Written, Audio, and Face to Face – Which is Best?

Face to Face
(Image captured from

Many, in discussing the impact of communication, have quoted – or rather, misquoted a 1967 study performed at UCLA by Albert Mehrabian, which appeared to show that only 7% of communication is through words (, n.d.), with the remainder comprised of tone and body language.  While multiple sources – including Mehrabian’s own web site -have shown that it was not Mehrabian’s intent to apply this percentage to all communication (Mehrabian, 2011), and some have attempted to debunk his research altogether, the fact remains that nonverbal cues such as tone and body language do impact perception of communication.  Again from

“Useful extensions to this understanding are:

  • It’s not just words: a lot is communication comes through non-verbal communication.
  • Without seeing and hearing non-verbals, it is easier to misunderstand the words.
  • When we are unsure about what the words mean, we pay more attention to the non-verbals.

We will also pay more attention to the non-verbal indicators when we trust the person less and suspect deception…”

The site goes on to say that one of the most practical applications of this extension is to be wary of communication that contains only words – specifically citing email!  In the example from our class resources, I began as I read the email communication to add my own inflection to the words – inflection that was substantially different from that of the second audio-only example!  The implication of this is clear: someone reading this very communication requesting a report so that her own would not be late could very well interpret the email as angry, even though the specific language was both polite and professional!

Even the audio was imperfect.  There were a couple of moments in the audio communication that I perceived annoyance on the part of the speaker.  The words seemed a little “short” – perhaps even terse.  Yet, when I watched the face to face version, the speaker’s expression betrayed none of this.  She was communicating a simple request, offering her reason for the request, and communicating her consideration of the hearer’s situation!

Going forward, whenever I read “that” email, I need to remember that what I read may not be what the writer intended.  Further, as I write an email, I must be mindful of my readers’ perceptions.  Would it be better to call and leave a message?  Almost certainly.  Better still, when possible get face to face with the hearer.  Fortunately, in today’s technology-advanced world, there are ways to do so even when distant from the receiver of the communication, such as the many video chat applications available.  As an aspiring Project Manager, I could save the lost productivity and hard feelings that could arise by following this simple precept.


Face to Face Conversation. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Mehrabian’s communication study. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Mehrabian, A. (n.d.). “Silent Messages” — Description and Ordering Information. Retrieved from

Written, Audio, and Face to Face – Which is Best?


Posted by on November 13, 2013 in Uncategorized