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Comparing Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

Both verbal and nonverbal communication are symbolic, both communicate meaning, and both are patterned – that is, are governed by rules that are determined by particular contexts and situations. And as different societies have different spoken language, so they have different nonverbal languages. However, there are some important differences between nonverbal and verbal communication in any culture. Let’s look at the following example of these differences. The incident happened to Judith when she was teaching public speaking to a group of Japanese teachers of English. She explained how to write a speech and gave some tips for presenting the speech. The teacher seemed attentive, smiling and nodding. But when the time came for them to present their own speeches, she realized that they had many questions about how to prepare a speech and had not really understood the explanations. What she learned was that it is customary for students in Japan not to speak up in class unless they are called upon. In Japan a nod means that one is listening – but not necessarily that one understands. As this example illustrates, rules for nonverbal communication vary among cultures and contexts.

When misunderstandings arise, we are more likely to question our verbal communication than our nonverbal communication. We can use different words to explain what we mean, or look up words in a dictionary, or ask someone to explain unfamiliar words. But it is more difficult to identify and correct nonverbal miscommunication or misperception.

Whereas we learn rules and meanings for language behavior in grammar and spelling lessons, we learn nonverbal meanings and behavior more unconsciously. No one explains: “When you talk with someone you like, lean forward, smile, and touch the person frequently, because that will communicate that you really care about him or her”. In the United States, for example, this behavior often communicates positive meanings. But if someone does not display this behavior, we are likely to react quite differently.

Sometimes we learn strategies for nonverbal communication. For example, you may have been taught to shake hands firmly when you meet someone, or you may have learned that a limp handshake indicates a person with a weak character. Likewise, many young women learn to cross their legs at the ankles and to keep their legs together when they sit. In this sense, we learn nonverbal behavior as part of being socialized about appropriate behavior.

Nonverbal behavior can reinforce, substitute for, or contradict verbal behavior. When we shake our heads and say “no”, we are reinforcing verbal behavior. When we point instead of saying “over there”, we are substituting nonverbal behavior for verbal communication. Nonverbal communication operates at a more subconscious level, thus we tend to think that people have less control over their nonverbal behavior. Therefore, we often think of it as containing the “real” message. Have you ever received a compliment from someone you thought was not being sincere? You may have thought the person insincere because her nonverbal communication contradicted the spoken words. Perhaps she did not speak very forcefully or was not smiling very much. Perhaps she was giving other nonverbal clues indicating that she did not really mean she was saying. As was already mentioned above, nonverbal behavior sends relational messages and communicates status and deception. Although language is effective at communicating specific information, nonverbal communication often communicates relational messages about how we really feel about the person, and so on. For example, when you first meet someone, he may say, “Glad to meet you”, but he also communicates nonverbally how he feels about you. He may smile, make direct eye contact, and mirror your body language – all very positive messages in U.S. culture. Or perhaps he does not make direct eye contact, does not smile, and does not give any other nonverbal cues that indicate enthusiasm. One difficulty is that nonverbal clues are not always easy to interpret. And it is dangerous to assume that, every time someone doesn’t smile or make direct eye contact, he is communicating lack of interest. It may be that he is preoccupied, and his nonverbal message is not meant the way you interpret it.

Lecture 4.


Date: 2015-01-02; view: 1329

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