Understanding the difference between words and meaning is a vital capability for effective communications and relationships. For example, as John Ruskin so elegantly put it:

"The essence of lying is in deception, not in words." (John Ruskin, 1819-1900, English art critic and social commentator)

The Mehrabian model is particularly useful in illustrating the importance of factors other than words alone when trying to convey meaning (as the speaker) or interpret meaning (as the listener), but care needs to be taken in considering the context of the communication: Style, expression, tone, facial expression and body language in Mehrabian's experiments did indeed account for 93% of the meaning inferred by the people in the study, but this is not a general rule that you can transfer to any given communications situation.

The understanding of how to convey (when speaking) and interpret (when listening) meaning will always be essential for effective communication, management and relationships. But using the Mehrabian percentages is not a reliable model to overlay onto all communications scenarios.

For example, Mehrabian's research involved spoken communications. Transferring the model indiscriminately to written or telephone communications is not reliable, except to say that without the opportunity for visual signs, there is likely to be even more potential for confused understanding and inferred meanings.

A fairer way of transferring Mehrabian's findings to modern written (memo, email etc) and telephone communications is simply to say that greater care needs to be taken in the use of language and expression, because the visual channel does not exist. It is not correct to assume that by removing a particular channel, then so the effectiveness of the communication reduces in line with the classically represented Mehrabian percentages. It ain't that simple.

It is fair to say that email and other written communications are limited to conveying words...