evoke our emotions, touch our values and stir us to action. De fato, chamamos à isso âncoras, certo?)Words, chosen conscientiously, can mean the difference between helpful feedback and hurtful criticism. Would words really be so important if they carried only 7% of the message?

Imagine if Nathan Hale had said, “Okay, I’m willing to die for my country,” instead of “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” Imagine Franklin D. Roosevelt saying “Don’t be afraid,” instead of “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Imagine John F. Kennedy saying “Do good things for your country,” instead of “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country!” Na rede de Danças Circulares, NING, postei um vídeo que editei chamado “Danças e Neuro-aprendizagem” em homenagem à todos aqueles e todas aquelas que fazem a diferença na vida das pessoas e, consequentemente no mundo, mas com ARTE. Este vídeo, encerra-se exatamente com um texto que ilustra o questionamento acima da jornalista deste artigo.

The words themselves make the difference in the intensity of the message, even when we no longer hear the tonality or see the body language with which they were spoken.

The research
So where did this rule come from? Agora veremos porque conhecer as fontes originais das informações que recebemos é tão importante. Contexto, meus colegas penelistas, contexto é tudo!

Professor Albert Mehrabian, Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angles (UCLA), is credited as the originator of the 55%, 38%, 7% Rule. He and his colleagues conducted two studies on communication patterns and published the studies in professional journals in 1967.
Mehrabian later discussed the results of the studies in two books in the early 1970s. The results of the studies were widely circulated in the press, in abbreviated form, leading to a misunderstanding of the original research andinaccurate generalizations of the conclusions.
Mehrabian and his colleagues were attempting to decipher the relative impact of facial expressions and spoken words. Subjects were asked to listen to a recording of a female saying the single word “maybe” in three tonalities, to convey liking, neutrality and disliking. Next, subjects were shown photos of female faces conveying the same three emotions. Then subjects were asked to guess the emotions portrayed by the recorded voice, the photos and both in combination. The photos drew more accurate responses than the voice, by a ratio of 3:2. Lembrem-se que nesta época não se sabia da existência, muito menos da função, dos neurônios-espelho.

In the second study, subjects listened to nine recorded words, three meant to convey liking (honey, dear and thanks), three to convey neutrality (maybe, really and oh) and three to convey disliking (don’t, brute and terrible). The words were spoken with varying tonalities and subjects were asked to guess the emotions behind the spoken words. The finding was that tone carried more meaning than the individual words themselves.

Abra-cadabra! A theory is born! Mehrabian combined the statistical results of both studies and came up with – you guessed it – the 55%, 38%, 7% Rule.

Mehrabian published the results of his work in two books, Silent Messages (Wadsworth Publishing, 1971) andNonverbal Communications (Aldine Atherton, Inc., 1972). In these books Mehrabian makes the point that for inconsistent messages, or incongruent communications, body language and tonality are probably a more accurate indicator of emotions and meaning than the words themselves.

Mehrabian has stated (Anchor Point, 1994) that he never intended his results to be applied to normal conversation (and probably not to public speaking either).CONTEXTO! He only wanted to help his readers resolve incongruent messages regarding liking and disliking. Esse é o contexto para a regra 55%, 38%, 7%, gostos (Liking) e desgostos ou desafetos (alguém me ajuda a encontrar uma palavra ideal para Disliking em Português? Ou, deixa prá lá. São só 7% mesmo…

Thus, his research has useful, albeit limited applications, which have been blown out of proportion.

Equal emphasis
So now you know the 55%, 38%, 7% Fallacy. The spoken word has so many intangible components with the speaker, the listener and the context that, realistically, it would be folly to assign percentages to those components.There are some things that just can’t be quantified, like values, meanings, emotions, attitudes and beliefs.

Yet, these components are what make communications rich, penetrating, moving, appealing and human. We can never live inside another’s mind or duplicate another’s experience.
In public speaking, words, tonality and body language are the only means we have to relate to one another our individual understandings, experiences and feelings. Let’s continue to place equal emphasis on all three avenues of communication.

This article first appeared in “The Toastmaster, the magazine of Toastmaster International, in Jan. 2006. E, como a palavra só importa 7% no significado, imapcto e compreensão da comunicação, apsoto que o fato deste artigo estar no original, em inglês, não afetou em nada sua compreensão sobre ele, certo…? Think about.

Dr. Judy Pearson is a Licensed Professional Counselor, psychotherapist, personal coach and consultant with post-graduate training in Hypnotherapy and Neuro-Linguistic Programming. She has worked for social services and mental health agencies, the Federal Government, and in DoD contracting firms. In private practice since 1987, she owns and manages Motivational Strategies, Inc. Visit her informative website at