The 7% rule: fact, fiction, or misunderstanding

In 1971, Albert Mehrabian published a book Silent Messages, in which he discussed his research on non-verbal communication.  


He concluded that prospects based their assessments of credibility on factors other than the words the salesperson spoke the prospects studied assigned 55 percent of their weight to the speaker’s body language and another 38 percent to the tone and music of their voice. They assigned only 7 percent of their credibility assessment to the salesperson’s actual words. 


You have no doubt heard of this before. You may believe it to be true or you may have dismissed it as ridiculous! 


However, following the release of the research many people started to put a great deal of emphasis on training speakers on perfecting the non-verbal part of the performance rather than the more traditional skills of speech writing.

Phil Yaffe, who has over 40 year’s experience in journalism and international marketing communications,  thinks that the 7 percent rule is a  myth. He disagrees that what you say is considerably less important than how you say it and claims that the myth arises from a gross misinterpretation of a scientific experiment and wants to set the record straight.

In this article Paul explains how this data was misinterpreted and why it spread so quickly. He even goes so far as to say that it should not be classed as a rule with only 2 studies being the basis for the claim.


Whatever your personal view on the ‘7% rule’ you must agree that Paul raises an important point about our acceptance of ‘second source’ data and how abbreviated research becomes set in people’s minds as fact when it might not be sufficiently proved.  Perhaps we can learn a lot more about communication from this human reaction than from the study of communication itself.

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