Strangers understand questions, not non-verbal cues
on 07 June 2016
do talk to strangers, it may improve your life

Have you ever heard of the 7% - 38% - 55% rule of communication?  It is often stated as, that in any communication 7% is communicated by the words, 38% by voice inflection amd 55% by body language; but is this correct?

Not according to Albert Mehrabian, the man who developed the theory. He stated that it is the mismatch of communication, i.e. the degree to which there is incongruence between the three modes of communication, that is responsible for ineffective communication. His rule is often misinterpreted as meaning, that in any communication situation, the meaning of a message was being transported mostly by non-verbal cues, not by the meaning of words. However, if you have ever said anything insulting to a person; you definitely get the impression that the words conveyed 100% of the message! Imagine for a joke, you said something insulting to a friend or colleague. If you did not fully believe what you were saying, it is likely that will, or should, be conveyed in the non-verbal cues and body language. So, that being the case, your friend or colleague really shouldn't be concerned that you just called them an obtuse reprobate (or the colloquial equivalent); should they?


The research below sheds a different light on the subject of effective communication, albeit based on the initial conversation, however I think it can be expanded to all conversation, in the general sense?  Actually, I take a view that mis-communication, especially self mis-communication, is responsible for many of the woes and calamities in our everyday life. We have a tendency to be too brief, opening up the space between the lines as it were! As you know, the greater the space between the lines; the more people can read into them! So, it is essential that we learn to be better communicators. That is, in the spirit of Albert Mehrabian's rule, say what we mean; mean what we say! But there is much more to it than just saying what we mean. For example, what we say must be meaningful, as in, clear to understand the objective purpose of the statement. All too often we use vagueness or ambiguity and if a person clearly thinks they understand what you are saying; they won't question it - will they? It is for that reason that I pay specific attention to your mode of communicating, self and others, as a part of my therapeutic approach. Simply put, if others cannot fully understand what you are saying, chances are; neither can you and that may just be accentuating or perpetuating your particular life issue!

The research:
Psychologists at The University of Texas at Arlington have discovered that when two strangers meet and interact for the first time, the extent to which they develop mutual understanding depends on how much they talk and ask questions rather than on non-verbal cues such as gestures or exchanging glances. The UTA researchers used a specialized linguistic program to measure the extent that two strangers "get in synch" linguistically, providing new insight into the processes that underlie how people come to understand each other when they meet for the first time.

"Beginning in the 1970s, many researchers touted the power of non-verbal communication in creating first impressions and connecting with others," said William Ickes, co-author of the study and UTA Distinguished Professor of Psychology. "Our research indicates that the exchange of words in conversation is all that is really needed for the development of common-ground understanding in initial, unstructured interactions." Ickes, along with the study's lead author, Vivian Ta, and co-author Meghan Babcock, both UTA psychology doctoral students, recently published their results in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology as "Developing Latent Semantic Similarity in Initial, Unstructured Interactions: The Words May Be All You Need."

The first of their two studies focused on 26 female-female pairs and 20 male-male pairs, all volunteers from UTA undergraduate psychology classes, who were seated in a "waiting room" situation while their initial, unstructured interaction was covertly video- and audiotaped for six minutes while the experimenter left to run an errand before the session. A second study used a much larger sample that contained male-female pairs in addition to male-male and female-female pairs. A specialized linguistic program was used to analyze the transcripts of their conversations. This program measured each pair's latent semantic similarity, or the the degree to which they used words in the same way during their interactions. The researchers also recorded verbal and non-verbal behaviours seen in the video.

The results clearly showed that the pairs of strangers achieved higher levels of mutual understanding when they exchanged more words with each other and asked more questions. On the other hand, pairs in which the partners looked at each other more did not achieve significantly greater "semantic similarity" scores than pairs where the partners looked at each other less, and the same was true when comparing pairs in which the partners acknowledged each other more versus less or where they gestured to each other more or less. "We all know it's important to be able to establish common-ground understanding with the people you're interacting," lead author Vivian Ta said. "Our study shows that the key to this is verbal, not non-verbal."
Psychology Department Chair Perry Fuchs added, "This research on basic human interactions between strangers has implications for all aspects of our social lives and work contexts. It will be interesting to see how the researchers extend this work into the online space and telephone space where so many of our initial interactions are happening now."

The research reflects UTA's increasing focus on Health and the Human Condition within its Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions|Global Impact and the psychology department's growing reputation in psychological sciences, including social psychology and personality.

Story Source:
The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of Texas at Arlington. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:
1. V. P. Ta, M. J. Babcock, W. Ickes. Developing Latent Semantic Similarity in Initial, Unstructured Interactions: The Words May Be All You Need. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 2016; DOI: 10.1177/0261927X16638386