Mr K is standing in his classroom, with an angry expression, a frown on his face, his arms folded in front of him and hands clenched into fists. He calls S, a student in his class, to stand up. His tone is rigid and his pitch is high. And with the same body language and the same tone, he says, “S, I am really proud of you! You have scored the highest marks in Science in the entire class across sections. Keep it up!”
Will S believe him? The truth is, he may or may not. But why will S be confused?
You see, there were three elements involved in the communication– Mr K’s body language and expressions, his tone of voice, and his words. Since these three will make up our 7-38-55% rule, we must understand them well.
Let’s start with the words. Any communication where words are involved is called verbal communication. The tone of voice, rate of speech, pitch and volume are all a part of how we say those words and all of them put together form paraverbal communication. Finally, any communication where body language, facial expressions, gestures and space are involved is called nonverbal communication.
Now the 7-38-55% rule. This rule was a result of a research conducted by a behavioural psychologist, Professor Albert Mehrabian. He stated that when a listener interprets a message, he uses 7% of verbal communication, 38% of paraverbal communication and 55% of nonverbal communication to process the message.
So when Mr K communicated with S the way he did, S was left confused! His brain processed Mr K’s nonverbal communication as angry and upset. His tone was quite similar, that’s another 38%! All that was left was 7% of verbal communication. Mr K’s words didn’t even matter to S!
Now that we have this valuable information, what can we do about it? Two things –
- We must be consistent in our communication. We must give similar responses to similar stimuli. For instance, if student X scored a 10 on 20 and we gave him constructive feedback, we must do the same for student Y when he scores a 10 on 20. Learners should be able to anticipate our responses.
- We must be congruent in our communication. Our verbal, paraverbal and nonverbal communication must be in sync with each other. For instance, if I am praising a learner, my tone must be soft and pleasant and body language must be open and receptive.
And since 55% of our communication is received through nonverbal communication, it would be a good idea to pay it extra attention.
Here are five ways in which you can use nonverbal communication to convey your message effectively to your learners.
- Maintain soft eye contact with every learner in the classroom. Hold your gaze on each learner for about 10-15 seconds before shifting eye contact to another learner. This way, every learner will feel that you are engaging directly with them.
- Use positive gestures and facial expressions freely. Move arms, raise eyebrows, smile often to enable them form associations between the content and your nonverbal communication. They will retain information better with these kinds of associations.
- Keep your body language open. It is important to keep open arms and to stand tall with a straight back. Such body language draws learner attention and keeps them focussed on your words.
- Use body language to show appreciation. Smile at the learners, clap your hands, nod your head and give a thumbs up to show your appreciation and to praise your learners. This will help them feel more confident and self-assured.
- Show curiosity and interest through body language. Tilt your head on one side, make eye contact and lean towards the learner when he or she is speaking to show that you are interested and are listening carefully.
Finally, please remember that the 7-38-55% rule has 7% verbal and 38% paraverbal communication as well. It is always important to choose our words and the tone carefully!
If you want to dive deeper into this area of teaching and learning, please feel free to check out our course on Management of Classroom Dynamics.