Why body language isn’t enough

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If you have ever attended a team building event or communication seminar or similar training programme, the topic of body language probably came up.

93% of communication is non-verbal, they probably said. How you say something is far more important than what you actually say.

The problem is that this is wrong.

Professor Albert Mehrabian’s research in the late 1960s found that when trying to communicate feelings, 7% of the impact came from the words you used, 38% from the tone and 55% from your expression.

In other words, if you said you were happy when looking sad and sniffling, or said you were fine while looking very angry and snarling, people could work out how you really felt most of the time.

It doesn’t follow that when you try and communicate in general, only 7% of what you get across to someone else is the verbal component.

The research has been misinterpreted for decades – until TED.

TED – a conference on Technology, Entertainment and Design – is now probably the world’s best known repository of great ideas. It has videos of short talks where speakers talk billiantly about an area of interest and expertise.

They don’t just saunter up on stage and perform. The words they use are crucial – their words are used to “tell a story, build an idea, explain the complex, make a reasoned case, or provide a compelling call to action”.

TED made what you said important – because the speakers were talking about great ideas and insights and research that mattered and was making a difference.

Why does this matter to the rest of us?

Virtually any important decision you are involved in will require communication and persuasion. Either someone else has to make the case to you, or you need to make the case to someone else. And people have to agree.

In a connected world filled with information noise, we need to get better at making the case for doing something important.

What you say is just as important as how you say it.

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