Brian Tracy is a highly regarded ‘guru’ in the field of self development – a self-styled Best-Selling Author and Success Expert. He’s someone I have long respected for the wisdom he writes and says. But today I received a promotional email from him that put a severe dent in that esteem. This is what he wrote:
“According to Albert Mehrabian of UCLA, there are 3 elements in any direct, face-to-face communication. They are the elements of words, tone of voice, and body language.
The Elements of Words Words only account for 7 % of any message.”
When I first heard that claim, I thought, “What rubbish!” Then a friend of mine, the late Philip Smee, delivered a speech on the subject, in which he revealed that even Albert Mehrabian would have said the same.
It is now well established that Dr Mehrabian never made such a claim, and spends his time denying it. His test results have been repeatedly quoted out of context. So when Brian Tracy repeats the error, I am concerned about the quality of his research and of his understanding of the communication process.
Earlier in the same email, Mr Tracy wrote, “Nearly 85% of what you accomplish in your career and in your personal life will be determined by how well you can get your message across …”
And also, “Nearly 99% of all of the difficulties between human beings, and within organizations are caused by breakdowns in the communication process.”
As I am in the business of improving the communication skills of my clients, I want to use those stats. I want to quote Brian Tracy as the authority for them and for the notion that effective communication skills are vital for business leaders.
Like him, I believe that good communication skills will help you achieve clarity in what you think, say and do, and help you become known as a respected communicator wherever you go.
I want to quote him. But, as he has joined the legions who mis-quote Albert Mehrabian, should I do that?
I once walked out of a seminar in which that same Mehrabian mis-quote was made, on the grounds that the speaker couldn’t teach me anything if he was prepared to trot out that old chestnut. Because I have held Brian Tracy in such high esteem for so many years, I hesitate to dismiss him out of hand.
But I think he’s shot himself in the foot.