The Importance of the Trust Equation

trust_equationpcaIn 2000, Harvard professors David H. Maister, Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Galford published a book called “The Trusted Advisor”. In this book, they discussed research that they had conducted, which examined how businesses go about choosing their legal service providers. In the course of this research, they found that it was actually possible to create a mathematical equation that could accurately represent the factors involved in this decision-making process.  The equation created by the professors was as follows:

Credibilty + Reliability + Intimacy divided by Self-Interest

Maister, Green and Galford called this “the trust equation.” Following the publication of their book in 2000, the trust equation rapidly became an influential model used within business development training.

The theory is that businesses rate potential lawyers with a metaphorical “score” based on the following factors:

Credibility – whether the lawyers appear to know what they are talking about;

Reliability – whether the lawyers do what they say they will; and

Intimacy – whether the lawyers understand the needs and interests of the client’s business.

Once the numbers for each of these factors are added together, the resulting score is then divided by another number, with this number representing the extent to which the lawyers were perceived to be acting in their own self-interest. Dividing the initial score by the self-interest number will give an overall score that shows how much the business is willing to trust the lawyers as advisers. Following on from this, the overall score also shows how likely it is that the business will engage those lawyers as advisers.

When the trust equation is applied to an understanding of personal communications training, it becomes clear where we need to place our focus. In the minds of others, undoubtedly, our reliability is often proved by our actions alone. However, credibility and perceived self-interest is often determined just as much by how we sound or look, as by what we say.

In Mehrabian terms, the non-verbal and tonal elements of the communication package become fundamental to gaining the other party’s trust. When we add the requirement for a high intimacy ‘score’ to the equation, it becomes paramount to have the ability to ask high-quality questions and to engage in real and active listening.

So, in conclusion, all of this demonstrates why PCA focuses so tirelessly on the ‘how’ of communication, rather than just the ‘what’ of communication. We realise that modern communicators must be given the specific tools necessary to take control of every aspect of their communication choices. This will increase their ability to achieve an invaluable high trust score overall, due to the application of the trust equation.

The Mehrabian Myth and The Real Secret to Effective Communication, part 2

In the first part of this two-part series, we discussed how the studies of Professor Albert Mehrabian at UCLA in 1967 have been misinterpreted and misquoted by communications trainers ever since. In particular, we talked about the so-called 55/38/7 rule, under which our non-verbals supposedly constitute 55% of our understanding of a message, our tone of voice 38% and our words only 7%.

We then discussed how this 55/38/7 rule doesn’t seem to hold true in many or even most communications, due to the huge impact of three crucial factors on these percentages. We mentioned that the first of these crucial factors is the context of the communication, and that the second is the communicator’s relationship to the other person.

Communication - Head

However, before we reveal what the third factor is, let’s just quickly consider why it is that communication trainers have been misquoting and misrepresenting Mehrabian with such gusto and conviction, for over 47 years. What is it that perhaps they don’t know about the studies, or didn’t feel they wanted to tell you about, that has led to such confusion? Here are five caveats to the studies that should be taken into account:

1] Mehrabian’s 55/38/7 model was created by combining two separate studies of his, which is something that is often viewed as being scientifically unreliable;

2] The studies were specifically conducted where there were feelings or attitudes (in other words, likes or dislikes) being communicated;

3] The studies considered only the communication of single words at a time (and, in one of the studies, tape-recorded words at that);

4] Other types of non-verbal communication such as body posture and gesticulation were not even considered in the studies. Indeed, in the study that used videos of people communicating, the camera was only focused on them from their necks up;

5] One of the studies was exclusively focused on women.

So, apart from these five caveats, the studies were flawless!

But, just to clarify, this isn’t a Mehrabian-bashing article – we think he was (and, in fact, still is) great. And it’s hardly his fault if various communication ‘experts’ continue to earn a very good living while misquoting him left, right and centre. In addition, Mehrabian has been extremely annoyed by all the constant misinterpretations of his work over the years. In this respect, he now has a disclaimer pertaining to these misinterpretations on his website, and he’s given countless interviews stressing his exasperation at how his model has been misapplied. If you want to hear his exasperation for yourself, just Google his BBC Radio 4 interview, which he gave in 2009.

Furthermore, it’s our view that amidst all of the Mehrabian misinformation that has been kicking around for nearly half a century, the real gem from his studies has been overlooked. And that gem is the critical importance of this word:

When we mention congruence in this context, we’re talking about the three elements of our communication matching up with each other. What Mehrabian’s studies actually show is that if we can make our tone match our non-verbals and, in turn, match our words, then people are more likely to perceive the intended meaning of our message from the words we’ve used. This can be contrasted with the situation where there is an incongruence somewhere in the communication – where we, as the audience, don’t feel that the words being used actually match up with the tone or the body language of the person saying them. In this situation of incongruence, the reptilian (and oldest) part of our brain takes over, and we’re more likely to focus on the non-verbals that we’re detecting.

For example, consider the following hypothetical situation. You’re walking home from the train station one night, and you spot a group of guys standing on a street corner. They’re dressed in what is the fashion for some people, namely tracksuits and trainers, and maybe one or two of them are even swigging from a can of something that you can’t quite identify. As you approach them, one of them says to you in a slightly aggressive tone: “Have you got the time?” You then notice that his eyes are firmly fixed on your laptop case, and he’s standing a little closer to you than you might expect, with one of his hands ever so slightly clenched.

What you’re really doing in this situation is sensing a massive incongruence. The guy’s words are harmless enough, in and of themselves. However, it’s his tone and non-verbals, mixed with the context of the situation and your relationship to him, which have put your reptilian brain on high alert. As a result, your reptilian brain will now be frantically whispering to your pre-frontal cortex: “Look, I know this guy says he’s asking for the time, but trust me, he isn’t actually interested in the fact it’s a quarter to ten!”

In other words, you’ve just made a very quick judgment about this guy’s actual motivation and the real meaning of his communication – and you’ve based this judgment on his tone and his non-verbals that you’ve detected, not his words. Essentially, this is incongruence in action: the guy’s tone and non-verbals were not matched up with the words he used, and you were immediately suspicious of him and his intentions as a result.

So, what does all of this mean for you and the way you communicate with others?

Well, do you want people to focus on your words when you communicate? Do you want them to feel that what you’re saying is authentic and genuine? And do you want them to judge or assess your communication based primarily on what you’re actually saying, rather than your tone or your non-verbals? If you do (and of course you do), then you have to be sure that your tone and non-verbal communication are in line with your words, or more specifically, with the message that your words are trying to convey. To put it another way, if you want to persuade and influence, and be understood with clarity and precision when you communicate, then you need to make sure that you’re congruent from head to toe.

In summary, it is congruence, and the way you use and control it, that will help you to become an expert communicator. It is congruence that is the real secret to effective communication. And it’s congruence that we should be focusing on from Mehrabian’s studies, not the much misinterpreted 55/38/7 rule, which has become the Mehrabian myth.

So, the next time somebody misquotes poor old Albert, perhaps you can direct them to the nearest flip chart, using only your hands and some carefully chosen vowel sounds to communicate. After you’ve done that, you can see how long it takes for them to start backing away slowly, before they then make a swift exit!

The Mehrabian Myth and The Real Secret to Effective Communication, part 1

What would you say if we told you that academic studies have proved 93% of human communication to be non-verbal in nature? In other words, what if we told you that only 7% of our understanding of any communication comes from what the other person actually says? Communication BoxInstinctively, you might reply that this statistic is absolute rubbish. And at PCA Law, we would agree with you.

Where did this statistic come from? Well, it comes from now-infamous studies conducted by Professor Albert Mehrabian at UCLA in 1967. Ever since then, communication ‘experts’ have been standing at the front of training rooms all around the world, teaching the Mehrabian communication model as if it was the holy grail itself.

In this two-part series, we’re going to tell you why you’d be right in calling this statistic absolute rubbish – why it is, in fact, the Mehrabian myth. It has been erroneously established as a communication model, and even a rule, after over 47 years (and counting) of remarkable misinterpretation and significant misrepresentation of Mehrabian’s studies. However, we’re also going to show you how we can still learn a great deal from Mehrabian’s studies, and we’ll reveal the real secret to effective communication.

The theory goes something like this. When we communicate, we use three critical tools to deliver the message from person A to person B:

1] Our words  – what we say;

2] Our tone – how we say it; and

3] Our non-verbals – or, in lay terms, everything else, namely body language, gesticulations, eye contact and facial expressions.

Well, so far, so good, and you probably don’t have too many complaints about the analysis at this point.

But now it gets tricky, as according to the Mehrabian myth, we can actually put percentages on these critical tools – and pretty exact ones, at that.

Under the Mehrabian myth, our non-verbals constitute a whopping 55% of our understanding of a message. Next, our tone of voice comes in at an impressive 38%. This leaves our words, the things that we like to believe are going to change the world, down at a pretty insignificant 7%. To repeat, under the Mehrabian myth, our words only make up 7% of how person A understands what person B is trying to communicate.

In countless management training sessions undertaken since Mehrabian’s studies, this 55/38/7 percentage breakdown has been adopted and taught as a rule. This rule supposedly proves that communication is fundamentally not about what you say, but instead is far more about the way that you say it.

Now at this point, you’re likely to be thinking that there is an element of truth to this rule. Intuitively, we know that the way messages are packaged does of course have an impact on how we receive them. However, you may well also be thinking that the so-called 55/38/7 rule just doesn’t seem to add up – certainly not all (or even most) of the time.

And this is because we know that there are two other critical and external factors that massively impact these percentages in day to day life. These factors are firstly the context of the communication, and secondly, your relationship to the other person:

The Context – for example, if you’re looking for a pencil, I might tell you that the pencil is in the desk in the upstairs study, second drawer down, in a small blue box. In this scenario, it’s the words that you’re going to be focused on, in order to understand where the pencil is located. As a result, the percentage for your words in this scenario is going to be a lot higher than 7% – in fact, it’s going to go through the roof.
Your Relationship – you might come home and tell your partner that you’ve got great news about a really big networking opportunity you’ve been offered at work. However, you might then go on to say that this means you’re going have to cancel that trip to Paris you’d been planning together. In this scenario, before your partner even opens his or her mouth, you’ll almost certainly have a good idea of exactly how they’re feeling about your news. This is because you know each other so well, and you’re so in tune with each other, that their non-verbal cues can do the job of a thousand words, and often in a fraction of second. So in this scenario, the percentage for your partner’s non-verbal cues is going to be extremely high.
But the good news is that there is a third critical factor, which you can use and control to have a massive impact on the percentages allocated to the words, tone and non-verbals in understanding a particular communication. Furthermore, when used consciously and skilfully, this factor can help you to communicate with greater precision, and with a greater chance of being understood exactly as you had hoped. And, as luck would have it, it’s also the factor that Mehrabian’s studies actually identified, all those years ago.

In the second and concluding article of this series we’ll reveal what this third factor is, and we’ll discuss how it can be used and controlled, as the real secret to effective communication. We’ll also be mentioning five caveats to Mehrabian’s studies that should be taken into account when considering the 55/38/7 percentage breakdown.


PCA Law (the Personal Communications Academy For Lawyers) are the legal sector’s specialist providers of conversation-based experiential training products

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