You’ve heard this “fact”: 93% of all communication is nonverbal.

Is it true or not?

The Study by Professor Albert Mehrabian studied the importance of three aspects of communication: words themselves, tone of voice, and body language. He conducted the research by studying how likable a person was.

What Mehrabian concluded was that 7% of our liking was attributable to words themselves, 38% was attributable tone of voice, and 55% was attributable to body language (source). 55% + 38% = 93%. That’s where the number originated. Unfortunately, the study has been misconstrued (as is almost every study and statistic by people drawing premature conclusions).

The truth is the percentages above were determined by seeing which of the aspects would dominate if all three were giving mixed signals.

For example, if I offer a health-conscious dog an ice cream sundae, he might say “NO” because he wants to lose weight. However, he really loves ice cream, so he starts wagging his tail and licking his lips as I offer the sundae. Even if he is communicating a firm “no” with his words and tone of voice (38% + 7% = 45%), his body language (55%) is telling me “yes, I do want the sundae.”

dog body language

The major point that is left out of people quoting Professor Mehrabian’s study is that they do not include the concept of congruence, which is when all aspects: words, tone of voice, and body language align. When they do not, it is the dominant aspects which communicate the most: the nonverbal aspects.