A myth that sticks – Mehrabian Myth

Several years ago I was exposed to this statistic when it came to communication. People understood and made meaning of someone’s speech using three components. Plus there was a percentage distribution as well. It went like this.

7 % of understanding/ meaning came from Words / Content
38 % of understanding / meaning come from Tonality
55 % of understanding / meaning came from Body Language

It was called 7%-38%-55% Rule, for the relative impact of words, tone of voice, and body language when speaking. Needless to say, the importance of ‘body language’ and ‘voice’ were emphasised.

For several years, these numbers stuck. Why wouldn’t it?  It was repeated many times over. Seemed entirely plausible. It was attributed to a Stanford research. All was well with the world. Those were the days of innocence. Then came the internet and the truth was far more accessible.
Some preliminary reading revealed that the original idea and research was completely twisted and taken out of context.

The numbers themselves are said to have appeared in 1971, for the first time. By a gentleman by the name of Albert Mehrabian in his book titled ‘Silent Messages’. But the context and even the subject of what Mehrabian said is vastly different from what was being bandied in the open.

What Mehrabian says ( as quoted in here )

* Total liking = 7% verbal liking + 38% vocal liking + 55% facial liking

* Total feeling = 7% verbal feeling + 38% vocal feeling + 55% facial feeling

Albert Mehrabian seems to have been getting at is advocate consistency between action, message and the real self. And also between words, voice and body language. Any inconsistencies between these is going to make it difficult for the audience. And more importantly, the audience will believe ‘less’ of whats being said.

His pronouncement that the audience will perhaps rely more on the actions that are seen than the words that are spoken, perhaps have been converted simplistically into this 7 % + 38 % + 55 % theory that prima facie alters meaning.  There is ‘nothing said about the relative contributions in general speech’ ! 🙂

So, here goes.

a. Words are as important. (as ever)
b. Consistency between words, actions and tone is very important for the belief quotient to be high.

Some of these myths stick far too longer than warranted. The other day I was amidst a set of trainers, who laid bare their affection and regard for the 7-38-55 rule. Instantaneously I knew I had a topic for a blogpost.

Safety in the works

Every time I sit in an aircraft, the safety demonstrations have never failed to bring about a sense of weariness and boredom in me.  I have always made it a point to look around and see what co-passengers are doing and it isnt very different at all. Usually.

Given how important those demonstrations are, both the quality and quantity of our attention we give to this, is quite a travesty! I have often wondered if there was any way in which you could make it more effective.

A few days ago, I came across this video from Virgin America. Take a look.

Some more primary digging lead me to similar attempts by Air New Zealand and Cebu airlines. Although, I thought, Virgin America’s attempt was a cut above the rest. Of course, they would require more videos to add to the variety.  Perhaps a touch of different songs to suit different cultures and geographies they are flying to / from. But to me, it is a brilliant idea for a start.

While these could be different aspects that a learning function may be working on, in my mind I club compliance training / safety demonstrations into one genre. They needn’t be be dull and boring affairs.  A typical response is captured here. That they are is illustrated in how most of us build them and how it is treated.

Charles Jennings wrote about how broken it really is and a few pointers on how it can be fixed as well.  While every organisation seems to be grappling with it, creative, imaginative solutions to the problem remain a far cry, Please do share if you have a few in your arsenal.

Coming back to the Flight safety demonstration of Virgin America, I think it is an attention grabber for sure!  It is an imaginative, enterprising start.

At the end of the day, a video lends itself beautifully to ‘passive consumption’. Sit back, relax and enjoy the video, if you like it that is. A higher degree of effectiveness is possible with ‘active participation’. That I believe is something we need to go to work with.  Innovative ways of garnering interest need to fuel active participation and ‘performance’

Running the learning function – #PhilipsHRTalks

Philips HR Talks is turning out to be a powerful medium for conversation, sharing and exchange of ideas. Put together by the wonderful combination of Yashwant Mahadik and Gautam Ghosh, this has indeed taken shape as a platform for sharing ideas, thoughts, experiences in Human Resources.

This is an evolving niche. and Yash sets the context for the Philips HR Talks here. #PhilipsHRTalks has acquired a niche of its own generating great interest in the HR community, students and academia in this geography.
When Gautam invited me over to share thoughts on Learning in the modern day context, I was only more than happy to participate. I chose to title the talk “Running the Learning Function”, keeping my own experience of running a marathon to give a narrative coherence.
Here is the full video.

It had to be straight forward and simple. At the same time, I endeavoured to bring to fore the challenges and dilemmas that accost every learning leader and aspects that perhaps will help in building a ‘learning organisation’ of sorts.
The aspects that I thought pertinent, include
1. The importance of keeping ‘learning’ simple and helping people ‘see through’
2. The need for chunking and keeping learning in small chunks
3. Elements of collaboration and its impact on learning
4. Building commitment and the aspects that aid in that journey
5. The need for building choice inherently in the system
6.  The seeking for creating meaning
7. The critical role of community!
As much as these are aspects of learning this indeed are the components of my story of running! I had great fun putting it together. Do give it a look. The warm and generous feedback has been beyond my expectations. Thats given a very happy ring to it.
Long after I completed the talk, a good friend and fellow runner passed this video to me. I wish I had seen it before. For these perhaps are the stages in running the learning function as well!

As always, would love to hear your views.

Another classification of learners!

Often, when speaking to sets of participants attending learning programs, I find myself share a ‘classification of learners’. I wish I could remember where I had read it, for me to cite reference here.

The classification in itself is a rather telling and usually elicits some shifting of feet, muted laughter, smirks, smiles and sometimes,  guffaws!  Broadly, this is what I say.

There are four classes of learners who come to attend a ‘training program’

a. Prisoners : Participants who have been ‘sentenced’ to a few days of training. Who would much rather be doing m(any) other things, but who are there in the room, because they have been forced to ‘attend’ the program. Left to themselves they’d much rather be doing other things.

b. Vacationers: Self explanatory, isn’t it?!? A training program seen as an opportunity to stay away from work, get paid for it and yet enjoy the best of venues / food and generally catching up with long lost friends and colleagues. A meta coffee machine of sorts, to catch up on all whats happening in the organisation.

c. Experts : Participants who consider themselves as ‘experts’. With ‘expert opinion’ at the expense of leaning something new. Sometimes that may be well founded. Many times not so! Perhaps its their background, the colleges that that they have gone to, the experiences that they have accumulated, the seniority in the organisation. Past learning inhibits future learning !

d. Explorers : Explorers are those that are possessed with a sense of curiosity and discovery. People who know a few things, but are always seeking for learning something new. Building on what they know, treating it as an adventure, taking risks, assimilating experiences of all in their line of sight and daring to go where they havent gone before. For those reasons, explorers are all great learners. Learners are also ‘explorers’ in their contexts !

This classification applies to all of life too. For learning is a life long event. Nay, journey! True learners are those that are filled with curiosity. Those that approach every moment with a sense of possibility and with a spirit of exploration. For that is the spirit of life. One look at our children teach us that. Filled with questions, playfulness and armed with a surfeit of curiosity.

Somewhere along the way, as we grow up, we become ‘experts’ or vacationers of life. And sometimes prisoners too. Perhaps its time to unleash to the child in us. To be real explorers to get to be good learners.

“Learning is a journey” is a much abused and clichéd phrase. One could go through that journey as any one of the above and yet up going to a completely new land or not traversing any distance at all.

The key to the ‘Journey’ must be realisation that journeys always involve change. A change of scene. A change in speed. Many times, new eyes too. And change is inherently uncomfortable. Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable is so key to learning. So key to life.