28 June 2009

Margaret Thatcher, body language and non-verbal communication

Here's a simple exercise for anyone who really believes that only 7% of communication comes from the words we actually use.

In the first of these clips, according to purveyors of the Mehrabian myth, you'll miss out on the words (7% ) and tone of voice (55%), but at least you'll get 38% of Mrs Thatcher's message from her body language alone - or will you?


Now ask yourself, whether the words alone -"The Lady's not for turning" - convey any more than 7% of her message.

Then watch the second clip and ask yourself whether her body language and tone of voice add a further 93% to the intelligibility and/or power of her message:


And, if you'd like to know more about modern myths about body language and non-verbal communication, have a look HERE, HERE or read more on 'Physical Facts and Fiction' in my book Lend Me Your Ears: All You Need to Know about Making Speeches and Presentations.


Anonymous said...


what made you stick to literal numbers? 7 %, 30 %, ... doesn't really matter.

The point is, when you have access to all communication channels (verbal, non-verbal, ...), the non-verbal tell you better of real intent behind the words. For example, when i say "I like you" in angry way, will you believe my words or my voice tone?

But when all channels are aligned, they support each other; they doesn't strip each from other.

And of course its not 100 % receipt. Some people can fake it. Its just clue. Its not verbal OR non-verbal, but verbal AND non-verbal. Its an Communication as a whole.


Max Atkinson said...

Thanks for this.

I stuck to these numbers for the simple reason that they're the ones being trotted out as 'facts' on hundreds of misleading management training courses.

If, as you say, the numbers really don't matter, why do they get repeated so often? Could it be, I wonder, that some training consultants like to impress their pupils by making it sound as though what they are saying is 'scientific'?

In any case, I've never said that non-verbal factors don't matter at all, even though I do think that the Mehrabian myth purveyors grossly overstate their importance.

I also know what you mean by the concept of 'aligned' channels, and, though I didn't use that particular phrase, I even included some stuff on the coordination of words and gestures in 'Our Masters' Voices' (1984).

But there remains a pretty big problem about how you identify, measure and compare such phenomena with any degree of precision - and, more importantly, in such a way that other researchers can check out the validity of whatever claims you happen to be making.

Anonymous said...


People want practical numbers; Practical steps and tutorials. That's why there are millions of books "101 ways how to ..."
And that's why consultants repeat them all over again. People want numbers and consultants want business.
Result and reason for this is, people have false sense of control when have tangible data.

But, i argue, its rather an art then specific measurable phenomena. That's why there will always be arguments on certain percentages, as there are always arguments on who's religion is better.

But, absolutely welcome any step towards more precise understanding of these areas!


bobine64 said...

I'm a student in France and I want to do a master degree on Margaret Thatcher and the way she used the media. I would like to show how she changed the way she spoke, her discourses and the way she moved. Could you give me an advice ? I wanted to know which of your books are good for my master degree. I thought about Our Masters' Voices: Language and Body Language of Politics and Lend Me Your Ears: All You Need to Know About Making Speeches and Presentations but if you have some ideas on what i should read or watch I will be very grateful. Thanks in advance. Sylvie