Who’s to blame?

Did you ever realize that only 7% of your message is conveyed by actual words or content, while 38% is transmitted by tone of voice and volume of speech? (The other 55% is delivered through non-verbal means.) That’s at least what Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s published in his book “Silent Messages” about his research on nonverbal communication and emotions.

Even if you don’t agree with the numbers above (personally I have some problems with the mere 7% attributed to words that you speak), there is some lesson to learn for public (and non-public) presenters.

Although I realize that most blog posts are written only for reading, let me engage you in a small oral exercise. Read the text below aloud and put emphasis on the words in bold.

I didn’t say it was your fault.

didn’t say it was your fault.

I didn’t say it was your fault.

I didn’t say it was your fault.

I didn’t say it was your fault.

I didn’t say it was your fault.

I didn’t say it was your fault.

Did the way you stress certain words actually change the meaning of the statement?


Always make sure that your tone is consistent with your message. As such, it might be good to know the context and what comes after. The full version of this phrase (which is said to be one of Winston Churchill’s favorite paraprosdokians) sounds like: “I didn’t say it was your fault; I said I was blaming you.

3 thoughts on “Who’s to blame?

  1. A lot has been written about this “Mehrabian Myth”. For instance, here’s a very short piece showing that Mehrabian’s work is usually applied far too widely:

    There’s also a great 3½-minute video about it here:

    Still, it’s true that stressing a specific word in a sentence can change the meaning. It just doesn’t represent (the remarkably precise) 38%.

    Thanks Mark. Your list of sentences is a useful exercise.

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