He also constructed a number of psychological measures including the Arousal Seeking Tendency Scale. Arguably these findings have been misquoted and misinterpreted throughout human communication seminars worldwide. For effective and meaningful communication about emotions, these three parts of the message need to support each other - they have to be "congruent". In case of any incongruence, the receiver of the message might be irritated by two messages coming from two different channels, giving cues in two different directions. The following example should help illustrate incongruence in verbal and non-verbal communication.
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Professor Albert Mehrabian has pioneered the understanding of communications since the s. He received his PhD from Clark University and in l commenced an extended career of teaching and research at the University of California, Los Angeles. Mehrabian's work featured strongly mid-late s in establishing early understanding of body language and non-verbal communications.
Aside from his many and various other fascinating works, Mehrabian's research provided the basis for the widely quoted and often much over-simplified statistic for the effectiveness of spoken communications.
Here is a more precise and necessarily detailed representation of Mehrabian's findings than is typically cited or applied:. The following is a more common and over-simplified interpretation of Mehrabian's findings, which is quoted and applied by many people to cover all communications - often without reference to Mehrabian, although Mehrabian's work is the derivation.
It is understandable that many people prefer short concise statements, however if you must use the simplified form of the Mehrabian formula you must explain the context of Mehrabian's findings. As a minimum you must state that the formula applies to communications of feelings and attitudes. Here's the overly-simplistic interpretation. Where you see or use it, qualify it, in proper context. Mehrabian did not intend the statistic to be used or applied freely to all communications and meaning.
Mehrabian provides this useful explanatory note from his own website, retrieved 29 May :. Inconsistent communications - the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages: My findings on this topic have received considerable attention in the literature and in the popular media. Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes i.
Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable. Also see references and in Silent Messages - these are the original sources of my findings That is, where the words did not match the facial expression: specifically in Mehrabian's research people tended to believe the expression they saw, not the words spoken.
Notwithstanding all this background and qualification, Mehrabian's model has become one of the most widely referenced statistics in communications. You will continue to see it referenced, and you will probably use it yourself, not always in its purest form, and not always with reference to its originator.
The essence of the model - even when used in overly simplistic form - is powerful and generally helpful, and certainly better than placing undue reliance on words alone for conveying receiving and sending communications, especially those which carry potentially emotional implications.
So, subject to suitable qualification and explanation , Mehrabian's findings and the theory resulting from them, are particularly useful in explaining the importance of understanding meaning in communications as distinct from words alone. Here are a couple of simple ways to begin to qualify the interpretation and application of the formula:. You must first clarify that the Mehrabian formula often quoted out of context and too generally.
The tone of voice and body language might additionally indicate how far ahead of you the person issuing the instruction is likely to be, but aside from that, you'd get the message fully through the words without having to be an expert in body language to unravel the meaning. Mehrabian's theory and its implications are also not especially applicable in strongly autocratic environments, such as the armed forces.
If the Regimental Sergeant Major tells a soldier to jump, the soldier is best advised to consider how high, rather than whether the RSM is instead maybe inviting a debate about the merit of the instruction, or the feelings of the soldier in response to it.
The value of Mehrabian's theory relates to communications where emotional content is significant, and the need to understand it properly is great. This is often applicable in management and business, where motivation and attitude have a crucial effect on outcomes. Understanding the difference between words and meaning is a vital capability for effective communications and relationships. For example, as John Ruskin so elegantly put it:. The understanding of how to convey when speaking and interpret when listening meaning will always be essential for effective communication, management and relationships.
But using the Mehrabian percentages is not a reliable model to overlay onto all communications scenarios. For example, Mehrabian's research involved spoken communications. Transferring the model indiscriminately to written or telephone communications is not reliable, except to say that without the opportunity for visual signs, there is likely to be even more potential for confused understanding and inferred meanings. A fairer way of transferring Mehrabian's findings to modern written memo, email etc and telephone communications is simply to say that greater care needs to be taken in the use of language and expression, because the visual channel does not exist.
It is not correct to assume that by removing a particular channel, then so the effectiveness of the communication reduces in line with the classically represented Mehrabian percentages. It ain't that simple. It is fair to say that email and other written communications are limited to conveying words alone.
The way that the words are said cannot be conveyed, and facial expression cannot be conveyed at all. Mehrabian provides us with a reference point as to why written communications, particularly quick, reduced emails and memos, so often result in confusion or cause offence, but his model should not be taken to mean that all written communications are inevitably weak or flawed.
We may not know how the bar owner feels about having to bar his customers from smoking, but in terms of the purpose of the communication, and the meaning necessary to be conveyed, the written word alone is fine for this situation, regardless of Mehrabian's model. A visitor to this page also made the fascinating observation that modern text-based communications allow inclusion of simple iconic facial expressions smileys, and other emotional symbols , which further proves the significance of, and natural demand for, non-verbal signs within communications.
The point also highlights the difficulty in attempting to apply the Mehrabian principle too generally, given that now electronic communications increasingly allow a mixture of communication methods - and many far more sophisticated than smileys - within a single message. Thanks M Ellwood, Apr Telephone communication can convey words and the way that the words are said, but no facial expression. Nor does Mehrabian's model say that telephone communications are no good for, say, phoning home to ask for the address of the local poodle parlour.
For this type of communication, and for this intended exchange of information and meaning, the telephone is perfectly adequate, and actually a whole lot more cost-effective and efficient than driving all the way home just to ask the question and receive the answer face to face. The Mehrabian statistics certainly also suggest that typical video-conferencing communications are not so reliable as genuine face-to-face communications, because of the intermittent transfer of images, which is of course incapable of conveying accurate non-verbal signals, but again it is not sensible to transfer directly the percentage effectiveness shown and so often quoted from the model.
Video conferencing offers a massive benefits for modern organisation development and cooperation. Be aware of its vulnerabilities, and use it wherever it's appropriate, because it's a great system.
Mehrabian's model is a seminal piece of work, and it's amazingly helpful in explaining the importance of careful and appropriate communications. Like any model, care must be exercised when transferring it to different situations.
Use the basic findings and principles as a guide and an example - don't transfer the percentages, or make direct assumptions about degrees of effectiveness, to each and every communication situation.
I am grateful for the guidance of B Taylor and C Edwards in progressively revising this guide to Mehrabian's communications theory. Albert Mehrabian's key book is Silent Messages, which contains lots of information about non-verbal communications body language.
Mehrabian, A. Mehrabian's communications model is frequently applied in an overly simplistic or indiscriminate manner. Please handle it with care and ensure it is used in proper context with suitable explanation.
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Preparation and creating your presentation. Delivering Presentations Successfully. Active Listening. Hearing Vs. Body Language. Other important contextual and qualifying details are: Mehrabian did not intend the statistic to be used or applied freely to all communications and meaning.
Mehrabian provides this useful explanatory note from his own website, retrieved 29 May : " Context and Application Notwithstanding all this background and qualification, Mehrabian's model has become one of the most widely referenced statistics in communications. Here are a couple of simple ways to begin to qualify the interpretation and application of the formula: You must first clarify that the Mehrabian formula often quoted out of context and too generally.
Theory and statistics Understanding the difference between words and meaning is a vital capability for effective communications and relationships. For example, as John Ruskin so elegantly put it: "The essence of lying is in deception, not in words. Thanks M Ellwood, Apr Telephone communication can convey words and the way that the words are said, but no facial expression.
Related Materials. Next: Presentation Skills and Techniques.
Professor Albert Mehrabian has pioneered the understanding of communications since the s. He received his PhD from Clark University and in l commenced an extended career of teaching and research at the University of California, Los Angeles. Mehrabian's work featured strongly mid-late s in establishing early understanding of body language and non-verbal communications. Aside from his many and various other fascinating works, Mehrabian's research provided the basis for the widely quoted and often much over-simplified statistic for the effectiveness of spoken communications.
Mehrabian's Communication Theory: Verbal, Non-Verbal, Body Language
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