Monday, September 25, 2017


Developing a keen sense of observation is an essential part of learning to communicate in another culture. You may have heard of the “7% Rule,” an often cited –and greatly misunderstood—finding that verbal language accounts for only 7% of communication. This original study by Professor Albert Mehrabian of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the 1970’s was widely circulated and over simplified. But at the most basic level, it reminds us that information is overwhelmingly conveyed by what we see, and less by what we hear.

As you struggle to practice communicating American-style, begin by “mirroring” the Americans around you. In other words, notice what native speakers do with their non-verbal language as much as what they say. Observe their demeanor, gestures, and expressive style.

Watching movies and TV programs without the sound can help you to tune into facial gestures, such as nodding, smiling and eye contact; body language, including posture and movement while sitting or standing; and the physical interactions between people as they listen or speak.

For business and academic purposes, watching interviews or round-table discussions among serious people is particularly useful. Doing this when you’re alone, you can mimic these movements as you watch. Additionally, talk to yourself in front of a full body mirror at home. Hold conversations with yourself, adding the gestures you’ve come to recognize and practice. Then gradually move this activity into the real world with others around you.

Even without further understanding “why” you should express yourself one way or another, you can routinely start to observe and mirror the style of those you admire and wish to emulate or impress.

As you “mirror,” you will begin to see what style is effective and appropriate for the region and culture of your particular industry or academic discipline. You will observe, for example, acceptable patterns for interrupting, confronting, disagreeing, adding substance or detail, and concluding an interchange.

Incidentally, “verbal” mirroring, done in the same way, is useful when working on your pronunciation or intonation.