Sherlock – Mehrabian’s Rule


This morning I was watching an episode of Sherlock (BBC version) and found myself mulling over the personality traits of the characters Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick, Dr. Watson.  There are many topics that I want to post regarding personality types, personality disorders, etc. I want to, however, start with the topic of communication, specifically discussing interpersonal relations, attributions, and how these correlate with human behavior.  The character of Sherlock Holmes communicates very frankly and we as viewers never doubt the meaning behind his words.  However, we can’t say that about everyone, so let’s start with Mehrabian’s Rule.  Mehrabian’s Rule was developed by Dr. Albert Mehrabian who studied, researched, and taught at UCLA and is still writing and teaching today.

Let’s say you are on the phone with your significant other and they say, “of course I love you sweetheart” in the most sincere sounding way.  You feel all warm and fuzzy inside; however, on the other end of the line your significant other is rolling their eyes and is actually with someone else.  This epitomizes the Mehrabian’s Rule.

The words we speak are not the only way that we communicate with others.  Actually, only 7% of our words influence what it is we are actually saying.  Just like in the above example, words are by far the smallest way that we communicate with one another.

The tone of our voice says way more about the meaning of our words than the words itself.  The tone of our voice and the inflection it puts on our words influences 38% of what we are trying to communicate.  This is why it is difficult sometimes to understand emails or texts when it is not clear if the sender’s tone is being funny, sarcastic, mean, or glib.  This is also why sometimes we are manipulated by words when talking on the phone.  It’s easier to lie when you are not face to face.

The biggest influence in the way we communicate is through our body language, which influences 55% of our communication.  Again, in the example of the phone call, it is the body language that gives the true meaning behind the words that are spoken.  People who are astute to body language can understand more accurately what people are trying to communicate.  For example, you know when someone is lying when they are not looking you in the eye; you know someone isn’t interested in what you are saying because they are looking around, fidgeting and not paying attention; or you know when someone needs to go to the bathroom but they say they don’t (if you have kids who say they don’t need to go but are doing the potty-dance, you understand words don’t mean a thing).

In order for us to have successful communication, the three elements of words, tone, and body language need to be consistent.  Words are just that, only words.  Tone and body language need to convey the similar message or else a person will be sending out mixed signals.  The thing with Sherlock Holmes’ character is that he communicates his meaning consistently since his three elements are always in sync.  However, his ability to read other’s tone and/or body language is generally inaccurate, which makes an interesting character.

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