He estimated that 38% of an emotional message came from the tone of voice, and the remaining 55% of that emotional message was gleaned through non-verbal cues.
In his experiments, a single negative word such as “brute”, presented with positive vocal tones and using a smile, meant people tended to believe the overall message was meant positively, even though the word could have negative connotations. Note this is a single word and the 7% relates to its emotional message, not the information contained in that word.
Many people have misinterpreted Mahrabian’s proposal, going as far as suggesting that only 7% of the information of a speech is understood through the words, thus loading the vocal variety, gestures and body language with far more importance. Mahrabian says “unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable”.
“If we really could understand 93 per cent of what people are saying without recourse to words, we wouldn’t need to learn foreign languages and no one would ever get away with a lie”, explains Caroline Williams in her article “Lost In Translation” which features in the 6th April 2013 edition of New Scientist magazine.