How important is body language?

Cover FinalYears ago I attended a management course where I was told, “tone of voice accounts for 38 percent of our message, 55 percent is communicated through body language and our words only account for 7 percent of the message”.

Over the years I’ve started to think that this is one of the most misquoted pieces of research ever. I have heard it quoted often. I’ve seen it referred to in books. And in just about every case it is quoted as though it refers to all face-to-face communication.

Thing is, it’s yet another of those pesky myths of communication—the things we believe that are not actually true.

On Mehrabian’s own website he states, “Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.” [My emphasis]

Richard Mullender addresses this myth in the first section of his book The Communication Secrets of a Hostage Negotiator. He suggests an experiment:

“Next time you’re watching a television drama or a movie, try a little experiment. Turn off the sound. Can you follow the story? Do you know what’s going on? Do you understand the relationships between the characters? Now, I’m sure you will have understood some of the show, and if it is part of a series you watch regularly, you probably understood quite a bit. But it most likely wasn’t enough to make you want to continue watching without sound. When you want the full story, you need to hear the words—they count for much more than seven percent.”

Richard then explains:

The Listening Expert Richard Mullender

The Listening Expert Richard Mullender

“Our verbal communication has three components:

  1. The actual words we use
  2. Our tone of voice
  3. Our body language, including facial expressions and gestures

Each is important and each helps us understand the message. But lose any one of them, and it becomes much harder to understand what is really going on. In my opinion lose the words and it becomes virtually impossible.”

So next time you’re talking to someone, it’s probably a good idea not to spend your valuable mental energy trying to work out what their crossed arms, or nose-touching are telling you. Listen carefully and focus on their words instead if you want to get a better idea of their message.

Business Writing Tip #54—Advantages and Disadvantages of Email

Email is very common in business and our personal lives. And it’s often abused.

Some people receive hundreds of emails each week. It’s important to decide if we really want to send an email to communicate something or not. It seems absurd that in some organisations people send emails to the colleague at the desk next to theirs to ask them simple layout

Don’t get me wrong. Emails are really useful and they have their place. I just want to encourage you to think about your reasons for sending an email before you write one.

Would you be better off having a conversation with the person?

Here are some email advantages and disadvantages to consider:


  • Personal
  • Easy to use
  • Can be used within and between organisations
  • Quick
  • Easily accessible even when travelling
  • Easy to file what you receive


  • Technical problems leading to unexpected non-delivery
  • Size restrictions for attachments
  • Easy to send, resulting in a lot of junk mail
  • Privacy and security considerations
  • Can be sent without giving due consideration to tone

Next time you find yourself typing, “hey, wanna go for lunch today?” to the person at the next desk, or in the next room, why not turn to them, or walk to their office, and ask the question? It’s much more personal and doesn’t clog up email inboxes.

Just saying…

Business Writing Tip #53—Numbers, Dates and Currencies


Usually we use words to write the numbers one to nine, and then use digits for the numbers 10 and above. We also use words when the number starts a sentence or comes after a bullet point.

  • Four hundred people have registered for the conference.
  • Five thousand Euros

In English, commas divide large numbers into groups. Decimal points are used for fractions.

  • 1,500 (one thousand, five hundred)
  • 1.5 (one point five, one and a half)


There are many ways to write dates in English. Spell out the date in full to remove any confusion. Use one of the following accepted formats:

  • 10 April 2013
  • April 10, 2013

Or, if you want to also include the day:

  • Wednesday, 10 April 2013
  • Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Important note:

Remember, if you decide to use the format dd/mm/yy or dd/mm/yyyy for dates your reader could be confused about which date you are referring to. In US English the format is mm/dd/yy or mm/dd/yyyy. Spell out the date more fully to avoid confusion. It would be inconvenient to have a visitor arrive on 7 June when you’re expecting them to arrive on 6 July.


Place the currency symbol before the number in English.currency

  • CZK 14,000
  • GBP 3,695.45
  • USD 230

Important note:

If you use the dollar sign ‘$’ make sure you specify which country’s currency you are referring to. Australia, New Zealand and Canada all use dollars, as do a number of other countries.


Business Writing Tip #52—A Bit More About Who You Are Writing For

Increasingly English is being used by non-native speakers, particularly in business. What does this mean when you are writing Business English?

It’s really important to remember that not everyone understands everything. When we write for non-native speakers we have to be careful about any idioms we use, and think twice about using long, overly-complex, sentences.

Fiona Talbot, co-author of the excellent book Improve Your Global Business English:The Essential Toolkit for Writing and Communicating across Borders, offers some useful advice. Fiona's book

  • Work out what your main message is before you start to write. If you aren’t clear about what you are trying to say, there’s a chance your reader won’t understand you.
  • Cut out the jargon that people may not understand.
  • Check your word choice to avoid confusion because some terms may not be taught in some countries. For example, use “two weeks” rather than “a fortnight”.
  • Break down chunks of text into bite-sized portions and use captions to help readers find their way through your documents.
  • Double-check your spelling and grammar every time. Mistakes that a native speaker might gloss over quickly and easily can cause frustration for a non-native speaker and prevent you from communicating your message.