Influential communication – does body language matter?

The fundamental purpose of influential communication is to persuade others to behave the way you want them to. This has numerous applications in sales, marketing, leadership and management. A key question in trying to do this is “does body language matter?” The simple answer is “yes it does!”

The Social Styles model was developed over 40 years ago and has been refined and expanded since that time. Social Styles can be used to influence the behaviour of others, and at the heart of this model is the reading and adaptation of behaviour; first our own, then that of other people. But where does the evidence come from that adapting body language is important?

Back in the 1970s, a researcher at the University of California in Los Angeles identified the importance of body language to verbal communication. Now, the work of Professor Albert Mehrabian has often been misquoted and used to explain / justify much beyond his original work, but the gist of what he found is as follows: getting our message across to other people is about much more than just choosing the right words.

In fact, Mehrabian showed that words only contribute about 7% to the effectiveness of communication, with tone of voice (38%) and body language (55%) being much more important. In particular, it seems that we need more than just the words to decide whether we believe the speaker (or even to decide if they believe what they are saying ).

That is not to say that the words are unimportant. Change the words and you change the meaning. However, the words are not enough on their own.

Still not convinced? Well, just think about how the intent behind the words becomes more ambiguous as we move from face-to- face communication, to telephone, to e-mail and txt!

Notice that according to Mehrabian, over half of the message we take from verbal communication comes from reading body language. Now, most of this is going on at a subconscious level, but it does make sense. For instance, we are able to discern possible danger to ourselves by interpreting body language, and this has been a vital survival mechanism throughout human evolution. You disagree? Well, next time you see someone coming towards you with a bloody knife and a deranged expression on their face what will you do; take precautions, or wait to confirm your worst fears with a simple verbal, “do you intend me some harm?”

So, body language does matter and Social Styles allows us to maximise the 93% of communication that Mehrabian says is vital to understanding and influencing other people. Clearly this is key to successful sales, marketing, leadership and management.

Learn more about Albert Mehrabian

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7 Responses to Influential communication – does body language matter?

  1. Pingback: How referee body language affects the perception of performance « markdecosemo

  2. Pingback: The Psychology behind Pitching to Dragons « markdecosemo

  3. MD Alan says:

    Have you actually read Mehrabian’s research? He didn’t say anything of the kind. These numbers relate to the proposition that verbal and non-verbal communication must be consistent with each other. When there is incongruence between verbal and non-verbal communication aspects (eg, nice words and negative or threatening voice and posture) listeners would tend to make judgments on likes or dislikes on non-verbal communication more than actual verbal content. He has said many times that his work is meaningless unless it applies to cases like these, and ONLY cases like these,

    He has also said many times that extrapolating his results to any situation other than one individual’s assumptions on likes or dislikes of another is nonsensical. Finally, let’s not talk about “words” when Mehrabian’s research studied listeners’ responses to ONE SINGLE WORD AT A TIME (something people lazily misquoting his work tend not to realise).

    His work only has meaning when: a speaker says only one word; the tone of voice used is inconsistent with the meaning of the word; and a judgement is made by a listener about the assumed feelings of the speaker. This has NOTHING to do with “influencing people” and Albert Mehrabian has specifically disclaimed this on a regular basis. Try it – write a pitch to try to sell me something, then get someone to remove 93% of the words, then see if I buy it, no matter what vocal tomes an body language you use.

    • markdecosemo says:

      Thank you for your comments, MD Alan. I have read the research, thank you, and I agree with your observations. I’m not so clear which aspects of what I’ve written you disagree with, but I think we actually agree more than disagree.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment on my post.

  4. Jacquelyn says:

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    • markdecosemo says:

      Thank you, Jacquelyn. I would say that a free WordPress site is great. The real key is to make sure you promote your blogs. Use Twitter, Facebook, and especially Google+ to raise your profile in the Search engines (called search engine optimisation). Follow writers you like and their blogs and hopefully they will reciprocate and increase your readership. All the best

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