Communication Skills and the 55 Percent

by Betty Lochner on August 15, 2016

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I didn’t really say everything I said. – Yogi Berra

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten back to basics so I’m refreshing one of my early blogs that really hones in on that.  It all starts with this: successful communication is a package deal. It’s in the words you speak, in the tone of your voice and in the language of your body.

One study conducted at UCLA found that the impact of communication is:

7% = words spoken/written +
38% = percent tone of voice +
55% = percent body language 

Let’s talk about the 55 percent

If most of our communication cues come from our non-verbal cues (a whopping 55%) let’s spend at least 55% of our communication on that!

Without saying a word, you reveal your feelings and attitudes. Your smile says, “I’m happy,” your frown and crossed arms say “I’m mad,” and your drumming fingers say “I’m impatient.” Your pouting may mean, “I’m frustrated.”

Even when you try to show nothing, your closed-off stance and refusal to speak says, “I don’t want to talk about it. Leave me alone.” The silent treatment speaks volumes. 

Body Language: Your key to communication success

Improving your body language is all about self-assessment and learning how you come across (or don’t).  And, once you’ve focused on how you are coming across you can begin working on how to change your body language to improve your communication.  

1. Eye contact — Do you use eye contact regularly? Keep it comfortable and maintain it as much as possible.

2. Facial expression – What is your face showing? Is it inexpressive, or emotionally present and filled with interest? 

3. Tone of voice – Does your voice project warmth, confidence, and delight, or is it strained and blocked? 

4. Posture and gesture – Does your body look still and immobile, or relaxed? Sensing the degree of tension in your shoulders and jaw should answer this question. A relaxed posture with your hands at your sides is best. 

5. Touch – Remember, what feels good is relative. Be careful about touch unless you know how you will be received. 

6. Intensity – Do you or the person you are communicating with seem flat, cool, and disinterested, or over-the-top and melodramatic? This has as much to do with what feels good to the other person as it does with what you personally prefer.

7.Timing and pace – What happens when you or someone you care about makes an important statement? Does a response—not necessarily verbal—come too quickly or too slowly? Is there an easy flow of information back and forth?

8. Sounds – Do you use sounds to indicate that you are attending to the other person? Do you notice sounds from others that indicate their caring or concern for you?

Source: The Language of Emotional Intelligence by Jeanne Segal

Building Your Communication Skills Toolbox

The easiest way to improve your communication skills is to pay attention to all to words written, words spoken, and body language. They all contribute to the message you send. And while it’s important to focus on body language (the 55%), you should always use as many of your tools together as possible. 

So, get out of your chair and tell your cubicle neighbor what you want to say instead of e-mailing. Call your friend instead of texting. Look up from the TV when someone talks to you. Most of all, focus on communicating! It doesn’t always come naturally. You have to learn and work at it to get better. And, like most things worth having in life, the more you practice, the easier it becomes.  


IMG_0011Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation and is the author of  Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home, 52 Communication Tips, and Gladie’s Gift

To find out more about Cornerstone’s services and offerings visit our website:

Photo credit: Shootin’ for Fun


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sue March 28, 2011 at 8:11 am

And it’s interesting how non-verbal communication can also affect your verbal communication. We leave mirrors by our computers and phones that say “Smile. They can hear it in your voice.” Even when you’re on the phone, body language seems to matter.

2 Betty Everitt Lochner, M.Ed. February 17, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Thanks for comment! You are right. The hard part is using texting when texting works fine — like simple instructions "pls get milk", but it can be way overused, to the extent of in place of a using face-to-face communication when it is more appropriate.

3 Jaron February 17, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Calling someone instead of texting? That is so tough to do, especially since simple things can be communicated more effectively through a text. Sending a text while you are in a meeting to your spouse: "pick up milk on the way home plz" is a lot faster/easier than remembering and being distracted the whole time in the meeting and calling afterwards. I think the problem is that since it is so much easier to send those kind of messages via text, basic communication like "hey whats up" gets pushed into the non-important text realm as well. Thanks for the tips have a great day!

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