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How We Communicate Beyond Words


Mar 01, 2002

I'm a call center manager in Kansas and am in need of the statistics on the three ways we communicate and how the percentages change when the communication is NOT face-to-face. I've seen it before, but I can't recall where. Can anyone help?

Body Language 55%
Voice Tone 33%
Words 12%

-- Christy Simonsen, Emprise Bank


  • Posted at 12:00AM on Apr 1, 2002

    The figures that I have used in training for telephone communication are:

    18% words
    82% voice quality (elements included: tone, inflection, pitch, rate and volume)

    Hope this helps! -- Kimberly A. Palczynski, Ford Motor Company

  • Posted at 12:00AM on Apr 1, 2002

    According to Kristin Anderson and Ron Zemke in Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service at least 70 percent of what is communicated is done without speaking a word. This would be nonverbal communication, which is defined as everything we don't say (i.e., body language, what we do, how we act and react, and what we show to others when we are with them). -- Kathryn M. Baker

  • Posted at 12:00AM on Apr 1, 2002

    ICMI recently included this information in its publication, Call Center Leadership and Business Management Study Guide: CIAC Certification Module Four. Our research found the following:

    Studies have shown that, in a face-to-face interaction, 58 percent of communication is through body language, 35 percent through how it was said and a mere seven percent through the content of the message. Without the advantage of body language, call center agents must "connect" with customers, e.g., establish rapport, know when to ask probing questions and "read" between the lines. Call center agents must learn how to minimize miscommunication with customers by taking full advantage of the communication tools at their disposal, such as vocal inflection, tone, rate of speech and, of course, the words they choose.

    I hope this information helps!

    -- Debbie Harne, Director of Educational Services and Membership Director, Incoming Calls Management Institute, Tel. 609-688-8384, Fax: 609-688-9095, debbieh@incoming.com

  • Posted at 12:00AM on Apr 1, 2002

    According to various sources, the percentage break down for how messages are conveyed in face-to-face situations is as follows (the percentages my sources show vary just a bit from the ones you listed)

    Body Language: 55%
    Tonality: 38%
    Actual words: 7%

    When the message is conveyed via the telephone, as you suggested, these percentages are quite different. According to the book, Beyond "Hello" by Jeannie Davis, the percentages can vary by interaction, but generally will be as follows:

    Body language (yes, even though we can't see the person we are speaking with, our body language can impact the message. Your telephone posture affects your body language. How much this percentage will decrease can depend on how your body language or posture affects your tone and the words you use. The percentage can range from 10-16%
    Tonality: approximately 70%
    Actual words: between 14% - 20%

    I hope this helps!

    -- Rose Polchin, President, RPolchin Consulting and Training, Certified Associate, Incoming Calls Management Institute, Tel. 201-652-0443, Fax 603-806-8162, rpolchin@att.net

  • Posted at 12:00AM on Apr 1, 2002

    Face to Face

    55% Body Language
    38% Tone of voice
    7% Words

    On the Phone

    86% Tone of voice
    14% Words

    Hope it helps. Source UCLA study. These are standard stats used worldwide. -- Ian Ian Stern / Lynda Lepcha, Holistic Enterprise (India)

  • Posted at 12:00AM on Jul 1, 2004

    I'd offer some caution on how these percentages (55%, 38%, 7% for nonverbal to verbal importance) are construed. The apparent author of these results (see Silent Messages, by Albert Mehrabian, 1981) was careful to note that these were specific findings for a specific set of variables. This is a qualifying statement from the author's web site:

    "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..." (www.kaaj.com/psych/)

    -- Steve Muller, Cogito USA

  • Posted at 12:00AM on Feb 1, 2005

    This is a famous urban myth and it's nonsense. The Mehrabian study was a specific, very limited, sitiuation involving the communication of feelings. It doesn't apply to general interaction at all, where both ideas and feelings are involved. Ever listened to someone speaking a foreign language? Did you understand 93% of what they were communicating? Possibly not. -- Matthew Brockington

  • Jasmine Funda Posted at 12:00AM on Aug 25, 2008

    Dr Ray Birdwhistell was the creator of this "model" named "kinesics". It was first used in 1952, not 1981 - and is a model (not fact). It was taken from numerous studies, and is used as a method of explaining why communication is so important. As trainers, it is imperative that this type of work is referenced and researched correctly, even though this is a model - Birdwhistell worked and created this. So please ensure you reference him in future. As you know many people take and repackage information like this as their own. The substance of a trainer doesn't come from the information they present but how they present it (with honesty and integrity). This model is used around the world in NLP schools, unfortunately many NLP schools write it as gospel, but it isn't; it is an example of a few studies! If you wish to research further, you will find Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead interesting. -- Jasmine Funda, QPC

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