Hugh Gibbons' references and extra information
hunnybone for March 2015

for pharmaceutical physicians, colleagues and friends

at Work
PPhood for
PPhurther Education:









PP readers of a sensitive nature (both of you) should look away now. 

And people introducing presentation skills courses who claim something that goes like this: “It’s been scientifically proven that 75% of all communication is by body language, 20% by voice, and only 5% by the actual words.”  

Except insofar as it isn’t.  Such claims are - to use the globally-recognised technical term - a load of bollocks; of which, more anon.  (Challenge trainers by asking if they’ll mime the rest of the conversation.  They might do better to encourage everyone in meetings to SPEAK UP instead of believing quiet voices will do.  Or when you’re not talking, look interested in what other people have to say.)

 The claim arises from a tiny and much misquoted and misinterpreted 1967 study – in itself pretty remote from your standards of evidence.  UCLA psychologist Jack Mehrabian suggested a numeric formula where there was disparity between speakers’ words and facial expression.  Ever since he’s had to NB: “Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.” 

 Producer Seymour Hicks put his finger on the nub. “I want you to stand perfectly still and without saying a word to convey the idea that you have a brother who drank port in Shropshire.”  Words can do the work in a couple of seconds; as you know they do on paper, on-line, on radio, on tablets – and in PP.

 Sometimes just a mark suffices.  In May, communication on the UK people’s political choice will be by a single X on a ballot slip.  In the polling booth, no-one can hear you scream.  On Election Night, that won’t stop well-paid professional ‘experts’ pontificating verbally and interpreting “body language”.

You want a shard of evidence?  Rewind to that telling night in 1997.  The count is tense at Enfield Southgate.  As the candidates shuffle on to the platform for the declaration, the TV psychologist says he can tell who’s won – “from their body language”.  Michael Portillo has his arms down and hands clasped together, “as if protecting his privates”.  In contrast, Stephen Twigg stands hands confidently behind his back. This “clearly indicates the confidence” of someone knowing that no kick in the goolies is on the way.  Twigg is duly revealed as the winner.  Job sorted.

But at the declaration in 2005, when Twigg lost the seat, his hands were again behind his back.  It’s his everyday stance.  Likewise, Portillo’s affable TV rail journey programmes show it’s natural for him to stand hands folded in front (as with many women in public settings).  Their normal baseline behaviour is on show, and needs taking into account.

As folk psychologist Willy Shakespeare put it (Body language 0%, Voice 0%, Words 100%), there’s “no art to find the mind’s construction in the face”.

So be wary before you diagnose someone’s inner state just from their outward appearance.  If I fold my arms, don’t construe that as repelling you; it’s just to be comfortable when arthritis grips my hands.  Unless you’re an overclaiming presentations trainer. 

Then lend me your ears - for bending.


For more information at any time, contact
The Conductor of Just1, Hugh Gibbons

Tel: 01344 451847

Write: 75 Qualitas
Roman Hill
Berks RG12 7QG
United Kingdom