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Are You a Hugger or Handshaker? The Answer Will Determine Your Sales Success

By Special Guest
Mark Kosoglow, VP of Sales, Outreach.io
January 30, 2018

I greet the people I care about with a hug. It doesn’t matter if it is my wife, my friend, my co-worker, or my customer. A hug communicates something I want them to understand: I care about them.

Albert Mehrabian's 7%-38%-55% Rule of Personal Communication strongly influenced my preferred greeting–it states only 7% of personal communication is done in words, 38% is in tone, and 55% is body language. Imagine the increased effectiveness gained when more than half of one’s communication is universally recognized as an expression of affection and honor.


In the modern sales environment, hugs are harder to give. Phone calls, texts, video conferences, LinkedIn messages, emails–they are all the equivalent of “handshake business.” I give handshakes to people I am unsure of, people I don’t know, and my competitors. I doubt Mr. Mehrabian, in 1967 when he published his research, imagined a world where the ability to avoid face-to-face interaction would become a selling point for some products and services. It really busts his ratio.

We need to define what the new, digital version of the 7%-38%-55% Rule of Personal Communication is, so we can make sure we are doing business as, and with, huggers and not handshakers. Today, we still maintain the words we use, but we lose the body language and tone. How many times have you misread a text-based communication because there was no verbal tone to cue off of? Because of this, the words we use are more important, and we should slightly increase the 7% currently afforded in Mehrabian’s ratio.

The way we use brevity in communication today has become a direct replacement for tone. Unlike face-to-face communication where brevity can influence tone with an interpretation of rudeness, digital communication reads brevity as conscientiousness. Whether you like it or not, emojis are also a digital version of tone–numerous studies confirm it. For example, a comment intended to be funny can be interpreted as rude until a “smiley face” emoji follows and ensures the reader will understand tone. Verbose communication often gets ignored, so this factor’s 38% allotment should be increased in Mehrabian’s ratio.

Channel (e.g. email, text, social connect, phone call, video conference) is the digital equivalent of body language: the posturing of communication. Purely text-based insinuates, in many cases, a laziness or an “I’ll do it at my own convenience” attitude. Social connections in this case are a bit better as there is some context as to who you are. Phone calls are better yet, and video is the best. I count the latter two as the most sincere and human-centric forms of communication. However, most people prefer the channel they can control which leaves the seller guessing and causes this portion of the ration to be minimized.

Assuming you believe words, brevity, and channel are adequate replacements for words, tone, and body language as the fundamentals of communication in the digital age, here is the new modern Mehrabian/Kosoglow ratio: 21%-64%-15%. Twenty-one percent of effective communication is due to words, 64% to brevity, and 15% to channel. Brevity is three times more important than the channel and the words you use. This makes sense, as regardless of the channel you choose, your words aren’t read if there are too many of them.

When assessing your customer-facing (and internal) communication, use this ratio to prioritize accordingly. Brief communication with the right message in the proper channel ensures your company comes across as a collection of trustworthy huggers, not mysterious handshakers.




Edited by Maurice Nagle


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