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

How to Read the Situation In the Moment in All WorkLife Interactions

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Learning Resources From School of WorkLife. Resources to help you self-direct your WorkLife learning.

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.

He went on to say that he was interested in Professor Mehrabian’s work on the importance of verbal and nonverbal communication. And that he had a particular interest in “the 7%-38%-55% Rule” in that it becomes more likely that the receiver will trust the predominant form of communication, which to Mehrabian’s findings, is the non-verbal impact of tone+facial expression (38% + 55%), rather than the literal meaning of the words (7%).

He wanted to explore how Merabian’s experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes could help understand workplace communications to focus on not only what’s being said but, as importantly, what’s not being said and that this brought him to the work of 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.

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


I believe in challenging my own thinking. I like rethinking as an activity to consider if there are other ways to look at things.

In The 7% Rule: Fact, Fiction or Fallacy? A Tale of Misinterpretation I wrote about Mehrabian’s study when taken out of context, was misquoted, misinterpreted and misunderstood. 

My findings led me to believe that “the 7%-38%-55% Rule” did not apply to communicating your ideas when establishing your WorkLife as a freelancer, consultant or business owner.

But could “the 7%-38%-55% Rule” be applied to other WorkLife situations?

That was the question that guided this story.

The answer?

I hope my story has demonstrated that it can be successfully adapted.

Learn more about Professor Mehrabian and Sanford Meisner Their work informed this story.

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.



This story was originally published on 25/6/21. I needed to republish it to add updates and also to tell you 

… The Continuing Story …

The pandemic brought about a change in my WorkLife from delivering in-person individual coaching sessions and group workshops to creating resources to help people self direct their WorkLife learning.

In the last three years, I’ve published 30 books and over 200 stories.

Each book and each story is based on real life struggles and successes that people have encountered in their WorkLife. They also detail the exercises that helped navigate through these situations, which are set as assignments for readers to adapt to their WorkLife situations and learning needs.

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.

My inspiration for creating my work comes from a lifelong passion for learning. My work has taught me that the one thing in life that can never be taken away from you is your learning. 

School of WorkLife Guiding Statement: To create resources that are helpful, insightful and inspiring in helping people to pursue their WorkLives with greater clarity, purpose, passion and pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes and resources that are accessible to everyone.

The resources I create will help you take ownership of self directing your learning in your own space and in your own time.


School of WorkLife helps you self-direct your WorkLife learning through resources that have been created to help you to take ownership of your learning in your own space and in your own time. 

What is Self Directed Learning? 

Self-Directed Learning is when an individual is motivated to take the initiative and responsibility on decisions related to their own learning. It is a series of independent actions and judgements free from external control and constraint. 

Resources to Help You Self-Direct Your Learning 

You may find the books below from The School of WorkLife Book Series helpful in meeting your learning needs as a self directed learner. Tap the book title to see a preview of what’s inside each book.

How To Use Your Purpose To Help Others

How To Embrace The Superpower of Self-Awareness

How To Fine-Tune The Superpower of Observation

Tap The School of WorkLife Book Series to view the complete collection of books. From here, you can tap on each individual title to see a preview of what’s inside each book.

Carmel O’ Reilly is a learning practitioner and writer. She creates resources to help people self-direct their WorkLife learning
Carmel O’ Reilly is a learning practitioner and writer. She creates resources to help people self-direct their WorkLife learning

Founder of School of WorkLife, Carmel O’ Reilly is a learning practitioner and writer. She creates resources to help people self-direct their WorkLife learning.  These include a Collection of Books which originated from her first book, Your WorkLife Your Way and a  Learn Through Reading Series of Case Studies.  which originated from her latest book WorkLife Book Club. 

That’s the power of writing (and reading, which is an integral part of the craft for writers). It helps you find, develop and tell the right story at the right time in all WorkLife situations – in day-to-day communication: WorkLife and feedback conversations, presentations, talks, and negotiations, at interviews, and when socialising and networking in building and maintaining good relationships. The practice of writing helps you to tell the stories that express who you are in an interesting and engaging way.

Published by Carmel O' Reilly

I'm Carmel O’ Reilly. I'm a writer and learning practitioner. My books and learning resources are designed to help you self-direct your WorkLife learning. As founder of School of WorkLife, my guiding principle 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.