Body Language Speech Patterns and the 7/38/55 Principle in WorkLife Interactions

Charlie Had Been Tasked With Helping to Improve Morale Within His Company, but He’d Come Away From the Meeting Feeling He’d Achieved Nothing

Photo by Tugba Tirpan

Body Language Speech Patterns and the 7/38/55 Principle in WorkLife Interactions is part of a series of people’s stories about how the ability to read the situation and the other side in the moment is key in all WorkLife interactions: from exchanges to conversations, conflict to cooperation, differences to understanding, refusals to negotiations, and much, much more.

Body Language Speech Patterns and the 7/38/55 Principle in WorkLife Interactions: A Case Study

Charlie wasn’t happy with how his first meeting had gone. He had been tasked with helping to improve morale within his department, but he’d come away from the meeting feeling he’d achieved absolutely nothing.

But let’s back up a little to understand how Charlie found himself in this situation.

Morale at the auto-parts factory Charlie worked at had never been great. The general consensus among workers was that it was a job, no more, no less. People were thankful to have a job, especially within this industry which had been impacted by so many downturns in the economy, causing downsizing in many companies. Workers turned up for their shift, did what was required of them — no more, no less, that was about it really.

Oscar as new plant manager wanted to turn this around. He wanted to get to the bottom of what was going on — what people were thinking and feeling, and why they were thinking and feeling this. He felt the person to uncover this needed to come from within the organisation, rather than bringing in an outside consultant. He believed people would be more open to someone they knew and trusted as opposed to being closed and non-trusting to someone external — who would most likely have been viewed as a trouble-shooter, and people would be suspecting of the motive behind this.

Oscar chose Charlie for this role, simply because he was an affable person, his warmth and friendliness drew people to him, and there was mutual respect between him and his co-workers. Oscar didn’t have a budget to facilitate any training Charlie would need, instead he made himself available as a coach and mentor to help him through the process.

After his first meeting with Xavier, Charlie went to Oscar for help. He felt Xavier was holding back. When Charlie had asked him how things were going, Xavier had responded ‘OK’, but his tonality and body language didn’t match the words he was saying. Charlie didn’t know how to get beyond this to get Xavier to open up about how he was really thinking and feeling, which was the task Oscar had set him.

Oscar shared the following:

Sage Wisdom

“What you do doesn’t depend on you — it depends on the other fellow.” Sanford Meisner

Having been involved in the drama society at college, Oscar had become interested in the principles of the Meisner technique and how they could be applied in WorkLife. He recommended a book that he believed would be helpful to Charlie, and suggested they meet in a few days to work through the first exercise from the book, by way of helping Charlie to prepare for his next meeting with Xavier.

Book Wisdom

The book was Meisner in Practice by Nick Moseley. Moseley says: “Meisner exercises are designed to strip away the artificiality of theatre and return you to one of your most basic human abilities — to receive and respond to messages from others, and allow the actions of others to be the principle determinant of how you yourselves act.”

Charlie read through the book, but as the belief within the world of performing arts is “Acting is doing”, Charlie and Oscar met to work through the first exercise:

Mechanical Repetition

Moseley says:

“In the first exercise, you and another actor sit on chairs facing each other, at a distance from one another that allows you to see not just the face of your partner, but their whole body. After a while, one of you makes a simple statement about something you notice about the other actor. This will be a physical, irrefutable fact, such as ‘red socks.’ The other actor repeats the phrase back to you exactly as you have said it, copying your intonation, volume and pronunciation exactly. You then do the same, repeating not what you think you said the first time, but what you hear from the other actor, and so it goes on until the teacher stops the exercise.

“With this understanding, you can embark on the first and simplest of the Meisner repetition exercises.

“The purpose of this exercise is to create a situation in which your only guiding principle in moving the encounter forward is the instruction to reproduce what you hear as exactly as possible. This forces you to listen and to process, so that what emerges is directly influenced by the stimulus the other actor has given you. This is the first step in allowing the other actor, rather than yourself, to determine your actions.

“The beauty of the first exercise lies in its simplicity. It is a task that is well within your scope and yet requires enough of your attention to keep you interested and engaged. Each moment is different from the last, and each moment influences the next moment.”

Charlie enjoyed doing this exercise. The simplicity and slowness of it really helped him to be in the moment. He felt much more aware of what was going on in front of him. He also felt much more grounded, all of which gave him a quiet confidence ahead of his meeting with Xavier.

Oscar shared these:

Words of Wisdom

Your ability to read the situation and your ability to shift your focus off yourself and pay attention to the other side, how they’re reacting to you in the situation, how they’re reacting to what you say, will allow you to begin to understand and question what you’re experiencing or what you’re sensing.

He went on to talk about the 7/38/55 principle about content, tonality and body language in the context of WorkLife interactions.

This is a link to a previous post: A Myth Misquoted Misinterpreted and Misunderstood: The 7% Rule: Fact, Fiction or Fallacy which explains the 7/38/55 principle.

Oscar said to Charlie that in using the principle of the first Meisner exercise in his next meeting, Charlie could build on this by asking himself the following question throughout the meeting: “Does delivery and body language line up with the words been spoken?”; then to reflect in the moment on whatever comes to him, and to use self-feedback to know what to say next in response to what he’s received. For example, if it doesn’t line up, simply say: “I heard you say everything was OK, but I also heard something in your tone of voice that made you hesitate.”

Charlie was a little anxious that he wouldn’t pick up on these contradictions in the moment, saying that he considered himself to be a more reflective than an in-the-moment person. He went on to say that he often got a sense that things weren’t quite as they seemed, but that he struggled to call whatever that was in the moment. Oscar pointed out to him that he had in fact picked up on something in the meeting with Xavier, when immediately coming away from the meeting he had a sense that Xavier was holding back. He went on to say that being more reflective was good too, he could simply say to Xavier: “Reflecting on our last meeting, I got a sense that when you said everything was OK, that actually something wasn’t. This is because while I heard you say everything was OK, I also heard something in your tone of voice that made you hesitate.”

This is precisely how Charlie began his next meeting with Xavier.


Xavier was taken aback by Charlie’s words and hesitated for a few moments before responding. When he did speak, he said he didn’t see the point to all of this; morale at the plant had never been great, he was OK with that as far as it went, and that was what he had meant in his response to Charlie’s question.

This simple truth telling on Xavier’s part actually gave Charlie a lot of information. It reaffirmed what Charlie believed many of his co-workers were thinking and feeling. He knew he needed to find a way to move beyond this and that this would take time. What was different for Charlie in this meeting was that he had a greater confidence within himself to say what he was sensing in the moment. Knowing that when he couldn’t call what he was sensing ‘in the moment’, he could simply say: “I heard you say everything was OK, but I also heard something in your tone of voice that made you hesitate”. This instilled further confidence, as did knowing that it was OK for him to reflect on the meeting, and to come back and share his thinking and feeling from that at the next meeting as he’d done today.

Today’s featured book is: Meisner in Practice by Nick Moseley

Tap here to read: 7% Of Meaning Is Communicated Through Spoken Word 38% Through Tone of Voice 55% Through Body Language

WorkLife Book Wisdom Stories:

The intention of the stories I share is to inspire you through people’s stories of their WorkLife experiences. Through these stories, you will learn about people’s dreams and ambitions, along with the challenges, obstacles, failures and successes they encountered along the road of their WorkLife journey. And how they used the power of book wisdom to help them find the inspiration and guidance to navigate their path to live their WorkLife with passion, purpose and pride.

My hope is that these book wisdom stories will help you throughout the chapters of your WorkLife Story.

I believe stories are a powerful mechanism for teaching, a powerful medium to learn through, and a powerful way to communicate who you are and what you stand for.

Published by Carmel O' Reilly

Carmel O’ Reilly: WorkLife Learning Practitioner & Writer Author of WorkLife Book Club, Your WorkLife Your Way and The School of WorkLife book series. Created to help you manage your WorkLife Learning. Blogger & Podcaster: Telling people’s powerful stories about WorkLife challenges & successes Founder of My guiding statement is to help people pursue their WorkLives with greater clarity, passion, purpose and pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes that are accessible to everyone.