The 3 V's Of Communication

The 3 V's Of Communication

Albert Mehrabian proposed 3 elements of face-to-face communication:

1. Verbal – Words, Content – 7%

2. Vocal – Tone, Pitch, Intonation – 38%

3. Visual – Body Language, Facial Expression, Gestures – 55%

He states that the non-verbal elements are particularly important for communicating feelings and attitude.

If the spoken words disagree with the tone of voice and nonverbal behaviour, people tend to believe the tonality and nonverbal behaviour.

The following is an example of incongruence in verbal and non-verbal communication.
Verbal: "I do not have a problem with you!"
Non-Verbal: person avoids eye-contact, looks anxious, has a closed body language, etc.

It is more likely that the receiver will trust the predominant form of communication, which to Albert Mehrabian's findings is non-verbal (38% + 55%), rather than the literal meaning of the speaker’s words (7%).

Limitations of the 3 V's Of Communication

1. Artificial Context – This study was based on the judgement of meaning of a single recorded word; characteristics of the observers making the judgements were not taken into account; the purpose of the experiment was made plain to participants which may have skewed the results.

2. Only Measures Positive & Negative Emotions – This study was based on communication of feelings and attitudes (Like & Dislike), and may not be applicable in other communication situations. Albert Mehrabian himself states that, “Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.”

3. Simplistic Model – The model proposed is a good starting point to discuss face-to-face communication, but is not able to encompass all facets of actual communication. E.g.: Does an email only convey 7%? Can you watch a person speaking in a foreign language and understand 93%?

4. Makes Assumptions – The model assumes that the receiver understands the speaker; that they share a common language. However, if the speaker uses a language that is not understood by the receiver, then the non-verbal elements are unable to convey the bulk of the message. Furthermore, the percentages were derived from combining the results of 2 different studies, which isn’t a scientific method to draw conclusions.

5. Situation Specific – It is important to note that the results of this study are applicable only when the communication situation is ambiguous; the words spoken aren’t congruent with the tone of voice and body language.

Misinterpretation of the 3 V's Of Communication

This "7%-38%-55% Rule" has been overly interpreted in such a way, that some people claim that in any or all communication situation(s), the meaning of a message is transported mostly by non-verbal cues, not by the meaning of words. This is an incorrect generalization.

Implications of the 3 V's Of Communication

Despite the limitations and misinterpretations, the 3 V's Of Communication are still a helpful tool to understanding human communication. In particular, we can draw these conclusions:

1. Most face-to-face communication comes through non-verbal communication and not just words.

2. Without seeing and hearing non-verbal communication, it is easier to misunderstand the words.

3. When we are unsure about what the words mean, we pay more attention to non-verbal communication.

4. Developing our non-verbal communication skills will enable us to communicate more effectively.


1. Mehrabian, Albert (1981). Silent Messages: Implicit Communication of Emotions and Attitudes (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. ISBN 0-534-00910-7.

2. Mehrabian, Albert (1972). Nonverbal Communication. Chicago, IL: Aldine-Atherton. ISBN 0-202-30966-5.

3. Mehrabian, Albert; Wiener, Morton (1967). "Decoding of Inconsistent Communications". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 6 (1), May 1967: 109–114. doi:10.1037/h0024532. PMID 6032751.

4. Mehrabian, Albert; Ferris, Susan R. (1967). "Inference of Attitudes from Nonverbal Communication in Two Channels". Journal of Consulting Psychology 31 (3), Jun 1967: 248–252. doi:10.1037/h0024648. PMID: 6046577.

5. [Image] The 3 V’s of Communication. Published 17-Oct-2012. Source: . Retrieved 13-Jan-2013.

6. [Image] Albert Mehrabian and more, the rules of body language. Published 09-Jan-2011. Source: . Retrieved 13-Jan-2013.

7. Mitchell, Olivia. “Mehrabian and nonverbal communication” Published 03-Jun-2009. Source: . Retrieved 13-Jan-2013.