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The communication of meaning

The communication of meaning
Many studies of the relative importance of different parts of
human communication, language, gestures, facial expression, and
so on, were carried out in the 1960s and 1970s. Professor Ray
Birdwhistle studied bodily communication, which he called
Kinesics. A classic study by Professor Albert Mehrabian showed
that in human communication, only
7% of the meaning was carried in the Figure 8.1
actual words we used. He found that
38% was in the way we said the
words (Figure 8.1). You have proba-
bly heard the saying “It’s not what
you say, it is the way that you say it”.
That study showed that overall the
major part of your communication
lies not in the actual words, but in
everything else you are doing: how
you say them and all the non-verbal
When David was a child, his mother had one way of saying his
name that made him feel really good, safe, and cared for. But
sometimes she would say “David . . .” with a particular tonality,
which would elicit a very different response in him: “Whoops, I
think I had better go and hide.” She had found him in the
Christmas presents! The actual word was the same; how she said
it conveyed very different meanings for him.
The remaining 55% of the communication has nothing to do with
the words, or the way you say them. It has to do with your physi-
ology: the way you hold your body, your posture, the way you
stand, the way you sit, the way your breathe, the gestures you
use, and the facial expressions you have. With your physiology,
you provide a ‘bodily’ context for the other person to make sense
of what you are saying.
So, if you are with other people, it is impossible to not communi-
cate. Even if you are silent and motionless, you will still be
communicating something. You might even be communicating
more by being present and silent than you would by talking on
the telephone - because the 55% of the communication from phys-
iology is missing when you are on the phone.

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