Verbal and Nonverbal Communication
When we pursue to convey our thoughts to another person, we use three different modes, methods, or channels to transmit our intentions. These modes are important to let people know who we are, how we view and experience the world, and how we describe our experiences. This communication is done verbally and nonverbally, and sometimes with varied signals or noise. When two people, A and B, are trying to communicate with each other, their communication somehow becomes distorted or altered. This could be due to an assortment of things such personalities, attitudes, values, belief systems, biases, assumptions, experience, background, and so on. We put in our own thoughts to what we hear, we disregard or overlook what we hear, and we alter messages according to the modes that are used to convey messages.
As a society, we say a lot to each other about who we are and how we portray each other and the rest of the world through symbolic ways.
The symbolic communication mode is basically unreceptive, and messages transmitted in this way are very effortlessly misunderstood. There are a variety of symbols that we use as a form of communication (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). First, our selection of clothes can enlighten an enormous amount about who we are, what our values are, what our status is, how traditional or open-minded we are. We link differences in occupational categories with different uniforms. An example would be the banker wearing a suit or the farmer wearing overalls, and so on (Blatner, 1985).
The second set of symbols is hair, which for some people can have a lot of meaning. This type of communication is shown through the type of hairdo, length and color of hair, and the existence or nonexistence of facial hair. They can say a great deal about who we are.
Nonetheless, these signals are often extremely vague (Blatner, 1985).
A third symbolic type of communication is jewelry. Married people regularly wear wedding rings, some people do not wear a watch, and some people wear exceedingly expensive jewelry, and so on. These are inert messages that are given out constantly to other people. Such things as wearing a flag pin on the collar, a red ribbon, an earring in one ear or in the nose say loads of things to other people (Blatner, 1985).
A fourth type of symbolic statement to other people is cosmetics a.k.a makeup. We connect meanings with the different ways women apply makeup to their bodies. Prostitutes have been known to wear heavier makeup than other women. Even a man who uses cosmetics is giving out a lot of symbolic message about the meaning that his world has for him (Blatner, 1985).
What a person drives or their choice of vehicles is the fifth symbolic mode. There are different sets of messages between a business executive who drives a sports car to his colleague who drives a luxury sedan or an ordinary family car. The sixth symbolic mode is the selection and locality of our houses. Social status is openly associated with the kind of home one lives in and its location (Blatner, 1985).
The seventh and final form of symbolic communication is the layout of our living or working spaces. An example of this would be how an interview would be laid out. In one instance, the interviewer and interviewee have a desk in between them. The next instance would place the two sitting face to face with nothing in between them. Both of these give out a primarily different set of messages (Blatner, 1985).
During communication, people are continuously giving out signals. These signals entail the meaning that we want others to understand using the symbols that we opt to enclose ourselves and devote ourselves with. These symbols are basically passive, but are a genuine part of our communication. In all aspects of life, talking, not talking, even sleeping, we send out passive symbolic signals (Blatner, 1985).
The technical term for nonverbal communication is called kinesis. This type of communication or body language is typically involuntary, and the nonverbal signals are expressed through behavior as well as verbally and also have symbolic meaning. There are many diverse forms of body language. The first one is ambulation. We relate different meanings to different ways people carry their bodies from one place to another.
The way a person carries their body, whether they glide, stride, stomp, etc. says a lot about who they are and how they experience their surroundings (Fast, 1971).
One of the most dominant forms of nonverbal communication is touching (Jones, 1994). Due to it being the largest organ in the body, the skin can receive a variety of stimuli. From a simple touch, we can communicate such feelings as anger, interest, trust, tenderness, warmth, and many other emotions. People are different in their keenness to touch and be touched. Several people give away nonverbal body signals that state that they do not want to be touched, and there are other people who describe themselves and are described by others as "touchy feely.” There are many taboos related to this form of communication. A person can realize a lot about their own personalities and self concepts studying their reactions to touching and being touched.
A next type of nonverbal communication is eye contact. As humans, we are inclined to size each other up and determine their trustworthiness through reactions to each other's eye contact. Consider the last time you were driving down the road and passed a hitch-hiker. The chances are that you did not look him in the eye if you passed him up. Con artists and salespeople identify with the power of eye contact and use it to their advantage. Counselors understand that eye contact is a very influential way of communicating understanding and recognition. Speakers understand that eye contact is essential in making sure that an audience stays interested in one's subject (Hickson III & Stacks, 1985).
Posturing is another form of nonverbal communication. The way a person sits, stands, and postures themselves relays a number of possible signals that may communicate how one is experiencing their environment. An example would be a person folding their arms and legs, which is a defensive signal. It has at times been observed that a person who is a severe psychological threat will lay in a fetal position. A person who is seductive in nature postures themselves so that their body is exposed to other people (Fast, 1971).
The fifth types of nonverbal communication are known as tics. The unconscious nervous spasms of the body can be a key to one's being threatened.
There are a lot of people that stammer or jerk when they feel like they are being threatened. When it comes to communication, these mannerisms can be easily misinterpreted.
Sub-vocals make up the sixth type of nonverbal communication. We say uh, uh, uh, when we are trying to find the right word to say in a conversation. We say a lot of words or sounds such as these in order to get the meaning to another person. In conversations, some of us may stammer, hum, grunt, groan and so on. Some of these sub-vocal sounds or noises are not actual words, but they do carry meaning.
The next, seventh, type of nonverbal communication is called distancing. It has been said that each individual person has their own psychological “space”. When and if another person intrudes on that space, a person may become somewhat tense, alert, or jammed up. We have a tendency to place distance between ourselves and others based on the kinds of relationships that we have and what our motives are toward each other. These reasons for creating distances are often not visible to others, but the behavior is, nonetheless, interpreted.
The eighth way to communicate nonverbally is with gesturing. There is a joke that says that if we bind a Frenchman's hands, he is voiceless. As we communicate with each other, there is a enormous amount of definition in our use of gestures. However, some of these gestures have different meanings to different people. At times people place different meanings to the hand signals that we give out.
An example would be the A-OK sign, in which the thumb and first forefinger is placed together forming a circle. This sign is considered very obscene in some other countries. Another potentially obscene gestures in some cultures is the "we're number one signal". We put a lot of importance in our words and we try to make clear our meaning through the use of gestures (Maginnis, 1958).
Vocalism or inflection makes up the ninth way to communicate nonverbally. An example of this would be the sentence "I love my children.” This is a sentence that could be insincere unless it is pronounced. The way that sentence is spoken vocally determines the idea that another person gets from it. For example, if the emphasis is on the first word, "I love my children," it says that somebody else doesn't. If the emphasis is on the second word, "I love my children," it has a different meaning. With this inflection, it is possibly saying that some of their behavior gets on my nerves. If more inflection is placed on the third word, "I love my children," it says that someone else's children do not get the same affection. Finally, if more stress is in the last word, "I love my children," it could be implied that there are other people whom I do not love. So the way we speak our words vocally often decides the meaning that another person is likely to gather from our message (Fast, 1971).
The communication style that we use most frequently to send meaning from one person to another is the verbal style. However, anyone who has ever thought about it has come to the conclusion that there are huge difficulties in sole reliance on this style of communication. History is full of examples of misunderstandings between people who were relying on just the spoken words to carry meaning. Possibly the most important knowledge that has come out of this experience has been that words themselves do not have meaning. People have meaning, and words are merely tools that we use for trying to express meaning that is characteristic to one person into the individual meaning system of the other person (Bonvillain, 2007).
One of the problems with words is that we attach to them different practical and emotional implications. Words are not always connected with related experiences or related feelings on the part of the listener and speaker. Other problems involved in using the verbal mode include the use of jargon, the use of clichés, and the use of particular vocabularies. It is time and again said that words have meaning only in circumstance. It is easier to say that words only have meaning when they are associated with people in context (Hybels & Weaver, 2007).
It is not unusual to watch people trying to find the right words to say what they mean. There is a myth that there is a certain approach to "say it right." If we conclude from that observable fact, it is easy to assume that there are some people who, instead of experiencing feelings and sensations, more frequently experience language. Specifically, their experience parameters are made clear by their vocabularies and their ability to be expressive (Bonvillain, 2007).
The trouble with adults, evidently, is that frequently we are not aware of the physical feelings which we experience. We habitually doubt our fantasy lives and are likely to be afraid to allow ourselves to dream. We deal with the world in an intangible way rather than in a physical way. The definitions and ideas that we allow ourselves to be conscious of are verbal and intangible. What we get from the physical stimuli which we experience is reliant on our vocabularies and our reckoning abilities. However those three layers of experience concrete, image, and abstract are going on endlessly. People understand concretely, understand image, and understand the abstracting development which they carry out when they are awake and applying meaning to what they see, hear, feel, taste, and touch. And, of course, many of these meanings cannot be passed from one person to another through just the verbal mode only (Bonvillain, 2007).
The assumptions are obvious. For communication to take place there needs to be a two-way exchange of feelings, standards and values. One-way communication is vastly unproductive in that there is no way to decide whether what is heard is what is projected. The office memo is a type of one-way communication which is possibly the least helpful standard for transmitting meaning. A second suggestion is that for proper communication to be practiced, it is essential that there be a response process built in to the communication effort. There needs to be a nonstop flow back and forth between the people trying to communicate, sharing what they heard from each other. The third suggestion is that the individual person wishes to become intensely conscious of the series of signals which they are giving at any given moment. They can become skilled at that by requesting opinion from the people that they are attempting to share ideas.
Nonverbal and verbal communication work as one to express and make clear messages sent between people. Jointly they sustain the feelings and ideas of the speaker. We employ nonverbal communication to demonstrate the verbal communication. If it wasn't for both types of communication we would not be able to completely comprehend each other. In conclusion, there is one question left to answer: With all these habits and methods of communication (verbal and non-verbal, internal and external) that we are able to utilize, why is it that the majority of the time we misunderstand each other?
Blatner, A. (1985). Becoming aware of nonverbal communication. Role development: A systematic approach to building basic skills . San Marcos, Texas, United States: A. Blatner.
Fast, J. (1971). Body Language. New York: Pocket Books.
Hickson III, M., & Stacks, D. (1985). Nonverbal communication: Studies and applications. Dubuque: Wm. C. Brown Publishing.
Hybels, S., & Weaver, R. (2007). Communicating Effectively. Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Jones, S. E. (1994). The right touch: Understanding and using the language of physical contact. Cresskill: Hampton Press.
Maginnis, M. (1958). Gestures and Status. Group Psychotherapy , 105-109.