Secret Messages – What You See Is Not What You Always Get

Image for Ponderings Magazine

Written by Kirsten Macdonald

June 2, 2020

Let me paint you a picture. Two people are in a combative stance. 


You are all at a BBQ (no more than 10 of course) and these two are clearly unhappy, but there is no yelling. You can see something is up. How so? It has to do with all of the information you may be getting about the scene. So what are you picking up on? Most likely, you are witnessing and making discerning decisions about their body language along with the tone they are using and any preconceived knowledge you have of them. 

Ponderings Magazine Image
Image for Ponderings Magazine

On closer inspection as you move closer to the chips and french onion dip you notice they are indeed having a bit of a verbal stoush. 

One person’s words you note are not overtly triggering or upsetting, but there is an undertone. So what is going on? The quirky morsel to observe is the circular tread of the conversation; they agree with each other to a degree. So why so tense?


Welcome to the Mehrabian rule! 

These perceptions are very intricate; there is evidence to suggest decision making is often a subconscious action.

Born in Iran in the brutal and tragic Armenian genocidal hangover of 1939, Professor Emeritus of Psychology Albert Mehrabian is somewhat revered for his 7-38-55 rule. Mehrabian’s groundbreaking research and publications were extensive; however, his work on verbal and non-verbal messages became the tightly held tools of negotiators, FBI agencies and more recently business coaches across the globe. 



Now living and teaching in California USA, the Prof’s rule gave some remarkably juicy insights into human behaviour. 

The rule states that 7 % meaning is communicated through spoken word, 38 % through the tone of voice, and 55 % via body language. 

Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking. 

Mehrabian’s work was all about what he called the ‘silent messages’ – how people communicate their intent – what they really mean non-verbally. 

As Dr Nick Morman, says in Debunking The DebunkersWe get most of our clues of the emotional intent behind people’s words from non-verbal sources. And when the two conflict, we believe the non-verbal every time.” 

In other words, (pardon the pun) when I am speaking to someone and what they are saying is not matching the rest of their “output” I will rely on the non-verbal information more so.

 We never come to an interaction with another human without preconceived ideas. We are the result of our learning and experiences, the social cues we pick up and learn along the way are our complex resource for perceiving others, and plot twist: it is NOT always correct. 

These perceptions are very intricate; there is evidence to suggest decision making is often a subconscious action. 

We also have body language and tone quirks that will give away what we really think or believe more so than what we are saying. 

Remember the saying; the smile doesn’t match the eyes? Instant suspicion may be induced and a feeling of mistrust or weariness when we get this vibe from someone. The more discerning we become, the more powerful we are at reading these messages. 

Ponderings Magazine Image by analogicus from Pixabay

You may have read in my other articles I was blind for a time after brain surgery in 2012. 

Well, I can tell you this event removed 35 years of social cue learning of the non-verbal kind. Unable to observe gestures or facial expressions made it impossible to understand social nuances how I normally would. To begin with, it was frustrating; however, I soon gleaned the tone of voice of others in a life-changing way. 

Our bodies are a work of engineering prowess. When blindness occurs often a substantial structural reorganization of the brain happens, wherein the parts of the brain typically specialized for vision are recruited for the processing of stimuli in other modalities. I know, right? 

Some studies suggest that blind persons may possess “supra-normal” nonvisual sensory capabilities, as a result of either perceptual learning (Gagnon, Ismaili, Ptito, & Kupers, 2015) or the reorganization of various brain areas. For the unlearned “supra-normal” means: transcending the normal: greater than expected or usual. 

I know, it is pretty awesome. What you see is NOT what you always get. 

References for further reading and resources used:  

Supranormal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Jun. 2020.

Written by Kirsten Macdonald

Award winning fitness champion and campaigner for those who want to be the best version of themselves.

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