The Difference Between Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication
What is Communication?
If we were to put it in the simplest of terms we could define communication as an exchanging of information between two or more parties. However, in today’s world of growing and ever evolving technologies, methods of communication are ever increasing. With media platforms such as Twitter; Instagram and Facebook communication is becoming less personal and much more in the public eye. But within all of this there are still only three key forms of communication; verbal, non-verbal and written. It is within these three categories that we are able to see the features and understand how to use them to communicate effectively.
What is Non-Verbal Communication?
Sometimes the very first line of communication between two people is non-verbal communication. This often gives you the very first impression of a person, the way they stand or sit, how they hold their hands, the facial expressions they show or the line of sight of their eyes. All of these things can give you more information about a person than an hour’s conversation with them will. This is usually because people do not consider how they may be presenting themselves physically as they are so focused on what they are saying.
Let’s break down the different features of non-verbal communication to really understand what it is. The first thing to consider is our body language, in particular what our posture tells us about a person. Traditionally, a person who stands up straight with their head up is confident in themselves, they have few doubts about themselves and their abilities or they are feeling proud of themselves or something they have accomplished. This is where we get the phrase “Hold your head up high,” [i]when people are needing some encouragement. If you present yourself to the world in a certain way, they will respond to you according to that; which will only work to reinforce your feelings of accomplishment.
The next thing to take into consideration is the way we use gestures. Gestures, are the way we move our hands during conversations and sometimes we use them in place of conversations. We are programmed from birth to communication with our hands, babies who are unable to speak use their hands to tell us what it is they want. There are even stock gestures that we learn according to our place in the world but you have to be careful how you use them in another culture as they could have a very different meaning. For example; in the UK and USA making a circle with your fore-finger and thumb and the rest of your fingers straight up[ii] symbolised that everything is “A-Ok”. However, in countries such as Russia, Brazil and Germany this symbol means “Asshole”, definitely not one that you would want to get mixed up!
Finally, we look at facial expressions as a main method of non-verbal communication. We have seven basic expressions that we can show; joy, sadness, surprise, anger, contempt, fear and disgust[iii]. All other feelings evolve from these core ideas. Our facial expressions can be very subtle and although some of us may be able to hide the emotion we are feeling by changing the position of our muscles in our face, we can sometimes forget that our eyes give a lot away. Ever heard the phrase “Smiling with your eyes”?[iv] Our eyes are the real star of our faces when we show emotions and when we are displaying joy and even laughing our eyes are the things that tell the other person if our expression is genuine or not. Our laughter lines around our eyes will only show if we are genuinely smiling and laughing as these are triggered by certain muscles. So next time someone laughs at your joke, check their eyes.
What is Verbal Communication?
So we understand how to communicate without saying anything, so why the need for language at all? Well, not everything can be communicated through gesture and expression, language is always growing and we are finding new ways of getting our message across. Within verbal communication there are many features to think about but in particular we should consider the way we open communication, just like the way we use non-verbal gestures to get the first impression of a person, the way someone might introduce themselves to you also gives you a real indication of what type of person there are. For example; The following are all saying the same thing but in very different ways.
- Good morning, I’m Mr Johnston
- Hi, I’m Johnston
- Morning, I’m Bill
The first one is very formal and is suitable for a business meeting or job interview, the second is more casual and is often used in a situation of internal introductions in a familiar setting – maybe across departments. The third is informal and would be used in a setting where formalities are not seen as important, it may be that this is used in a business situation where the employer has a friendly relationship with their employees. The fourth and final example can tell us a number of things; one might be that this person does not have time for such formalities as introductions or that they do not hold any value in introductions and simply wish to get straight to the point of the conversation. In all of these the words that are chosen give an impression of the person and allow you to in turn choose the most appropriate language to respond with.
Communication is not about using just one of these different features, it is about using a combination of the above to convey the message that you want others to hear. As standalone practices communication can become very one dimensional and the meaning can be lost altogether, but using facial expressions, gestures and language will ensure that your audience hear what you want them to hear rather than them making their own summations about your message.
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