It used to be that we were told that 80% of communication is non-verbal. However, we now have a much more clear understanding of exactly how non-verbal communication breaks down.
Called the 7% – 38% – 55% Rule, the numbers represent the importance of various communication channels as a percentage. In this case, 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken.
This is now one of the most recognized rules of non-verbal communication and was developed by UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian. He determined that non-verbal messages received in communication actually represent much more than 80% of communication.
Clarifying further, Mehrabian states, “When there are inconsistencies between attitudes communicated verbally and posturally, the postural component should dominate in determining the total attitude that is inferred.”
So the question is, if we know how important non-verbal communication is, how do we improve it?
In order to work on tone of voice and body language, what we really need is an objective barometer. While this might not be a person’s first description of a horse, it actually is a fairly accurate way to characterize him.
Horses, after all, have no agenda, and are not afraid to tell us that we are, well, overbearing, pushy, intimidating, or otherwise hard to approach.
People may often sense this about us, yet avoid saying anything for fear of our response. Typically once a person is already intimidated, then saying to the intimidating person that this is how he/she is perceived is extremely difficult, and may lead to retribution.
But also, we may not always pick up on another person’s nonverbal messages consciously. This is exactly the case with sociopaths. Because this subset of the population is extremely adept at interpreting and manipulating social cues, often they are perceived as friendly, likable, engaging, even charming. Yet, of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. And while we may be misled by a sociopath’s charm, we may also feel a little unsure, and not know just why.
However, sociopaths tend to be very disconnected (the feeling of connection is an important part of empathy, guilt and remorse), and for this reason engender a very different response from a horse than the charming demeanor they can have around people.
Typically horse will take great measures to avoid a sociopath, and can present a very telling picture of the emotional reality in which a sociopath lives.
But actually most people are have an unclear idea of the way they come across to others. And yet, taking steps to become more aware of our non-verbal cues can be extremely beneficial, and significantly more powerful than improving our verbal communication — 93% more powerful to be exact.
Improving communication by 93% — sounds like a fair trade off for spending a little time with a horse.
Mehrabian, A. (1972). Nonverbal Communication. New Brunswick: Aldine Transaction.
Wood, Julia T. Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and Culture. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009.
Horses photo available from Shutterstock