Words, Voice, Expression, and what?

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Is there anything more to say about the famous Albert Mehrabian and his experiment that showed (or did it?) that, in conversation, our message is conveyed in words, voice and expression?

First, we need a refresher on Albert Mehrabian, because this is a correspondence course, and I don’t want to take your level of knowledge for granted.

Exercise: Research Albert Mehrabian

The Mehrabian Pie Chart

Mehrabian’s work is often represented as showing that our words, voice and expressions carry elements of our meaning in the ratios 7:38:55.  It doesn’t.  It shows, in just one experiment that has never been repeated, that, when our words, vocal style and expressions conflict with one another, then other people put most weight on our expressions and least on what we actually say.  I will make it easy with two excellent references:

  1. I wrote about this for Training Journal in July 2007
  2. An easier way still, to learn what Mehrabian really means is to watch the wonderful three and a half minute video by Creativity Works on YouTube.

The ‘and what?’

Without a doubt, your words, voice and expression all convey elements of your intended meaning.  But there is something very important that Mehrabian did not explore.  It often makes the difference between being understood quickly and accurately on the one hand, and being hard to understand, and even misunderstood, on the other: structure.

How you structure what you say has a profound effect on people’s attention levels, on their comprehension and, indeed, on your credibility as a speaker or writer.

Compare these two scenarios, for example:

Ami describes her insight in a rambling way, starting with what she was thinking and digressing from time to time, repeating herself and qualifying her comments.  When she finally stops, she looks up and says ‘do you follow me?’.  Most people nod, but think ‘no, sorry, I don’t’.

Betin starts by saying ‘here is what I think’, then follows it up, by saying ‘and here are three reasons why I believe this is correct’.  He gives the reasons, one after the other, then finishes by saying ‘so, to conclude, […] is well supported by the facts.’  … and he stops.

Who will be easier to follow and more persuasive?

A formula for structured responses

Persuade, convince and win arguments with clear and structured comments.

  1. This is what I noticed
  2. This is what I think
  3. This is why I think it (one, two or three reasons; maximum)
  4. Reiterate your conclusion

This is far from the only formula, but discipline in structuring what you say will not only make you more credible when you do speak, it will make people want to hear what you think.

Further Reading

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