In the previous post, we discussed how some facts can seem like the truth. Now, let’s look at another statistic that has been misrepresented for years:
If you Google the above percentages you will find page after page of information about the Mehrabian study. I first saw these percentages used in a seminar in 2008 as the gold standard for communication as a speaker. It was repeated at seminar after seminar as the factual data for how a speaker is received by the audience.
However, the statistics for that information are not only flawed, but completely un-factual in the context it was shared in.
From Wikipedia: The information is based on two studies reported in the 1967 papers “Decoding of Inconsistent Communications” and “Inference of Attitudes from Nonverbal Communication in Two Channels”. Both dealt with the communication of positive or negative emotions via single spoken words, like “dear” or “terrible.”
The first study compared the relative importance of the semantic meaning of the word with the tone of voice, and found that the latter was much more influential. The second study dealt with facial expressions (shown in black-and-white photographs) and vocal tone (as heard in a tape recording), and found that the relative contributions of the two communication channels had the ratio 3:2. Mehrabian then combined the results of the two studies to obtain the ratio 7:38:55.
There are several limitations of the study’s applicability to real life, which are largely ignored when the study is now cited outside a scientific context and contribute to the misinterpretation above.
First, it is based on the judgment of the meaning of single tape of recorded words, i.e., a very artificial context. Second, the figures are obtained by combining results from two different studies, which are inappropriately combined. Third, it relates only to the communication of positive versus negative emotions. Fourth, it relates only to women, as men did not participate in the study. Fifth, other types of nonverbal communication, e.g., body posture, were not included in the studies.
I’ve used 2 examples that are prevalent both online and in presentations and discussion. They have been used extensively as erroneous examples of half truths or partial facts. They are examples for the importance of verification of any facts presented to you. When someone presents facts as part of a discussion to reach an agreement, you should always verify. Facts can be used to sway a negotiation one way or the other. If the facts are inaccurate, decisions can be made based on bogus data.
Verifying the facts also gives you more power in the negotiation. If you find something that is not factual, you can call them on their stuff and potentially gain a concession. If the facts are so egregious, it maybe a reason to pull out of the negotiation or deal.
I was helping one of my clients recoup their security deposit. The landlord said the useful life of the carpet is 12 years and that the carpet was just about 12 years old. They said since the carpet was damaged, my client was responsible for replacing the entire carpeting in the house. However, upon verification of the facts, the useful life rule is between 7-10 years, not 12. Had I not verified this fact, she may have been stuck with paying for the carpet.
Just because someone else is in a position of authority doesn’t mean they know all the facts. Ask to see the policy, procedure or regulation. Or better yet, look it up yourself. Use this strategy to ensure you are getting the best deal possible in your negotiations.