Wednesday, 13 February 2008

The Seven Percent Story.

Someone, somehow, worked out that our communications consist of 7% words, 38% voice or tone and 55% non-verbal or body language.

I am not sure how they did this to such accuracy but I will go with their figures for the moment.

What prompted this post was a post by about a group called Befrienders in Malaysia. From the way she describes them they are similar to LifeLine in Australia or the Samaritans in Britain. I was surprised when she said that you could email them if you had a problem.

The above figures would suggest that you only get 7% of their message in an email. (The blue wedge, above.)

No tone of voice, no body language.

Phone counselling is tricky enough at times, working with 45% of the content but 7% is not much to get any idea as to what is going on in the person's mind. Are they suicidal? Are they calm? Are they crying? Are they panicky? Is there mood improving? How do you engage with someone with email? You are getting 7% of their message and then they, distressed and anxious, are getting 7% of your reply. The scope for misunderstanding and confusion is enormous.

(Having said that we did have a teletype option available until recently, but I have never taken a call on it and we only had a few regulars that used it to contact us.)

Part of the reason for the appearance of smileys in emails (and SMS messages) is to try to convey some of the emotions of the writer that are not conveyed by the hard reality of the words alone.

I guess my message is that if your issue is important, ring. If it is really important, visit.

If you want to run the risk of being misunderstood, email. Or SMS.

Or blog.



  1. I still find it really hard to open up to people you hardly know especially face to face..but to voice out in the cyberworld is much easier..yes you can get misinterpreted but you won't see the real reaction and you hardly know them in reality. Well, the point is at least you voice it out rather than keep it till you rot.

  2. According to these figures, I must work 55% harder when teaching blind students.

    It feels like it most days.

    The good news is that I've earned to modulate my voice very carefully. When I first started, the dialogue used to go a little like this:

    Class - "Good morning Mr Bryenton"
    Me - "Good morning, Year 9."
    Student - "How are you today, sir?"
    Me - "Fine, thanks."
    Another student - "You don't sound it, sir."

  3. My son hates the phone for this reason. He says there is too much leeway for misinterpretation, if you are not watching the speaker.

  4. hey, here is the site i was talking about where i made the extra cash......

    this site ..

  5. And yet writing can sometimes be cathartic or helpful when speaking isn't, especially for some kinds of people; it can feel safer, you can take more time to say what you really mean, or you can get it out of your system then rip it up, whatever. I dislike the phone as I often feel put on the spot, too much need to keep the conversation going but not enough time or space to reflect.
    Yet it would be an impossible world without face to face, real voice communication...


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