Words are equally powerful as body language and tone of voice

 

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Most of us have came across one of the most important statistics when it comes to interpersonal communication, which is 55% body language, 38% tone of voice and 7% words. From here, most communication specialists have concluded that our body language has more impact and speaks louder than our words. Now, I am going to tell you something very surprising: Words are in fact as powerful as body language and tone of voice. I believe that this is something that few individuals will ever tell you because popular media and literature have already successfully transmitted the message that words are not substantial enough to impact another person when compared to the use of non-verbal communications.

But, in my opinion, this is not true.

Let me explain. One of the justifications behind my stand on this issue is the fact that words have equal staying power as one’s body language. I will like you to think back of a time where you are engaged in a somewhat serious conflict with someone. What makes a deeper impression on you? What can you remember? Most of us feel that it’s the act of the other party that we remember. Thus it’s body language that is more impactful in creating an impression rather than words. This is true, because our minds recall things visually and hence images are the first things that come to mind and not words. What’s even more prominent is the fact that the images in our minds are tagged closely to our emotions and our senses. Just think of the times when we give our first speech, the times we first look into our lovers’ eyes and the times we hold their hands. Notice how the three examples that I have given relate to our auditory, visual and  kinaesthetic aspects of our senses respectively. Our “image-laden” memories, our emotions and our senses are all connected together. This gives all of us the impression that body language and tone of voice are the most impactful form of communication.

This impression is an illusion.

Words are an equally powerful form of communication as body language or tone of voice. I am saying this not to give a confidence and morale boost to aspiring and existing writers but because it is true. The only instance that I can think of that non-verbal language is superior to words is during the initial stage of acquaintanceship (and especially during the courtship stage of romance), where the art of approaching requires eye contact to be established before words can be communicated. Once a relationship has been established, words will prove to be a formidable foe to both body language and tone of voice.  

Let me justify this stand with some examples. Do you know that the sentence “I love you” is one of the most powerful statements ever to be expressed by one individual to another? Just imagine someone you love saying these three words to you? I believe that these words will stick with you for a long time to come. In the film “The Terminator”, Arnold Schwarzenegger made the statement “I will be back”. This film was subsequent made memorable by that quote. We often can’t remember what our teachers or mentors look like after we have left school but we often remember the words that they have said to us. Personally, I have a mentor whom I have met who told me that I have a gift in writing and that I should develop this gift of mine. He added that he wished that he is able to write as well as I do. And I remember his words of encouragement till this day (which is also the primary motivating factor when it comes to keeping this blog alive).  Words of encouragement and love often stay with us for life.

It’s important to know that our memories are fallible since research has shown that we tend to include extraneous information to fill up the “missing gaps” in our memory.  But I feel that we do not have the tendency to do that with words, at least not to the extent of what we do with our memories. This is especially so when the words are printed on paper or in emails.  The words’ visual presence in these mediums makes them all the more memorable. It’s precisely because of this reason that we should refrain from writing anything negative when it comes to email or any form of written communications. When someone reads these words and sentences repetitively, the negative consequences that result can be drastic. This is also the reason why some self-help book recommend that when we are angry, we should pen a letter expressing our feelings (and thus venting our anger) but not sending the letter out to the intended recipient(s).

Fortunately, the opposite is also true. We remember positive messages equally well. Thus, if one were to ask me what the safest/best way to communicate is, I will respond to the question with this answer: Speak positively of someone or something at all costs. We may see the negative in some people or situations. But it’s our choice to focus on the positive and not the negative aspects of that person or situation. This also explains why light-hearted banter is often preferred over serious discussions most of the time. 

Thus, if you were to ask me what my take on the statistics of communication is, I will say that it’s 30 % body language, 30% words and 30% tone of voice.

But where’s that missing 10%?

It varies among different individuals, depending on their communication styles.

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3 thoughts on “Words are equally powerful as body language and tone of voice

  1. You’ve tapped into one of my pet hates. If words are so unimportant, then why do we continue to use them, and why aren’t mime artists respected more as great communicators?

    The research figures of 55-38-7 are often quoted out of context. They were only ever meant to apply to first impressions and forming a like or dislike of someone. In this case what we say doesn’t matter so much as how we say it and the general impressions people form of us.

    The other instance where body language takes priority is where words are incongruent with tone of voice and body language. . .in this instance we are less likely to believe the words.

    The ‘popularity / notoriety’ of the 55-38-7 rule comes from cod-experts who either haven’t read the original research or have little experience in interpreting research. Whenever I see or hear them misleading people with their ‘psychobabble’ my response is always pretty clear from my body language, and my words are even clearer although often ‘unrepeatable’ or ‘unprintable’!

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  2. In my book, body language still reigns supreme. For instance, if a husband has said to his wife once (in words) that he loves her then he needs to take it up a notch the next hundred times he says it during their marriage – with HOW he says it i.e by use of tone of voice – she needs to hear the love – and, more importantly, body language- she needs to see and feel the love eg in his eyes, his touch, his hug etc.

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    • Dear Caroline,

      This topic has always been a debatable issue through the years. Hence, perceptions of individuals vary. This is why I have chosen to write on this topic – for discussion among my readers. What I have written is how I feel about it and of course, there will be differences in opinions. Nevertheless, in the field of quantum physics, physicists are beginning to discover that energy and matter are composed of vibrations smaller than an atom. If so, like music, there’s a possibility that words have a vibration of their own as well – and hence may have healing and communicative properties as well. Having said that, body language cannot be said to be ineffective in communication since it’s the more visible medium of the two. The combination of both words and body language would be a very powerful communication message.

      Thanks much for your thoughts.

      Warmest Regards,
      Patrick

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