In 1967, the Journal of Consulting Psychology published a study conducted by two researchers that would eventually shape the way we understand the importance of nonverbal communication. Written by UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian and Susan R. Ferris, the piece described the relative importance of words, tone of voice and body language in understanding an underlying emotional message. But more on this in a minute. First, we need to understand what nonverbal communication is.
As the name implies, nonverbal communication accounts for practically everything that isn’t the words used in communication. Eye contact, gestures, inflection, dress and proximity all play important but subtle roles in determining our understanding of a person’s meaning. Without these indicators, the totality of a person’s statement is impossible to interpret. Dr. Mehrabian suspected precisely that when he began conducting his experiments in the mid-1960s. In one, subjects were given three recordings of the word “maybe” – one to convey disfavor, one to convey favor and one to convey neutrality. They were then shown photos of female faces expressing the same three emotions and were told to determine the emotions of both the recordings and the photos. The subjects more accurately guessed the emotion conveyed in the photos by a margin of 3:2.
In a second study, Dr. Mehrabian’s subjects listened to recordings of nine words. Three were designed to convey affinity (“honey,” “thanks” and “dear”), three were meant to convey neutrality (“oh,” “really” and “maybe”) and three conveyed dislike (“don’t,” “terrible” and “brute”). The recordings were of speakers reading each word three times, each with a different tone: positive, neutral and negative. The result? A subject’s response to each word was dependent more on the inflection of the voice than the connotation of the word itself. These studies led Dr. Mehrabian to devise a formula to describe how the mind determines meaning. He concluded that the interpretation of a message is 7 percent verbal, 38 percent vocal and 55 percent visual. The conclusion was that 93 percent of communication is “nonverbal” in nature.
The implications on business communication are clear since so much of sales, marketing and management come down to effective communication. Companies that conduct business primarily by phone are leaving 55 percent of their message open to misinterpretation, while companies that run on email are leaving a staggering 93 percent on the table. Imagine the money that’s being thrown away because of inefficiency and miscommunication.
Video conferencing ensures that no inflection is missed or gesture left misinterpreted, because it engages all three aspects of communication in the same format. It puts you totally in control of shaping your message and effectively communicating it to clients, colleagues and business partners, eliminating virtually all room for miscommunication. At the end of the day, can you afford to leave 93 percent of your company’s message to chance?