It’s the 80 percent that counts


Think back to a memory – perhaps one in which someone helped you out when you were down on your luck or gave you a surprise compliment. What exactly were the words they said? Chances are that you don’t remember most of what you heard.

Now think about what you were feeling during that experience. What emotions flowed through you?

There may be a reason that you remember the emotions more than the words. It has been said that we remember 80% of the feelings in a conversation but only 20% of what was actually said. It doesn’t matter whether the conversation was uplifting or a downer, we seem to be wired to remember well what we felt.

This ability to remember emotions more than words may beg a question: how do you want to be remembered? As a leader, you’re being watched closely – more closely than your average non-leader. It’s called hyper vigilance, and although your words are important, it’s how you say them (the emotion behind them) that will be recalled and make the biggest impact on others.

I believe you’ll want to remembered as a leader who:

Was able to see the positive in each person: You’ve learned some powerful lessons in life, and one of those is that even those who exasperate you most, including your “enemies” – have something good about them. You were able to focus on stepping into their shoes and see things through their eyes. You may not have always liked the things they do, but you knew they deserved your esteem.

Treated everyone, no matter their role or position, with respect: From the janitor to the CEO, you have treated everyone with the respect they deserve as a fellow human being. You didn’t play favorites – if someone needed a moment of your time or some help you could deliver, they received it with grace, no matter their station in life.

Went the extra mile to encourage others: You knew that there just wasn’t much encouragement within organizations. Everyone had their head down, trying to stay ahead of the game. You took frequent walk-throughs or phone calls, and found just the right words with the right emotions behind them to help people feel encouraged and valued.

Gave corrective feedback with kindness: You didn’t particularly like giving “constructive” feedback to others, but you always did it with kindness. The people on the receiving end walked out of your office with a smile on their face, even when their faults had been noticed and addressed because you were a master at it.

Pay attention to how you communicate. It’s not just the words you say. It’s the 80 percent (emotions) people will think of when they remember that you were someone who treated them with equanimity, respect, encouragement and kindness.



I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

8 comments on “It’s the 80 percent that counts

  1. This is an outstanding post. I will share this with my clients, for sure. I’m wondering if you might be so kind to cite the research to which you refer. I’d love to learn more. 🙂

  2. Hi Stephen, glad you enjoyed the post. I’d actually written it some time ago but didn’t record the citation for the research, tried to find it in my reading material, and could not. Therefore, I’ve changed the wording of the post from “research indicates….” to “It has been said….” as I didn’t mean to deceive my readers. There may be some research on this point, I am just not able to find it. Thanks for calling this to my attention!

  3. Mary Jo,
    Great article! So true to let everyone you come in contact with to feel your passion for what you do. That lasts much longer than the words.
    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks Dave. I know its true for me that when I think back to certain conversations I’ve had, it’s hard to remember the words – but I seem to have no problem remembering how I felt.

  5. Hi Mary Jo,
    Love this post. You can get a really good vibe from people if they make you feel great. Also if they make you feel bad you never want to run into them anymore. Great post and so true!

  6. Love this article! Didn’t even realize how I can recall till this day all the emotions I felt either through a heated argument with a friend or family that I care, or even how happy I get to be with the people that I care and miss. The words the ones that I have a hard time recalling.
    Although it is also important to note that the words being exchanged are often the main reason for your feelings at the time.
    Thanks for the great article!

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