At least more than the “7% rule” would have us believe. In 1971, Albert Mehrabian published a study on salespersons and how they communicated. He concluded that prospects assigned 55% credibility to the salesperson’s body language, 38% to the tone of their voice and merely 7% to the words they used.
Now the world widely misrepresents this finding, saying that merely 7% of our communication comes from our words. It’s remarkable that one study, which considered merely single words (and their interpretations based on tone and body language), morphed into a “rule” that undermines books as a valid medium for learning, letters, email and texting as effective means of communication, and speech-writing as a profession. It is but a symptom of a disease that plagues our minds – of simplifying a nuanced scientific finding and highlighting its most sensational bits.
From my own personal experience of learning a foreign language (German), I can assert that words are almost everything. In the early days, when my vocabulary wasn’t good enough, I did not understand 93% of what was conveyed. I understood close to nothing. And yes – the most efficient means for learning a new language is to commit high-frequency word lists to memory. At least in the early days.
Words are the primary carriers of meaning in language. Body language, tone and everything else is only auxiliary. Communication without words is analogous to watching a nature documentary on TV on mute. The video quality, the sound quality and the resolution make the documentary appealing. But without the words, we do not truly grasp what those pretty pictures are trying to tell us.