In the 1970s, then UCLA Professor Albert Mehrabian postulated a theory he called “The 7-38-55 Rule.” According to Professor Mehrabian, just 7% of a message is communicated through our words. Our tone of voice contributes 38%, and our body language communicates 55% of the message. He believed that our actual words are only a tiny facet of our communication (7%). That the pitch, tone, speed, rhythm, and pauses of how we pass along those very words express far more than those words alone (38%). However, still more powerful is the body language of our gestures, posture, and pose (55%). In a nutshell, the nonverbal elements of our communication verify or contradict our words. It seems that we overwhelmingly rely on a person’s body language and tone of voice to determine the veracity of the words spoken. And when there is incongruency in those three aspects of communication, we tend to believe body language above all. Though some feel these findings, by their subjective nature might be difficult to measure in all situations and contexts, it nonetheless gives us an excellent way to view the how of our communication, as much (or far, far, far more) than the what of that communication. So the next time we say something in a rehearsal maybe we should concentrate on making our body language and tone of voice matter just as much as the words we say!

Peter Loel Boonshaft, Director of Education
KHS America

About the Author

Dr. Boonshaft, Director of Education for KHS America, is the author of the critically acclaimed best-selling books Teaching Music with Passion, Teaching Music with Purpose, and Teaching Music with Promise. He was honored by the National Association for Music Education and Music For All as the first recipient of the “George M. Parks Award for Leadership in Music Education.” Dr. Boonshaft was selected for the Center for Scholarly Research and Academic Excellence at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY, where he is Professor Emeritus of Music.