How to Convert Time into Trust and Creativity – the 7-38-55 Rule

by Yoram Solomon

How to Convert Time into Trust and Creativity - the 7-38-55 Rule

In the 1970s, Prof. Albert Mehrabian of UCLA found that we deduce our feelings, attitudes, and beliefs about what someone says not only by the words they use, but also by their tone of voice and body language.

To be more specific, he claimed that the intent is conveyed 7% through the Words, 38% through the Tone of voice, and 55% through Facial expression (more so that body language in general). It’s easy to remember it through the acronym made of the first three words…

In my own studies, I found that trust-building is based on structural elements (competence, fairness, and shared values), as well as transactional elements. The latter refers to every interaction that two people may have. There are three elements that cause any interaction to build, or destroy, trust. Today, I’ll talk about one of them: the intensity of the interaction.

Using Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 rule, I suggested that the more of those elements are used, the faster we turn TIME into TRUST (assuming a positive interaction). Communicating over email will be the least effective at 7%. Communicating over the phone will increase it to 45% (7% + 38%), and finally having a face to face, in person meeting, will provide the full 100% (7% + 38% + 55%).

So what about video conference? After all, you can see the other person’s face during that call, can’t you? Should it be rated at 100%? I don’t think so. First of all, video conferencing technologies (especially from a computer, a phone, or a tablet) doesn’t allow the other person to “look you in the eye” which, according to Mehrabian, is an important element. You look at where the image of the other person is on your screen, and not at the camera. Even when you look at the camera–you are not really looking at the other person’s eyes. All the small elements such as avoiding eye-contact are lost.

But there is even more. Paul Zak claims that touch (a handshake, a hug) released oxytocin in your brain, that increases the trustworthiness of the other person in your eyes. You cannot do that over the Internet.

As a result, I would not give video conferencing more than 75% effectiveness in building trust.

But wait, there’s more…

I believe you can get more than 100% effectiveness in converting an interaction into trust. When you and the other person share a life-altering experience (combat military service, surviving a natural disaster, and the like), you may reach 200% (I have to admit, this is somewhat  an arbitrary number) effectiveness. I’m not advocating putting yourselves in harms way just to build trust. I’m only telling you that this kind of experience will build it faster.

But there is actually something you can do. In this age of cost-cutting, one of the first thing that gets cut is the off-site retreat. Considered a ‘boondoggle,’ companies save there. However, going through a retreat that includes team-building activities, and specifically such activities that are aimed at building trust, may not reach the 200% effectiveness, but will certainly reach more than the 100% of a face-to-face meeting. Maybe 120%? 150%? Definitely more than 100%.

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Dr. Yoram Solomon is an inventor, creativity researcher, coach, consultant, and trainer to large companies and employees. His Ph.D. examines why people are more creative in startup companies than in mature ones. Yoram was a professor of Technology and Industry Forecasting at the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, UT Dallas School of Management; is active in regional innovation and tech transfer; and is a speaker and author on predicting technology future and identifying opportunities for market disruption. Follow @yoram

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