2 part paper, will need the same tudor for both parts


Verbal and Nonverbal Communication: Making Every Word and Gesture Matter

Learning Objectives

In this chapter, readers will explore the importance of verbal and nonverbal communication. By the end of this chapter, readers will be able to

• Define verbal communication and understand the history and functions of language • Define nonverbal communication and discuss its functions • Describe the various types of nonverbal communication that can be used in interpersonal

interactions • Explain how verbal and nonverbal communication have evolved in the digital age • Use strategies to strengthen verbal and nonverbal communication competence


Jose Luis Pelaez/Iconica/Getty Images

Introduction Chapter 4

Introduction Janelle has been dealing with acne for years, but she is becoming increasingly frustrated and upset about being an adult who still struggles with pimples. It is her first visit with Dr. Abraham, a dermatologist, and she is nervous as she waits in the exam room. When Dr. Abraham enters about 10 minutes later, he reads Janelle’s file. He does not make eye contact with her or shake her hand, though he does offer a perfunctory, “Hello, how are you? I’m Dr. Abraham.” Janelle is immediately put off by Dr. Abraham’s indifferent introduction, which frustrates her even further. He asks her a few brief questions, writes down her answers, and performs a quick examination of her skin. In a wavering voice, Janelle responds to Dr. Abraham’s questions but keeps her eyes fixed on the floor. After about five minutes, Dr. Abraham suggests she use two prescriptions, which she can collect from the nurse at the front desk, and return in five weeks for a follow-up appointment. Almost as an afterthought, he asks Janelle if she has any questions. Janelle whispers, “No, thank you,” and is barely able to hold back her tears of disappointment.

Have you ever had an awkward or frustrating encounter such as this? Perhaps you focused on your own and the doctor’s verbal and nonverbal messages in an attempt to better understand the situation. As you learned earlier in this text, whenever people communicate, they attempt to share meaning by encoding messages in symbols and by decoding or interpreting the symbols used by others. These symbols may be verbal, consisting of words in oral or written forms such as Dr. Abraham’s greeting and Janelle’s answers to his questions. Symbols can also be nonverbal messages such as the tone or volume of your voice, your facial expressions, touching others, use of personal space or distance, and body movement and gestures. Janelle’s soft and wavering voice, Dr. Abraham’s lack of eye contact, and even the time Janelle spends waiting for the doctor are all examples of nonverbal communication.

When you communicate with others, your attention is not only focused on the words that are said but also on the characteristics of the other communicator’s voice, his or her body language and physical distance from you, or even the environment in which the interaction is occurring. In the example above, Dr. Abraham uses appropriate verbal communication when he greets his patient, examines and diagnoses her condition, asks questions, and provides her with a treat- ment. But his nonverbal communication makes the visit unpleasant and upsetting for Janelle; his lack of “bedside manner” changes the overall meaning of the medical encounter.

You process others’ nonverbal messages at the same time that you process their verbal mes- sages, and you make judgments about others based on a combination of both. Others simultane- ously make these same judgments of you. Nonverbal messages are usually more believable and more reliable than verbal messages. Verbal communication, or language, is crucial in forming and maintaining social relationships, and being competent in your verbal communication is essential to your personal and professional success. But an understanding of nonverbal communication is also essential given the sheer number of different nonverbal messages. In fact, findings from across a variety of research studies suggest that 60–65% of meaning in a social interaction is derived from nonverbal messages (Burgoon, 1994).

To account for the importance of both of these types of messages, Chapter 4 examines ver- bal symbols and nonverbal messages as they are used in interpersonal communication contexts. We combine information about verbal and nonverbal communication into a single chapter to understand how each are important individually, as well as to emphasize how much we rely on both types of messages in our interpersonal communication with others. We begin by exploring verbal communication with a brief history of language acquisition and the English language in

Verbal Communication Chapter 4

the United States. Next we will consider the different ways that nonverbal communication func- tions in our interactions and discuss different types of nonverbal communication messages. We will also explore different verbal and nonverbal elements of communication, including how both operate in online settings, and we will identify ways in which we can improve both our verbal and nonverbal communication competence.

4.1 Verbal Communication As we discussed in Chapter 1, language is defined as a system of human communication that uses a particular form of spoken or written words or other symbols. Language is the primary code humans use to communicate. It is crucial in forming and maintaining social relationships and is essential to your personal and professional success. You may consider speech natural and not always pay close attention to the words you use. However, you make language choices when- ever you speak, although you may not always do so consciously. You become a more competent communicator when you become a more conscientious and responsible creator of messages. You can do this by making sure that your language is appropriate for the situation, the other person to whom you are speaking, and the purpose of the communication. Many languages, including English, have formal and informal language, and some types of informal language are considered derogatory or harmful to others.

Formal language is more careful and more mannered than everyday speech. It is used to express serious thought, which is generally clear, accurate, and not overly emotional. Formal language is the standard speech of the academic world and the appropriate language in most business and professional settings, with clients or customers, in professional writing, and in public speaking situations. Formal language avoids colloquialisms, slang, and biased language. In contrast, infor- mal language describes a wide range of common and nonstandard English, including jargon, colloquialisms, idioms, and slang. Informal language is appropriate in casual conversation with peers or in special circumstances. However, it is usually not appropriate in written communica- tion or in professional and academic settings. (Read the Web Field Trip feature for a quick look at the history of the English language and its evolution.)


English Language Timeline

The British Library (http://www.bl.uk/) provides a fascinating timeline of how the English language has evolved since 500 BCE. English has undergone a significant evolution through the ages: Though we would technically be speaking the same language as our English-speaking ancestors, it is likely we would have difficulty understanding one another. Conduct a search on the library’s website for “Language Timeline,” and then consider the following questions.

Critical Thinking Questions

1. At what point in this timeline do you think you could carry on a reasonable conversation with English speakers from the past?

2. Do you think we will be unable to understand individuals who are speaking English a few hun- dred years from now?

Verbal Communication Chapter 4

The History of Language

Researchers agree that one characteristic sets humans apart from their animal cousins: commu- nication. Language—in both spoken and written form—is unique to human beings and is con- sidered by some to be the most exceptional behavior that humans can enact. It is also universal: All human societies throughout time are believed to have used language once they were able to do so (Pinker, 1994). Although there is no specific date that we can pinpoint as to when language was first “discovered,” we can estimate that our ancestors have been verbally communicating for approximately a million years. In fact, physiologically, human beings are the only animals who are capable of producing spoken language. When humans started walking on two legs instead of four, the descent of the larynx—the organ that forms part of the air passage to the lungs and that contains our vocal chords—allowed the tongue to move in a way that could produce a variety of sounds, which were then used as a basis for verbal communication. The concurrency of these physiological developments means that the formation and growth of language likely occurred during the origin of modern human behavior.

Scholars do not uniformly agree on how to classify languages, and it is almost impossible to con- duct a global census of all language speakers, so the number of estimated languages and number of speakers of each language around the world varies a bit from source to source. Table 4.1 gives some current estimates of the most commonly spoken languages in the world today.

Table 4.1: Most widely spoken languages in the world


Primary Country

Approximate Number of First-Language Speakers

Chinese China 1,197,000,000

Spanish Spain 406,000,000

English United Kingdom 335,000,000

Hindi India 260,000,000

Arabic Saudi Arabia 223,000,000

Portuguese Portugal 202,000,000

Bengali Bangladesh 193,000,000

Russian Russian Federation 162,000,000

Japanese Japan 122,000,000

Javanese Indonesia 84,300,000

German Germany 83,800,000

Source: Lewis, M. P., Simons, G. F., & Fennig, C.D. (Eds.). (2013). Ethnologue: Languages of the World (17th ed.). Dallas, TX: SIL International. Used by permission, © SIL, 2013. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 17th edition, http://www.ethnologue.com/.

Although no common global language exists, political, economic, and technological changes have dramatically increased the use of one particular language over the past few decades. That language is English (Campbell-Laird, 2004). Its use predominates in business, science and tech- nology, and international maritime and aviation transactions. More than half of the world’s books and three-quarters of international mail are written in English, and English sites dominate the Internet (Tonkin & Reagan, 2003). Today, English has the largest vocabulary of any language in the world, with perhaps as many as 2 million words (Monajemi, 2003). Like other languages, English is always growing and evolving. Old words continually gain new dictionary definitions,

Verbal Communication Chapter 4

and new words are constantly being added to the vernacular through the creation of slang terms and newly coined words such as staycation and googling, which were recently added to many dictionaries.

The U.S. Constitution does not designate an official language; however, the widespread use of English has made it the recognized language, or de facto language, of the United States (Official English, 2010). American English derives from seventeenth-century British English. Mostly peo- ple from southern England, especially London, settled the original American colonies in Virginia and Massachusetts. The mid-Atlantic area, Pennsylvania in particular, was settled by people from northern and western England and by those of Scots-Irish descent. Southern speech, by comparison, was strongly influenced by the slave trade from Africa and from the Caribbean (Boeree, 2004).

Like many languages, American English has various dialects—geographic or social differences in the way groups of people use the same language. People who speak different dialects can usu- ally understand one another because they have the same language. However, they have different vocabularies and unique phonology, the way the language sounds. For example, it is easy to rec- ognize differences between British and American English. The two dialects have both vocabulary differences (such as petrol versus gasoline and lift versus elevator) and different phonology, or word pronunciations. The early settlement patterns of the eastern United States resulted in three primary dialects of American English: northern, midland, and southern. A western dialect began to develop in the late 1800s that was influenced primarily by northern midland speech. However, the original Spanish-speaking populations and immigrant Chinese also affected the western dia- lect. Figure 4.1 shows a regional map of American English dialects.


West Texas

Arkansas- Oklahoma


Mississippi- Gulf Georgia-


South Carolina

North Carolina


Pittsburgh Philadelphia area NYC area

Boston area

Northern New England

North Central






Figure 4.1: National map of regional dialects of American English

American English has many dialects, and, as the map indicates, many are associated with a geographic region of the country.

Source: Boeree, C. G. (2004). Dialects of English. Retrieved from Shippensburg University website at http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/dialectsofenglish. html. Used by permission.

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The influence of other immigrants (such as populations of Jews and immigrants from countries such as Ireland, Italy, and Poland) created regional variations and other dialects in the eastern region of the United States. Even today it is easy to see how different words came to be used for common objects in different regions of the United States. Table 4.2, for example, illustrates American English vocabulary differences for a well-known sandwich and beverage.

Table 4.2: Vocabulary differences in dialects of American English

Food Type Region of the United States


hero New York

hoagie Philadelphia

grinder Boston

poor-boy southern

submarine or sub western


tonic Boston

soda northern and North Midland east of the Susquehanna River

pop northern and North Midland west of the Susquehanna River

cold drink South and South Midland

coke (also cola, soft drink, soda pop, soda water, and phosphate)

Rhode Island

Source: Boeree, C. G. (2004). Dialects of English. Retrieved from Shippensburg University website at http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/dialectsofenglish. html. Used by permission.

Functions of Language

We can use language for any number of reasons or to accomplish many different types of goals. Language can

1. Serve as an abstraction of reality 2. Sustain and transmit culture 3. Express imagination and creativity 4. Express confirming and disconfirming messages

These four functions of language are particularly important for understanding how and why we verbally communicate in interpersonal settings. Each of these functions is discussed next.

Language Serves as an Abstraction of Reality Language is powerful because you can use it to construct your reality. You use the words of your primary language to represent tangible and abstract objects. You often form a mental picture of the object as you say a word and are thus also able to mentally create your world. In this way, you tend to associate words with the objects they represent. However, the word is not the “thing” itself, but simply an abstract symbol, which is anything that conveys a meaning, such as the words, pictures, sounds, marks, or objects we use to represent something else that is apart from tangible existence and that exists only in the mind. A symbol can be written, spoken, or nonver- bal in nature. Drawings, photographs, and music can be symbolic. Even objects such as homes,

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automobiles, clothing, and jewelry can be symbols. In fact, they are often referred to as status symbols. Your mental image of the symbol is of your own making, and for this reason symbols do not have the exact same meaning to everyone.

For example, the word freedom is not something that you can see, hear, or touch. However, when you hear the word freedom, you imagine or visualize something in your mind. This mental image is what the word means to you. For example, if someone has immigrated to the United States from a country where they suffered from religious persecution, freedom might mean practicing religion without fear. If one has been in prison for many years, freedom could mean being able to walk in a beautiful park. To someone else, freedom might conjure up patriotic images of the U.S. flag or Fourth of July fireworks. What mental picture do you associate with the word freedom? Although we have different pictures in our minds when we hear or use a word, we can communi- cate with one another because words have common denotations. The denotation is the diction- ary definition or description of what the word represents—a definition that most can agree upon. For example, if you look up the word grandmother in a dictionary, you will find it described in a manner similar to the following:

Grandmother: The mother of one’s father or mother.

The dictionary definition, or denotation, gives you the essential characteristics of what a grand- mother is and helps you construct a basic mental picture of it. The denotations of concrete words such as grandmother are generally clear and descriptive. If you did not know what a grandmother is, it would be fairly easy for you to better understand one from this denotation.

Abstract words such as freedom also have denotations. However, the denotation of an abstract word is less specific and more sub- ject to personal interpretation. For instance, a dictionary definition of the word freedom reads something like the following:

Freedom: The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants or to exer- cise choice and free will.

The definition, or denotation, of this abstract word is probably broad enough to encompass the various interpretations dif- ferent people might give to the word. However, it does not specifically tell you what type of power or right that freedom provides or what obligations or duties you might have from which you need to be freed. What is meant by the word power, for example? Does it refer to physical strength, control or influence over others, or spiritual power? What is meant by “free will”? Answers to these questions are subjective; each person will answer them in his or her own way.

Beside denotations, words also have connotations. The connotation is created by the personal association you have with a certain word or the emotional meaning or impact of the word to you. Connotations are frequently shared among members of a particular society, but they also contain elements that are unique to each person. Connotative meanings exist along with deno- tative meanings, and they are generally either positive or negative. For example, when we first mentioned the word grandmother, you likely immediately imagined your own grandmother. But

Patti McConville/Photographer’s Choice/Getty Images

▲▲ Language allows us to pass down aspects of our culture, such as recipes, from generation to generation.

Verbal Communication Chapter 4

maybe what you picture is the general image of a grandmother in our society—an image of an older woman with white hair who wears glasses and is warm and welcoming. We can have con- notations for any number of things that we use language to describe, including the things that we like and the food that we eat. See Figure 4.2 for a discussion of the connotations associated with the names of some common food products.

Language Sustains and Transmits Culture Written and spoken verbal messages are a primary method that individuals use to sustain their culture, as well as to educate and transmit elements of their culture to others. We learn about our own and others’ cultures by reading books, searching the Internet, and talking with others about their cultural experiences. Culture is passed down from generation to generation in multiple verbal forms: through spoken stories or oral histories, by writing down old family recipes, and via poetry, literature, and song. If we share a language with another culture that we are visiting, we rely on that form of communication in multiple ways: by asking natives for directions, by look- ing to street or public transportation signs in order to determine where we are and to find our way, and by reading written descriptions of places and things when visiting a culture’s museums, parks, or memorials. (See IPC Research Applied for some insight into what your own name con- veys about you.)

In addition, many communication theorists believe that the language that we use actually deter- mines how we think and how we behave. In the early 1900s, anthropologist Edward Sapir posited a theory that there was a connection between culture and language. Sapir believed that the very structure of human language shapes our perceptions and how we view the world. Sapir’s student, Benjamin Whorf (1940), developed what is known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which states that language is not just a way of voicing ideas, but it actually shapes and determines those ideas. The hypothesis states that we cannot think outside the confines of our language. In other words, we are so immersed in our language and our culture that we do not recognize how it influences our view of the world.

However, not all researchers accept the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Other theories suggest that our thoughts actually influence our language or that all languages have the same underlying structure. Psychologist Steven Pinker (1994) challenges the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis by asking, “If


In September 2010, the Corn Refiners Association applied to the federal government to change the name high fructose corn syrup on the labels of its food products that use this ingredient. The new name they want to use is corn sugar. Americans’ consumption of products containing corn syrup fell to a 20-year low because studies show that consumers associate corn syrup with obesity, a perception for which there is little scientific evidence.

Corn refiners say the new name better describes the sweetener by more accurately reflecting the source of the food (corn) and identifying the basic nature of the food (a sugar). Renaming products has worked before. Low erucic acid rapeseed oil became much more popular when it was renamed canola oil in 1988, and prunes became dried plums in 2000. The group hopes the new name will help their product move away from negative associations (Fredrix, 2010).

Figure 4.2: What’s in a name?

Connotations, usually shared among members of a society, can sometimes create negative associations between a phrase and the object it represents.

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thoughts depended on words, how could a new word be coined? How could a child learn a word to begin with? How could translation from one language to another be possible?”(p. 47). What theorists do agree on, however, is that language, thought, and culture are inherently intertwined, and, together, they affect our view of the world.


What Does Your Given Name Say about You?

Your first name—it is as much a part of you as the color of your eyes or your height. However, your name can also be considered a form of verbal communication, one that may be a clue about how individualistic your culture is. One interesting way to consider the interrelationship between culture and language is by tracing patterns of how U.S. parents name their children over time. In a research study that was conducted in 2007, social psychologists Jean Twenge, Emodish Abebe, and W. Keith Campbell analyzed naming data from the Social Security Administration from the years 1880 to 2007 to determine how many children were given common or popular names each year. This analysis included over 325 million names—a massive sample size for a study of language. Twenge and her colleagues (2007) argued that the number of children given common names would decrease over time, and that this decrease would reflect the growing individualistic nature of American culture.

The researchers found that the number of babies given common names by their parents has indeed decreased substantially: from 40% in 1890 to less than 10% in 2007 for boys, and from 25% to 8% for girls during this same time period. This decrease began to be steady in 1950 and then became particularly steep and continuous in 1983. The authors attributed this decrease to an increased interest in giving children names “that will help them stand out rather than fit in,” which is a way to use language to increasingly emphasize being unique or individualistic in American cul- ture (Twenge et al., 2007, p. 22).

Think about your own name. If you have a nickname that you prefer, why did you choose to use it instead of your full first name? For example, “Jennifer” was an extremely common name for baby girls in the United States in the 1970s and early 1980s, and having that name usually meant shar- ing it with at least one or two other females in school and at work. This common first name can be frustrating at times, because it means having to constantly distinguish yourself (e.g., by preferring to be called “Jen” or by using the first letter of your last name to set you apart). Keep this in mind as you consider the following questions.

Critical Thinking Questions

1. What does your own name say about you? Is it a common name or one that is a bit more unique?

2. How does the individuality of your name impact who you are and how you interact with others? 3. What effect might popular culture, in either a dominant or co-culture, have on baby

name trends?

Language Expresses Imagination and Creativity Because language is imaginative and creative, it allows you to construct entire worlds in your mind. Our capacity for language allows us to have a rich and vivid mental life in which we can suffer regret, reminisce about events that occurred decades ago, have complex wishes and yearn- ings, and reflect on what it is like to be ourselves. Language allows us to have not only real experi- ences, but experiences that we simply imagine. Through language, you can create and play with

Verbal Communication Chapter 4

ideas that do not exist in the real world. You can recite stories, poems, rhymes, and riddles and engage in games of pretend by yourself or with others. Unlimited combinations of symbols are possible and, therefore, so are “mental creation[s] of possible worlds” (Chomsky, 2004, para. 12). Our use of symbols to represent physical objects, ideas, and emotions gives us the capacity to build cities, to make laws, and to create art and music.

In addition, if there is not a symbol for what you are envisioning in your mind, you can use language to create one. Human beings can agree to make anything stand for anything: S. I. Hayakawa (1964, p. 24) observed that, “we are, as human beings, uniquely free to manufacture and manipulate and assign values to our symbols as we please.” Over time, we have agreed to make various sounds and written combinations of letters and marks stand for certain objects in the environment, for certain behaviors, or for experiences we pick up through our senses or that register in our nervous system and we call emotions (Hayakawa, 1964). Our ability to be creative and imaginative with language is evident in the fact that 15,000 to 20,000 words are added to the English language per year. For example, the word unfriend, which was coined to describe the act of removing an individual from one’s list of approved Facebook friends, was the 2009 Oxford word of the year (“Oxford word of the year,” 2009). This imaginative function of language thus allows you to use your creativity (Halliday & Webster, 2004).

Language Offers Confirming and Disconfirming Messages As you have likely already figured out, language is a powerful tool for human understanding, and even just for basic survival. It can also be harmful or helpful in our interpersonal relationships. Through verbal communication, we can confirm or disconfirm those with whom we interact. A confirming message is one that provides a basic acknowledgment that the other person is pres- ent, as well as your acceptance of them, how they define or view themselves, and the relationship that you two share. Using confirming messages is associated with greater openness and essen- tially shows that you positively regard the other person (Dailey, 2006). Imagine your best friend is involved in a frustrating romantic relationship and often wants to discuss and dissect this rela- tionship with you. After a while it begins to bother you, especially when your friend fails to take your advice, and it may be a struggle for you to continue to use confirming messages. However, you can still do so in a number of ways, such as by maintaining focus on the situation and being involved in the interaction. This does not mean that you always agree with your friend but that you recognize your friend’s point of view. You can engage in a dialogue by being a simultaneous sender and receiver and express concern in a respectful way. And you can ask questions to reflect back what your friend says and show that you understand. Refer to Table 4.3 for more information about using confirming messages.

Table 4.3: Examples of confirming messages

Message Explanation Example Message

Communicator maintains focus on the situation.

Gives the other communicator exclusive attention.

“Ok, I’ll put my laptop down so I won’t be distracted.”

Communicator is involved in the interaction.

Recognizes the other communica- tor’s point of view, even if there is disagreement.

“I hear what you are saying, but I’m not sure if that is the way that I would go about it.”

Communicator is engaged in a dialogue.

Simultaneously sends and receives messages and expresses concern in a respectful way.

“I’m listening to you, and I am worried about what I am hearing.”

Communicator shows that he or she understands.

Asks questions to reflect back what the other communicator has said.

“It sounds to me as if you are really upset—am I right?”

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In contrast, a disconfirming message does the opposite of a confirming message: You not only disregard the other person as an individual, you also ignore what the person says. The discon- firming message is thus one where you clearly indicate that that individual is not worth your time or effort, and that you have a negative regard for that person (Dailey, 2006). Consider again your best friend who is in a frustrating romantic relationship. When you feel frustrated by the discussions with your friend, you might start to use disconfirming messages in a number of ways: ignore your friend and her situation; do not give your friend a chance to speak; immediately evaluate your friend’s situation; discourage or interrupt your friend during the conversation. See Table 4.4 for examples of disconfirming messages.

However, consistently disconfirming a person is not recommended, as it can reduce the person’s self-esteem and damage your relationship. If you suspect that you are using messages such as those described in Table 4.4—ones that dominate, dictate, or ignore—try to be more aware of how the other person reacts when you use disconfirming messages. Do they seem upset or hurt, or become unusually quiet? Being more aware of the other communicator by trying to take that person’s perspective can help you replace disconfirming messages with confirming ones.

Table 4.4: Examples of disconfirming messages

Message Explanation Example Message

Communicator ignores the other communicator.

Does not give the other commu- nicator or the situation exclusive attention.

“I don’t want to talk again so I’m going to let this call go straight to voicemail.”

Communicator dictates the focus of the conversation.

Does not give the other communi- cator a chance to speak.

“Enough of this. You need to listen to what I have to say.”

Communicator makes assumptions about the interaction.

Evaluates the other communicator’s situation before hearing details.

“I don’t need to hear your side; I already know what you should do.”

Communicator dominates the interaction.

Discourages or interrupts the other communicator during the conversation.

“Do we really need to talk about this again, for the millionth time?”

Biased Language You should be aware that some language is considered improper or unacceptable in almost all contexts. For example, biased language presents information in a way that shows preference for or against a certain point of view, shows prejudice, or is demeaning to others. Biased language usually refers to the use of words that intentionally or unintentionally offend people or express negative attitudes concerning a person’s race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, age, disabil- ity, or illness. This type of language has no place in professional or academic situations and should also be avoided in personal communication. Biased language is not objective; rather, it is offen- sive, negative, and reveals an individual’s prejudices. Such language thus obstructs open-minded communication and cooperation between individuals and communities.

Racist language, for example, is the use of language to demean or insult people on the basis of their race or ethnicity. You know that intentionally using racial slurs constitutes racist language, but you can also insult people and express negative attitudes about race unintentionally when you use stereotypes regarding race or emphasize someone’s race unnecessarily in your communication. For example, the public school district in Denver, Colorado, had to apologize for what it called a “well- intentioned but highly insensitive” attempt to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., Day by serving a

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school lunch consisting of fried chicken, collard greens, and sweet potatoes. Many criticized the district, saying that the meal was an offensive caricature and perpetuated stereotypes about black culture (Meyer, 2010). Pointing out someone’s race when it is irrelevant can also be considered racist language, as when you state, for example, “I had an appointment with my Latino dentist yesterday.”

Language responds to changes in society, and some language that is biased against specific groups of people and that might once have been used regularly is now considered improper and inap- propriate. At one time, for instance, the word man was considered a generic word that referred to all humans. Today, such usage is considered sexist language because it excludes individuals on the basis of gender. It is considered inappropriate today to use the term man and the pronouns he, him, and his to refer to people of both genders. Instead of saying “Every employee must schedule his vacation” you might make the word employee plural and say, “All employees must schedule their vacations.”

To communicate in an unbiased manner, you must be aware of and sensitive to the use of terms that others consider demeaning or offensive and refer to people using the terms that they prefer to describe them. (A type of language that can be unintentionally offensive is jargon, the topic addressed in Everyday Communication Challenges.) You must be particularly wary of language related to gender, sexual orientation, age, physical disability, or illness. For instance, including references to gender, when unnecessary, can be considered demeaning. Medical personnel, for example, can be male or female, so it is unnecessary and often insulting to state, “I had a male nurse when I was in the hospital recently,” or “I met a lady doctor.” Your language choices reflect your attitude toward a subject, so avoid derogatory phrases such as “little old lady” to refer to an older person or “handicapped” to describe a person with a disability. Instead emphasize the person first in the language, not the age, the disability, the race, or the illness. Use phrases like “people who are visually impaired” or “a man who is 55 years old” instead of “the blind” or “an old guy.” If you are not sure which terms are best, ask the person you are referring to or ask others for guidance.


Jargon in the Workplace

Have you ever overheard two people who work together talking about their job and had no idea what they meant? Did you understand only a handful of the words they used? They were probably able to express complex ideas to each other rather quickly and precisely with jargon, a set of words or phrases specific to a group or career field that may not make much sense to outsiders.

Jargon can help you to share meaning with coworkers easily because people in your industry or at your workplace know the ideas and concepts behind the words or abbreviations. For example, if you are in the medical profession, you could say that you “need a crash cart, stat” when you want a hospital employee to immediately bring a defibrillator machine to restart a patient’s heart. People working in law enforcement may refer to an “UNSUB” or a “perp” when they want to discuss an unknown subject or perpetrator of a crime. Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, for example, often communicate through the liberal use of abbreviations and acronyms that they alone understand. Some examples include MOS (military occupational specialty, i.e., job) and PCS (permanent change


Nonverbal Communication Chapter 4

4.2 Nonverbal Communication Though we have thus far discussed verbal and nonverbal communication separately, they typi- cally are encoded and decoded together in an interaction, and we rely on both to achieve shared meaning between communicators. Specifically, nonverbal communication may

• Reinforce, complement, or emphasize the words you speak • Substitute for verbal communication entirely • Interrupt or distract from verbal communication and be a form of noise • Conflict with or contradict the verbal message entirely

In the following sections, we will examine nonverbal communication by identifying some of the important functions that this type of message serves in our interactions with others. We will also describe some of the different types of nonverbal communication, including voice, touch, body movements, and personal space and distance. As we discuss the different functions and types of nonverbal communication, it is important to remember that this type of message is bound by culture. This means that certain nonverbal messages are interpreted differently in different cultures, and that cultural mores determine what nonverbal behaviors are appropriate in particular situations. As you read the sections below, consider how members of cultures that you are a part of may communicate differently than the dominant U.S. cultural examples that we present here.

of station). Most professions have their own jargon, and use of this type of language demonstrates your membership in the group. In this way, jargon usage can create and reinforce which groups we identify with.

When you are relatively new to a job, it takes a while to learn the jargon. Once you are fluent, it is important to be able to explain an abbreviation or to avoid jargon when talking to people who do not share your career or background. Jargon is acceptable, and often expected, in professional set- tings when all communicators understand the specialized language. In these circumstances, jargon can be a useful and efficient way for members of the group to communicate with one another quickly and easily.

However, jargon can make it difficult for someone outside the group to interpret your messages. It should not be used when outsiders are present because it can make others feel as if they are not members of your group. Jargon should also be avoided when you are trying to educate or inform others about what you do or what you have accomplished. In such instances jargon can make a communicator seem distant, evasive, and overly important (Obuchowski, 2006).

If you are unsure if your message contains too much jargon, seek out someone who is not familiar with your profession and explain your ideas and thoughts. Then, ask the person to explain what you said back to you to determine if your language needs to be simplified and broken down for a different audience. As a competent communicator, you should strive to adapt your language to your audience to promote shared understanding.

Critical Thinking Questions

1. When is it appropriate to use jargon? When is it inappropriate? 2. If you are in a group of individuals, some of whom understand jargon and some who do not,

how should you communicate in a way that is competent? 3. How can you teach others jargon that they need without seeming distant and overly important?

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Functions of Nonverbal Communication

When you communicate nonverbally, you use every way other than language to send messages. Some of these messages are conscious and intentional, but many are innate aspects of your unique voice or body that you can do little to change. Still other nonverbal communication is unconscious and the result of habits that you have developed. These nonverbal messages serve four important functions in interpersonal communication, or “what the nonverbal message does and why it is sent” (Guerrero, Hecht, & DeVito, 2008, p. 10). The functions that are particularly important in terms of nonverbal communication include:

1. Managing your impressions and identities 2. Managing and interpreting your relationships 3. Regulating the flow of interactions 4. Engaging in and detecting messages of emotion, influence, and deception

We discuss these functions next, and then describe some of the different forms of nonverbal communication that are central in our interactions with others.

Manage Impressions and Identities Even before another person opens his mouth to speak, you have likely already started to form an impression of him based on how he looks, what he is wearing, his posture, and whether he makes eye contact. At the same time, that other person is forming an impression of you using similar nonverbal cues. Physical appearance and body movements are particularly important in form- ing first impressions because these are examples of visual cues that are noticed first (Guerrero et al., 2008). Research identifies the importance of these initial impressions. For example, in one of the first studies on how individuals form impressions of others, researchers found that we tend to make accurate and enduring judgments about others we have just met (those we have zero acquaintance with) in only a short amount of time (less than 5 minutes) and with limited infor- mation—primarily the other person’s physical appearance (Albright, Kenny, & Malloy, 1988).

As we form impressions of others via nonverbal messages, we also work to manage the impres- sions others have of us. Again, nonverbal communication is important in managing others’ impressions, as evidenced when we dress up for a first date or buy a new suit and practice our handshake before an important job interview. The impressions we believe others have of us then contribute to our identities by serving as the looking-glass self that we learned about in Chapter 2. Thus, nonverbal communication is an important factor in how we perceive others and how others perceive us.

Manage and Interpret Relationships In Chapter 1, we discussed the distinction between content and relationship messages and noted that we tend to gather more relationship information through nonverbal communication. This means that instead of verbally talking about your relationship, you tend to rely on nonverbal cues such as touch, personal space, facial expressions, and body movements to help you interpret the relationship. Nonverbal messages can in fact provide us with a great deal of relational informa- tion: what type of relationship it is; how intimate, close, or involved the individuals are; how comfortable they are with each other; even whether the relationship is more formal or informal in nature. The next time you are in a public place take a moment to observe, from a distance, two people communicating. Even if you cannot hear the discussion, you will be amazed by how much you can learn about the communicators simply by observing the nonverbal messages used during

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their interaction. For example, whether or not and how they touch each other can give you clues about the type of relationship that they share. The volume and pitch of their voices will indicate to you whether the topic they are discussing is something they are excited about or find uninterest- ing or boring. If they seem more interested in their mobile phones than in each other, then that is likely a sign that they don’t have something to say to the other at that moment. Being more alert about nonverbal messages used by yourself and others can thus give you greater insight into your own relationships as well.

Regulate Interactions Do you ever wonder how we are so seamlessly able to take turns in an interaction? How do we know when to speak and how do others know when it is their turn to talk? We rely on nonverbal communication in large part to regulate our conversations, or shorten and lengthen our nonver- bal and verbal stream of messages. It is very rare for us to finish a point and then say, “It is your turn to speak now.” Instead, a variety of subtle nonverbal cues serve this purpose, and there are four ways that we can use such cues to regulate an interaction. First, we exercise turn-requesting cues if we wish to speak. For example, we may raise our hand or lean in closer toward the other communicator. But if we do not want to talk, turn denying, we might look away or shake our head. Turn yielding occurs when a speaker is done and wants to invite others to contribute to the discussion. This individual could signal this shift by extending his arms and hands outward or by altering the pitch of his voice. However, if the speaker would like to continue talking, turn main- taining, he might put out his hand or raise the volume of his voice to stop a partner’s turn request. Such nonverbal messages are thus integral tools we can use to manage the flow of conversation.

Engage in and Detect Emotional, Influence, and Deception Messages The final function of nonverbal communication involves the pursuit of three specific commu- nication goals. The first is to express emotion, and we depend on nonverbal communication a great deal when we want to share how we are feeling with others. For example, crying, frowning, hugging, and speaking in a higher pitch can indicate that sadness, whereas smiling, shouting, and jumping up and down are typically nonverbal cues of happiness. However, it is rare for someone to experience and express a single emotion. Instead, we tend to experience and express a mixture of emotions, which are called affect blends. For example, if your romantic partner proposes to you, you are likely to be both surprised and happy, and you will nonverbally express elements of both emotions. We also use nonverbal communication to determine what emotions others are experiencing. For example, a study by Sally Planalp (1998) found that vocal, facial, and body cues were frequently used to decode another person’s emotions but that verbal cues (i.e., lan- guage) were considered less often.

Nonverbal communication is also instru- mental in influencing or persuading others. For example, advertisements in our culture use attractive, fit individuals to represent products. Descriptions of products and ser- vices also rely on vocal characteristics such as a soft voice that is not monotone or too high or shrill. In political campaigns, every


▲▲ We tend to experience and express a mixture of emotions. Vocal, facial, and body cues can reveal our emotions and help us decode others’ emotions.

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element of a candidate’s appearance, down to what she wears and how approachable she seems, is constantly monitored and scrutinized by the media and voters. We also employ nonverbal cues on an interpersonal level when we try to persuade others. One analysis (Segrin, 1993) found that we are more likely to convince someone to behave or act in a certain way if we engage in the following nonverbal behaviors: increase eye contact, lightly touch the person on the arm or shoulder, stand at a close but comfortable distance from the person, or wear formal, higher-status clothing. This study also found that these nonverbal tactics are as effective as verbal messages for gaining compliance in interpersonal interactions (Segrin, 1993).

Finally, nonverbal communication can be used to deceive others, as well as to detect the deceit of others. Unlike emotion and influence, however, the decision to focus on nonverbal com- munication in deception situations is not an effective strategy. Most of us believe that we can correctly detect deception, but our accuracy rate is approximately 55%, which means we are about as likely to detect deception as we are to correctly predict heads or tails in a coin toss. It is possible our accuracy rate is low because many communicators know that certain nonverbal cues—such as averting eye contact, fidgeting, or pausing before speaking—can decrease the credibility of a lie so they know to conceal such nonverbal cues. In a landmark study (Park, Levine, McCornack, Morrison, & Ferrara, 2002), college students were asked to recall actual situations where deception was detected (either they were themselves caught lying or they found out someone else was deceiving them). In only 2.1% of these instances were nonverbal behaviors (along with verbal messages) instrumental in detecting deception at the time the lie was told. Instead, the most common methods of discovery were information from others, a combina- tion of methods, and physical evidence (Park et al., 2002). The take-away message here, then, is to actually depend less on nonverbal communication if you suspect someone is lying to you. Instead focus on the bigger picture, listen for verbal inconsistencies, and study the observations made by other communicators.

4.3 Types of Nonverbal Communication Because nonverbal communication involves every way other than language that we can com- municate, there are many different nonverbal cues. How we look and dress, whether we touch someone or not, the sound of our voice, even how we smell can encode a message to oth- ers, among other nonverbal cues. Describing all of the different forms of nonverbal commu- nication is beyond the scope of this text. Instead, we focus on the four types of nonverbal communication:

1. Body language, referred to as kinesics 2. Vocalics, referred to as paralanguage 3. Touch, referred to as haptics 4. Personal space, referred to as proxemics

We significantly rely on these four types of nonverbal communication during our interpersonal interactions, and each type is discussed in detail next. (Check out the Web Field Trip for a quick overview of nonverbal behaviors.)

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Body Language/Kinesics

Body language, also called kinesics, is an important aspect of nonverbal communication because it is a broad category of nonverbal messages that includes any way that our body can move, includ- ing nodding your head in response to something someone says, leaning forward or backward, and crossing your legs. Facial expressions and eye behaviors, discussed in more detail below, are also types of kinesics because they involve specific body movements. In fact, anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell (1952) identified 250,000 different kines, which are the smallest identifiable body movements, in the facial region alone.

Gestures A wealth of unspoken information is communicated with your body, and gestural communica- tion, which is communication related to how you use and move your body, plays a crucial role in interpersonal communication. These gestures usually reinforce or complement the verbal mes- sage. At times, however, you can use gestures without words. In these instances, gestures may carry the entire burden of the communication. Although the hands are the most common body parts used for gesturing, you can use other parts of your body, such as when you shrug your shoulders, nod your head, or wink. Table 4.5 describes some common gestures that are used in the United States. Consider how you would interpret each one in an everyday conversation.

Many gestures are emblems, which are gestures that are clear and unambiguous and have a verbal equivalent in a given culture (Poyatos, 2002a). When you use an emblem, you are doing so consciously and you might not need any verbal communication to get your point across. The hand signals that baseball and football coaches communicate to their players during games are emblems; they are used because verbal communication is difficult due to noisy stadiums, and they prevent the other team from understanding what is being communicated. Most emblems are culturally determined, and they can get you into difficulty if you use them in other countries. In the United States, some emblematic gestures are the thumb-up-and-out hitchhiking sign, the circled thumb and index finger OK sign, and the “V” for victory sign. However, be careful of using these gestures outside the United States. The thumb-up sign in Iran, for example, is an obscene gesture, and the OK sign has sexual connotations in Ethiopia and Mexico (Liebal, Muller, & Pika, 2007).


Dictionary of Nonverbals

The Center for Nonverbal Studies (http://center-for-nonverbal-studies.org/1501.html) is a private nonprofit center that aims to advance the study of nonverbal human communication. Visit the organization’s website and explore the Nonverbal Dictionary. The entries and the discussion in this dictionary consider a range of nonverbal communications, which researchers in a variety of different academic fields study from the perspectives of their respective disciplines. Keep these examples in mind as you learn more about the different types of nonverbal communication, and consider two similar nonverbals, such as smile and laugh, when you evaluate the following questions.

Critical Thinking Questions

1. How do the separate usage and anatomy definitions differ between two similar nonverbals? 2. What is the significance of discussing media as it relates to the distinct nonverbals?

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Table 4.5: Five common gestures used in the United States

Gesture Description Possible Meaning(s)

Shaking your finger at someone Creating a fist with your index finger pointing outward and then moving the finger left and right three or four times

A reprimand for doing something incorrectly

Knocking on wood Creating a fist with knuckle down and then moving it upward and downward in short movements

A superstitious behavior that is intended to ward off bad luck

Shrugging your shoulders Moving your shoulders upward and downward several times

An act that indicates someone is unsure or does not know a piece of information; can also be a way to move rhythmically or in time to music

Rubbing your stomach Making a circular movement with your hand on your stomach, palm inward

A gesture that shows that someone is hungry

Twiddling your thumbs Interlocking the fingers of your hands and then moving your thumbs in circles around each other

An act of boredom or not knowing what to do in a particular situation

Facial Expressions The face is a finely tuned visual channel for sharing information, with the ability to produce a range of expressions from the very subtle to the very dramatic. Faces also convey other types of important information. For example, arching an eyebrow can convey a look of disbelief or can convey a greeting or acknowledgement (Doherty-Sneddon, 2003). The face is the body part pri- marily used to express emotions. Researchers do not agree on how many facial expressions can be formed, but psychologist Paul Ekman, who has studied facial expressions for more than 50 years, has catalogued more than 10,000 human expressions. His research suggests that some facial expressions are almost universal and others are culturally specific (Ekman, 1971). For example, people in all cultures seem to react to fear with similar facial expressions; however, people in dif- ferent cultures are frightened by different things (Griffiths, 2008). Seven facial expressions—con- tempt, fear, surprise, anger, disgust, sadness, and happiness, as you can see in Figure 4.3—appear in all or most cultures and are widely accepted by researchers as universal (Duenwald, 2005).

A few facial expressions appear to be innate, but others seem to be learned. Researchers, for example, report that just moments after birth, newborn babies make expressions of disgust in response to bitter tastes. As children mature, they learn to produce specific facial expressions, to understand the facial expressions of others, and to modify their own expressions to match those of others. Being able to understand and produce appropriate facial expressions is essential to a child’s social development, and problems doing so are often signs of developmental disorders such as autism (Doherty-Sneddon, 2003).

Most adults are adept at controlling their facial movement and masking their feelings, if they work at it. However, this voluntary facial control is only one way that facial expressions are produced. Other facial expressions are spontaneous and involuntary, so they are much more difficult to dis- guise. These spontaneous expressions, called nonverbal leakage because our emotions involun- tarily leak out, occur as a direct result of an emotional experience or feeling. So, when you feel sad or happy (two of the suggested universal emotional expressions mentioned earlier), your face will

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naturally reflect those feelings, unless you deliberately try to mask the expression. It appears that humans are born with the potential to produce the seven basic emotional expressions spontane- ously and do not have to learn them. Children who were born blind have been found to produce these expressions, even though they have never seen them (Doherty-Sneddon, 2003).

Paying attention to and accurately interpreting the facial expressions of others is an extremely important skill you must acquire to be a competent communicator. Ekman (1999) also found that emotional expressions are crucial to the development and regulation of interpersonal

Fear The eyes widen and the upper lids rise, as in surprise, but the brows draw together and are not curved. Person has a hard stare. The lips stretch horizon- tally, and mouth may open.

Anger Both the lower and upper eyelids tighten as the brows lower and are drawn inward and down. Upper eyelids are tense and lids tightened to appear as if squinting. Lips are either tightly pressed together or the mouth is open and squared, with lips raised and/or the jaw thrust forward.

Happiness No distinctive brow appearance. Eyes may be relaxed or neutral or upper lids tense and pulled up at the inner corner, narrowing the eyes and creating crow’s feet at the outside corners. Outer corners of lips are raised and usually drawn back.

Surprise The upper eyelids and brows rise, the eyebrows are raised and curved, and the jaw drops open.

Sadness Brows are drawn together with inner corners raised and outer corners lowered or level, or brows are drawn down in the middle and slightly raised at inner corners, with eyelids drooping. Mouth is either closed or open with partially stretched, trembling lips, with the corners of the lips pulled down.

Contempt This is the only expression that appears on just one side of the face. One half of the upper lip tightens upward.

Disgust Brows are drawn down but not together. The nose wrinkles, and the lower eyelids are raised but not tensed. Mouth is either open with upper lip raised and lower lip forward or out, mouth is closed with upper lip pushed up while the lower lip protrudes.


Figure 4.3: Universal facial expressions and emotions

Certain facial expressions, associated with specific emotions, are consistent across cultures.

Source: Paul Ekman, Ph.D./Paul Ekman Group, LLC. Used by permission.

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relationships. Facial expressions are involved in forming attachments with people in infancy as well as in courtship and they are associated with the regulation, increase, and decrease of aggres- sion. As with all forms of communication, nonverbal messages may be unclear or ambiguous, so providing feedback or questioning someone to make sure your interpretation of facial expres- sions is correct is an essential part of the communication process.

Eye Behavior One of the most important aspects of nonverbal communication is eye behavior. Were you aware that every culture has unwritten rules about when it is permissible to look at someone, where you can look, and how long you can look? For example, in the United States total strangers usually think nothing of stopping someone on the street who is pushing a stroller to gaze at the baby, and caregivers usually think nothing about letting them do so. Americans tend to look at others above the neck or below the knees. Looking at other parts of a person’s body is considered impo- lite, while looking at anyone for more than three to five seconds can be interpreted as staring. In Japan, however, direct eye contact makes many Japanese people uncomfortable and may be interpreted as an attempt to intimidate or an indication of hostility. Instead, it is advisable to gaze at a person’s forehead or chin most of the time (Gesteland & Seyk, 2002).

Eye behavior communicates in many important ways. You can widen, narrow, close, or roll your eyes. You can raise and lower your gaze, and you can wink. You can hold your eyes steady, look over your shoulder, or turn your head and look behind. You can also raise or lower your eyebrows or scowl to draw your eyebrows close. Laughter is also reflected in the eyes, and they become bright when you laugh; however, your eyes can also glaze over when you are bored, and tears can fall from your eyes with sadness (Esposito, Bratanic, & Keller, 2007). Your eyes can send messages of love, hate, dominance, and empathy, and they are important indicators of your feelings.

The act of fixing your eyes on someone is called eye gaze. When you communicate with another person, gazing at him or her serves two primary purposes: (1) to help you monitor the conversation and know when it is your turn to speak; and (2) to obtain feedback (Esposito et al., 2007). Eye gaze typically does not involve steady fixation on one location on the face. Our gaze tends to move around the other person’s face in brief fixations, primarily on the other person’s eyes and mouth.

Having someone gaze at you can be pleas- ant, especially if you look at someone you are attracted to and he or she returns your gaze. However, if you gaze at a person to the extent that it causes discomfort, the person may inter- pret the eye behavior as threatening or intimi-

dating. As a result eye behavior is one area of nonverbal communication in which children are often given explicit instructions such as, “It’s rude to stare at someone” (Doherty-Sneddon, 2003).


Your voice reveals a great deal about you. Your vocal quality or tone, rate of speech, volume, pitch, and rhythm, along with your silences and the vocal fillers you use when you pause often


▲▲ You can use eye gaze to monitor the other communicator during a conversation and determine when it is your turn to speak.

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communicate your feelings, intentions, and meanings in powerful ways. These vocal elements are called paralanguage. When people are angry, their voices usually get louder and shriller. When tired, their voices are often flat and dull. Trainers often instruct people in customer relations jobs to smile when they talk with customers on the telephone because the facial smile also tends to “put a smile in your voice.”

You can recognize people by their voices. In fact, your individual voice is unique, and you can be identified by a voice print, a computer-generated analysis that can distinguish one person’s voice from another. How often have you heard someone talking as they walked by and knew who they were before you looked up? When you communicate with others, what does your voice say about you? In addition to the primary vocal characteristics that give your voice its distinct character, you also use other aspects of paralanguage, such as sounds and silence, to send nonverbal mes- sages about your attitude. Let’s examine how aspects of your voice and elements of paralanguage contribute to your communication with others.

Timbre The timbre (pronounced “TAM-ber”) of your voice refers to its overall quality and tone and is often called the “color” of your voice. Timbre is often regarded as one of the primary character- istics of a person’s voice. It is what makes your voice either pleasant or disturbing to listen to. Adjectives often used to describe the timbre of a person’s voice include clear, brassy, mellow, breathy, resonant, piercing, harsh, nasal, warm, melodious, thin, and flat.

Pitch One of the most important ways you convey messages with your voice is through pitch. Vocal pitch describes where your voice is on the musical scale and determines whether singing voices are soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, or bass. Your pitch goes up and down the musical scale as you express different thoughts and feelings. When you are excited, for example, you usually uncon- sciously tighten the muscles in your throat, which causes your voice to rise in pitch. Changes in pitch are called vocal inflection and can affect how interesting you judge a person to be. Someone who speaks at the same pitch all the time, with no changes in their voice to express emotions, is said to speak in a monotone, and you may find it boring and difficult to pay attention to that speaker. Vocal inflection is also an important element in creating meaning. For example, try this exercise: Say the sentence “I never said he stole money” six times, emphasizing a different word each time. The first time you say the sentence, emphasize the word I: “I never said he stole money.” The second time, emphasize the word never: “I never said he stole money.” Continue the exercise, emphasizing each of the last four words as you repeat the sentence. Did you get a differ- ent meaning from the sentence each time?

Tempo Tempo refers to your rate of speech—how slowly or quickly you talk. Your speech tempo is influenced by whether you lengthen the syllables of a word (called a drawl) or shorten the syl- lables (called clipped speech). It is also influenced by how fast you deliver the sequence of words in a sentence, by how often you pause, and by how long you hold that pause between words or sentences. These vocal characteristics are all part of your individual vocal style, and they enable you to emphasize certain words when you speak. They can also indicate power, self-assurance, or dominance, as when you speak very deliberately and distinctly. On the other hand, if you speak very slowly or hesitate when you talk, the tempo of your speech can show a lack of self-confidence or suggest that you are uncertain about what you are saying (Poyatos, 2002b).

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Nonverbal Vocalizations

Some of the vocal features that can convey meaning are specific sounds, noises, and behaviors called nonverbal vocalizations. These vocalizations include laughing, crying, shouting, sigh- ing, gasping, panting, yawning, coughing or clearing the throat, spitting, belching, hiccupping, and sneezing. These behaviors, sounds, and noises—along with others we humans can produce such as “grrr” to indicate anger or frustration, “psst” to get someone’s attention, or “ah” when we see a beautiful sunset—help us express our ideas and feelings without words (Poyatos, 2002b). Vocalizations can be voluntary or involuntary, but they modify our communication and send a nonverbal message.

Pauses and Silences Sometimes when we communicate, we stop making sounds. The presence or absence of pauses or moments of silence, how often they occur, and how appropriate or inappropriate they are to the conversation can be important messages in our communication. “I do not want you to dis- turb me” is the message of the person sitting next to you in an airplane if he or she remains silent and does not initiate conversation or greet you when you arrive, and most of us get the message (Penna, Mocci, & Sechi, 2009).


In recent years, researchers have begun focusing on the study of touch, called haptics, and how it contributes to interpersonal communication. Indeed, physically touching another, says Dacher Keltner, a psychology researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, is the first nonverbal cue that we learn, and it remains “our richest means of emotional expression” throughout our lives (Carey, 2010, para. 3).

The sense of touch is a particularly interesting type of nonverbal communication because it does not correspond to any single physical organ. We have receptors and nerve endings throughout our bodies that record pressure, temperature, pain, and movement when we touch something or someone. Touch can be receptive, such as when we receive a pat on the back. It can also be expressive and convey a wide range of emotions from a slap in anger to a gentle touch that

communicates empathy to a high five that expresses jubilation. A touch can soothe and comfort or it can push someone away. It can also bring distant objects and people into proximity (Paterson, 2007). Touch can often convey a wider range of emotion than a gesture and sometimes more quickly and more easily than words. In a recent series of experiments, volunteers tried to communi- cate a list of emotions by touching a blind- folded stranger. The participants were able to communicate eight distinct emotions, from gratitude to disgust to love, some with about 70% accuracy (Carey, 2010).

Touch can convey so many different emo- tions, so use touch in interpersonal inter- actions only when you are relatively certain


▲▲ Touch can be expressive and convey a wide variety of emo- tions, often more than can be expressed by a gesture.

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that its meaning cannot be misconstrued or in relationships where certain forms of touch are appropriate. Many people in many cultures object to being touched in any manner whatsoever, unless it is by someone with whom they are in a close relationship and to whom they have given tacit approval for the touch. In a business environment, a handshake is one exception. Among both men and women in professional business situations in the United States, a simple handshake upon meeting someone or leaving is an acceptable form of touch. A high five has also become popular as an informal touch among friends or peers—but not with people in positions of author- ity, unless they initiate the gesture. Kissing and extended periods of touch, in contrast, are typi- cally reserved for romantic partners or our immediate family members. Therefore, consider your relationship when you touch another person; that is your best guide to what type of touch to use and how long it should last.

Personal Space/Proxemics

Another nonverbal cue that affects interpersonal communication is the use of physical space. The study of physical space is known as proxemics. This term was first suggested by anthro- pologist Edward T. Hall in his 1966 book The Hidden Dimension. Hall (1966) suggested that, in the United States, communicating with others happens from one of four primary personal space distances. Your personal space can be thought of as the invisible bubble you carry around your body at all times. These distances, which Hall referred to as spatial zones, are illustrated in Figure 4.4.

• The intimate zone, a distance of between 6 to 18 inches, is reserved for close, intimate relationships. A distance of 18 inches is about the length of your arm, so at an intimate distance, you can literally reach out and touch someone.

• The personal zone, from about 18 inches to about 4 feet, is the distance used for everyday encounters. This is the distance that feels most comfortable to Americans when they carry on a casual conversation with a friend or coworker. At this distance, people can move their arms around freely to gesture, without inadvertently touching someone, and this distance allows a normal tone of voice and volume.

• The social zone, a distance of approximately 4 to 12 feet, is sometimes known as a busi- ness distance. It is the distance generally used in business meetings at a large conference table and at other formal occasions. Most office desks are between 30 and 42 inches wide, so if one person sits at a chair behind the desk and another person sits on the opposite side of the desk, the two individuals will be positioned in this social zone to carry on a formal conversation such as a job interview.

• The public zone, between 12 and 25 feet, is the distance maintained by public figures when they speak to an audience, such as at a podium in a formal public speaking situation.

It is interesting to observe behavior when these personal spatial zones are violated. In a crowded elevator, for example, people are often unable to maintain at least 18 inches between themselves and other people. Instead, they may be forced to stand within someone else’s intimate zone. Some people try to deal with this invasion of space in one of two ways. First, they will try to create as much distance between themselves and others as possible. The first person getting into the elevator will usually stand as far as possible to one side, the second person will stand at the opposite side, and a third person will stand in the middle, equidistant from the other two. Second, all three people will generally face forward and minimize their nonverbal signals. They will usually avoid eye contact with one another and reduce their facial expressions and body movements.

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The distance between people can also send messages about the nature of their relationship. For example, Figure 4.5 illustrates a typical office arrangement in which two people sit across a desk from each other. This positioning puts people at a social or business distance from each other where communication tends to be more formal. Studies also show that this positioning tends to promote competition or is the distance that people maintain when they do not like each other (Hill, Rivers, & Watson, 2008). Simply moving one chair to the side of the desk, as shown in Figure 4.6, reduces the distance between people and puts them at a personal distance from each other. Communication at this distance tends to be more relaxed and informal, and people tend to sit next to or adjacent to those with whom they have a cooperative relationship.


Public Zone (12 ft.–25 ft.)

Social or Business Zone (4 ft.–12 ft.)

Personal Zone (18 in.–4 ft.)

Intimate Zone (6–18 inches)

Figure 4.4: The four primary distances in U.S. culture

Hall (1966) proposed that communication can occur in four distinct personal distance zones: intimate, personal, social or business, and public.

Source: Adapted from Hall, E. T. (1966). The hidden dimension. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Verbal and Nonverbal Communication in the Digital Age Chapter 4

4.4 Verbal and Nonverbal Communication in the Digital Age

Verbal communication is an essential part of communicating in our increasingly online world. Mediated communication channels, especially ones that allow us to directly interact with oth- ers such as mobile phones and social networks, rely primarily on language to achieve shared meaning. This is not to say that we only communicate using verbal messages in online envi- ronments; as we discussed in Chapter 1, we can use emoticons, punctuation, and capitalized words as nonverbal symbols that provide additional meaning to the words we write. We can also now communicate using videoconferencing technology on our computers, tablets, and mobile phones—devices that allow both verbal and nonverbal messages to be encoded and decoded. As in our face-to-face interactions with others, both verbal and nonverbal messages are important when we communicate via mediated channels. Though we have not yet perfected a way to touch or smell one another over mediated channels, our current digital nonverbal communication is a vast improvement over earlier channels, such as electronic mail and listservs, which relied almost exclusively on written text. The following section describes the unique importance of both verbal and nonverbal communication in the digital age.

Verbal Communication in Mediated Contexts

As we noted above, we simply could not communicate online without language. When com- puter-mediated communication (CMC) began to grow and became a common way for us to communicate, communication researchers became more interested in understanding how com- municating via CMC was different from interacting face-to-face. This early research on the dif- ferences between CMC and face-to-face interactions found that users rated CMC as less personal, more negative and task-oriented, and more focused on the self because online environments predominantly relied on verbal communication (e.g., Walther, 1992). Now, however, there is less



Figure 4.5: Social or business zone

Sitting or standing across from someone tends to be the typical distance for more formal interactions.

Figure 4.6: Personal zone

Moving a chair can change the social distance to a personal distance and create a less formal communication environment.

Verbal and Nonverbal Communication in the Digital Age Chapter 4

of a division between CMC and face-to-face interactions because there are a greater variety of online and mediated methods of communication, and mediated audio and video technologies are increasingly available. In other words, though we once relied on e-mail text that we read on a computer screen, we now can use our mobile phones to instantly snap and share photographs online and to video chat with our friends via Skype or FaceTime. The addition of these sounds and visuals means that nonverbal communication is possible online, and it provides us with more information and context when communicating via CMC channels.

But unlike in face-to-face interactions, where we derive 60–65% of meaning from nonverbal communication (Burgoon, 1994), verbal communication—be it via text message, Facebook status updates, tweets, blog entries, or e-mail—is still the primary currency in our digital interactions with others. In fact, the sheer number of verbal messages that are exchanged via digital and new media is staggering, and this growth is primarily due to increased mobile phone use. Indeed, mediated verbal messages that once were only able to be sent and received via a computer are now also available on mobile phones, including e-mail, social networking, online game playing, video chatting, and text messaging. According to Online IT Degree (2011), 200 trillion (that’s 200,000,000,000,000) text messages were received in America each day during 2011, which is more than the amount of regular ground mail items received in one year. In addition, sending and receiving text messages is the second most popular use for mobile phones, after checking the time (Online IT Degree, 2011). Further, 31% of Americans prefer being contacted by text message rather than the phone, and two-thirds of teens report being more likely to text than to call their friends (Lenhart et al., 2010; Smith, 2011).

Using mediated channels to communicate verbal messages, either via text messages or e-mails, can provide you with time to construct your message and a permanent record of what you said, and this can be helpful when you are engaging in formal interactions or with business and profes- sional associates. The speed, convenience, and permanence of text messaging likely contribute to its frequent and preferred usage. However, compared to other ways that we can interpersonally communicate, texting does not offer very many message cues (Burgoon et al., 2002). For example, text messages are largely stripped of most nonverbal information, which can provide additional context, such as the emotions that an individual is feeling, or even contradict the verbal message entirely, such as when one’s tone of voice indicates that the person is being sarcastic about what she is saying. However, in instances where only written text is available, removing nonverbal cues can actually focus users’ attention on what is being verbally transmitted (Burgoon et al., 2002). In this way having limited information, such as we do when texting, could be beneficial for communication.

Nonverbal Communication in Mediated Contexts

Compared to verbal communication, researchers and communicators initially considered digi- tal or mediated contexts less useful channels for nonverbal communication. Consider CMC in an online classroom: Online you do not have the benefit of the facial expressions, vocalics, and other nonverbal cues that you would have in a physical classroom, but you have more oppor- tunities to contribute than you would have in a physical classroom where time constraints and group size may limit the number of people who can participate in a discussion. Limited nonverbal cues in e-mails or text messages, however, can create misunderstandings. To prevent these misunderstandings, many people use emoticons, or specific combinations of keyboard symbols, to replace physical facial expressions and help people interpret the meaning of a par- ticular statement.

Verbal and Nonverbal Communication in the Digital Age Chapter 4

Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon (2003) has examined how we change our communication style when we cannot see the other person, such as when we communicate by telephone. When there are no visual cues, turn taking in the conversation becomes more formal. We tend to speak in longer turns and avoid interrupting the other person. We also use phrases such as, “What do you think?” when we hand the conversation over to the other person, and we check about 50% more often to make sure the other person has heard and understood us by asking questions such as, “Do you know what I mean?” We also seek to confirm information more often by asking questions such as, “So, if I understand you correctly, you want me to . . . , right?” (Doherty-Sneddon, 2003). Providing feedback and paraphrasing the other person’s statements are important listening behaviors in mediated communication, especially because technical noise in equipment, such as an intermit- tent cellular signal, can sometimes make listening more difficult. But as various forms of new media are introduced and grow in sophis- tication, the opportunities for nonverbal communication in mediated channels con- tinue to expand.

Multimedia and other visual-based ele- ments available in online environments make it easier for us to send and receive nonverbal communication through visual channels. For example, in 2012, 56% of Internet users viewed or posted photos or videos online (Rainie, Brenner, & Purcell, 2012). Some social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest primarily rely on communication through visual images. Instagram’s objective illustrates the cen- trality of visual images shared via mediated contexts:

Snap a photo with your mobile phone, then choose a filter to transform the image into a mem- ory to keep around forever. We’re building Instagram to allow you to experience moments in your friends’ lives through pictures as they happen. We imagine a world more connected through photos. (Instagram Frequently Asked Questions, 2013, para. 2)

Such platforms are increasingly popular with Internet users. According to research, 12% of Internet users now use either Instagram or Pinterest (Rainie et al., 2012).

It is also possible to transmit auditory nonverbal signals in digital contexts. In addition to still images, computers, mobile phones, and tablets with built-in cameras allow users to send and receive videos. YouTube.com, a website where users share and view free video content, is the third most visited website in the world, with 450 million unique monthly visitors in July 2013 (Alexa. com, 2013). Videoconferencing applications such as Skype, Google Hangouts, and FaceTime also allow individuals to see, hear, and speak to one another in real time, over great distances, and with relative ease. We can now see and hear one another online better than ever before. We can even give someone a “thumbs up” when we like a friend’s post on Facebook, and we can cycle through multiple profile photographs to carefully determine how to visually represent who we are to other Facebook users (e.g., Hum et al., 2011). Nonverbal communication’s influence on mediated channels will continue to grow as technology offers more and more improvements in visual and auditory options.

Karly Domb Sadof/Associated Press

▲▲ In online environments, multimedia and other visually based elements make it easier for users to communicate and decode nonverbal signals.

Developing Verbal and Nonverbal Communication Competence Chapter 4

As we saw, there are also benefits to using mediated channels to verbally communicate. Options for communicating via mediated channels are continuously emerging, and as they do we will respond by adapting our verbal and nonverbal messages to communicate competently and achieve shared meaning in these digital and online contexts. Simply having these additional mediated channels to communicate provides us with more options for interacting with one another. Shifting seamlessly back and forth between face-to-face and mediated communication with a relational partner can increase how satisfied we are with that relationship (Caughlin & Shirabi, 2013) and can provide us with adaptability and flexibility in our interpersonal com- munication with others. (See IPC in the Digital Age to learn more about social norms in online communication.)


Nonverbal Social Norms Online

There are unspoken rules regarding nonverbal communication in face-to-face interactions, but do we also follow these rules in online interactions? Nick Yee, a research scientist at the Palo Alto Research Center studying interactions in virtual environments, teamed up with colleagues to examine how those who play massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) such as Second Life observe nonverbal communication rules when interacting in these games. MMORPG players use three-dimensional avatars, or digital representations of themselves, in these games. The researchers) predicted that players’ avatars would follow similar social norms, as if these players were communicating face-to-face (Yee, Bailenson, Urbanek, Chang, & Merget, 2007).

By observing avatar interactions, Yee and his colleagues (2007) found that MMORPG players did indeed follow a number of nonverbal rules. For example, as in face-to-face interactions, the ava- tars stood closer to opposite-sex avatars compared to those of the same sex. In addition, when one avatar got too physically close, the other avatar compensated for this rule violation by looking away or moving back. Avatars who were talking to one another also stood close to and engaged in eye contact with one another. In other words, even though players in these games were not physically proximal to each other, they still feel the need to nonverbally communicate as they would in a face-to-face interaction. Yee and his colleagues (2007) concluded from their findings that the rules that govern our real, physical selves also direct our virtual, created selves when we interact online.

Critical Thinking Questions

1. Apply these findings to your own online interactions. If you play MMORPGs, do you notice that these nonverbal communication rules are followed?

2. When communication rules are broken, does it make you feel uncomfortable? 3. How do you think these rules change when we are videoconferencing with others and not com-

municating through avatars?

4.5 Developing Verbal and Nonverbal Communication Competence

You have already begun the work of becoming a more competent communicator by increasing your knowledge of language and how language works. Our ability to communicate both verbally and through mediated channels has a significant impact on our interpersonal communication.

Developing Verbal and Nonverbal Communication Competence Chapter 4

Nonverbal communication is also an important aspect of interpersonal communication. People vary in their ability to send and receive nonverbal messages, and difficulty understanding or interpreting nonverbal messages can be a serious challenge in interpersonal communication and can compromise our communication competence.

Success in your personal life, in school, and in the workplace thus depends on communica- tion skills now more than ever. To be a competent communicator, it is important to analyze your own communications, observe how others communicate, and learn how to practice and adjust your skills in different contexts. Language skills include the ability to speak and write well and an understanding of grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and language usage. However, research shows that another crucial skill is the ability to adjust language, make appropriate language choices, and accurately interpret messages (Halliday & Webster, 2004). Understanding and implementing these skills can improve your communication competence. Similarly, if you pay more attention to your own nonverbal behaviors and those of the people with whom you interact, you can make appropriate nonverbal communication choices too. Doing so will increase your knowledge, which then will help you to be a more motivated and skilled nonverbal communicator. The following strategies emphasize actions you can take to continue to improve both your verbal and nonverbal communication competency in a variety of contexts.

Analyze Your Own Communication

When you communicate, be conscious of the language you use and the nonverbal signals you send. Consider the purpose, receiver, and topic of the communication. Try this exercise:

Make and evaluate a video of yourself talking with a friend or family member. Then review the video and critically analyze the language and types of nonverbal signals you use during the interaction. Is your word choice and vocabulary suitable for the situation, for the con- text, and for the topic of the interaction? Is your language biased or neutral? Then listen to your voice and consider the different vocalic elements. Also observe your body language and determine how you use your eyes, your face, your body, touch, and personal space when you interact with the other communicator.

Using Figure 4.7, assess each of the issues concerning your vocal and visual behavior and ask the other communicator to perform the same assessment. The more you know about your com- munication choices the better able you are to evaluate the appropriateness of your choices and to adjust the communication as needed. This allows you to be more appropriate in your com- munication, contributing to your communication competence. Strive to use language that is most suitable to the situation, language that is not biased or unethical, and to be cognizant of how your body language, vocalics, touch, and treatment of personal space affect your interac- tions with others.

Boxed text provides a helpful guide for assessing personal vocal, visual, and touch behaviors used in a communication situation.

Observe How Others Communicate

Develop a habit of observing others in interpersonal communication settings, especially during your own interactions with others. Just as you monitor your own language choices and nonver- bal signals, observe how others behave in different interactions. Pay attention to their language, vocal, spatial, and touch techniques. Consider how they use body language to build rapport.

Developing Verbal and Nonverbal Communication Competence Chapter 4

Sometimes it is a good idea to match the verbal and nonverbal communication styles of the other communicator. Consider again communication accommodation theory (CAT), which was intro- duced in Chapter 3. How does the communication either converge or diverge during an interac- tion? What happens if the communicator overaccomodates? Table 4.6 provides some examples of elements that you can monitor during an interaction.



Timbre: What adjective could be used to describe your voice? For example, is it harsh, commanding, shrill, or melodious? Is it pleasant or unpleasant?

Pitch: Does your voice have sufficient vocal variety; do you vary the pitch of your voice to keep listeners interested in what you have to say?

Tempo: Do you talk at a rate of speech that allows people to follow you easily, or do you speak too quickly or too slowly at times?

General: • Do any nonverbal vocalizations or dysfluencies interfere with your vocal effectiveness and appropriateness? • In what areas of your vocal communication do you think that you excel? What areas could use some improvement? • Do any of your vocal characteristics distract from or conflict with your verbal message?


Eye Behavior: Do you generally make eye contact with people during a conversation? Have you been told you make extended eye contact that could be construed as staring? Do you look at people appropriately or do you have any tendencies to violate norms about where you look?

Facial Expression: Do you make facial expressions such as frowning or scowling of which you are not conscious? Are your facial expressions natural? Do you smile appropriately or inappropriately? Do your facial expressions communicate that you are friendly or aloof?

Body Posture and Movement: Do you nod your head appropriately to provide feedback to others when they communicate? Do you lean forward when you interact with others to show interest in them? Is your body posture open and friendly, or do you tend to look uncomfortable in the presence of others?

Hand Gestures: Do you gesture naturally when you talk to reinforce your verbal messages? Do you gesture so much that you appear flighty or nervous? Do you hide your hands, keep them at your sides, or fold your arms, which can make you appear unapproachable?

Personal Space: Do you stand too close or too far away from others? Do you move closer and farther away from others along with the natural flow of conversation? Do you notice others moving away from you when you are speaking with them?

General: • In what areas of your visual communication do you think that you excel? • What areas could use some improvement? • Do any of your visual characteristics distract from or conflict with your verbal message?


How much do you touch others? Does touching come naturally to you or do prefer not to touch or be touched?

Do you touch others in a way that is appropriate for your relationship of the situation?

How do others react when you touch them? How do you respond when you are touched? Do they (or you) stiffen up or seem comfortable?

General: • In what areas of your haptic communication do you think that you excel? • What areas could use some improvement? • Do any of your touch messages distract from or conflict with your verbal message?

Figure 4.7: Assessment of vocal, visual, and touch behavior

The more you know about your communication choices, the better able you are to evaluate and adjust your behaviors as needed.

Developing Verbal and Nonverbal Communication Competence Chapter 4

Table 4.6: Verbal and nonverbal elements to monitor during an interaction

Communication Types What to Look For

Verbal Spoken or written language

Is the language used formal or informal?

Is the language used appropriate for the situation or context in which the interaction is taking place?

Does the communicator use jargon or language that is not easily understood?

Does the verbal message correspond with or contradict the nonverbal messages that are being used?


Touch What type of touch is occurring (e.g., kiss, handshake, hug)?

Gestures What emotions or moods are being expressed via body movement or the facial expressions?

Space How close or distant are the communicators from one another? Do both seem comfortable with the amount of space that is between them?

Practice and Adjust Your Communication Skills

Develop strategies for improving your verbal and nonverbal communication skills, and be sure to practice. For example, reading as much as possible can be an excellent way to build your vocabu- lary. A similar strategy can also help you identify elements of nonverbal communication that you can improve and practice. Consider again Figure 4.7 and your assessment of your nonverbal communication. See Table 4.7 to learn more about other strategies that can help you practice and improve such communication skills. But be aware that you may need to continually adjust your language and nonverbal communication for different interactions.

Table 4.7: Strategies for practicing and improving your communication skills

Strategies Goals

Verbal communication

Read frequently and read a variety of sources, such as newspapers, books, and even social media posts.

To find and learn new terms and understand and use them in new contexts.

Have a large and varied vocabulary to give you more word choices.

To help you encode and decode language accurately and appropriately.

To help you and the other communicator negotiate and agree upon meaning in an interaction.

Offer feedback to other communicators about how you interpret their messages by rephrasing: “Let me make sure I under- stand:” or “Are you saying that…”.

Nonverbal communication

Assess your nonverbal communication behaviors.

To learn how you uniquely nonverbally communicate and identify possible areas of improvement.

Use feedback from others to adjust your nonverbal communication.

To better reflect the social norms of an interaction or the personal preferences of another communicator.

Summary and Resources Chapter 4

Summary and Resources Communication serves a wide range of needs in our lives, and language is the primary code we use to communicate with others. Language serves many functions in your life; it can be formal or informal, and is sometimes prejudiced or manipulated to suit political and social purposes. As children, you first learned the instrumental function of language as a means of expressing your needs, wants, and desires; soon, however, you learned that language has a regulatory function as well. As you became older and began to master your native language, your words began to help you form and maintain relationships.

We sometimes tend to take our use of language for granted, but good verbal skills are essential for personal and professional success, and they are critical to forming and maintaining relationships. Words are powerful tools; they create your reality, reflect your attitudes, and have multiple inten- tions and interpretations. Words do not have inherent meanings; rather, meanings are in people. Meanings are always personal and are the result of many factors, including your personality, your experiences, and the context in which the communication occurs. This interactional function of language helps you define yourself and your membership in groups and aids you in persuading others with your interpersonal communication. Language also allows you to participate with others in creating worlds that do not exist in the physical realm but only in your imagination, to participate with others in social customs, and to help establish your identify and distinguish yourself from those around you.

Language can be a primary communication vehicle during interactions, but nonverbal cues are also an important aspect of interpersonal communication. Nonverbal communication is the transmission of messages without the use of words, and this type of communication includes a wide range of vocal and visual signs and behaviors. Nonverbal messages have different character- istics, but they share common purposes: They primarily communicate your emotions and atti- tudes and contribute information to your conversations about how you are feeling and what you are thinking. They can also be a way to provide feedback to others, to show interest in them, and to help you regulate and maintain your conversations with other people. Some of the messages you send nonverbally are conscious and intentional, but many are innate aspects of your voice and body that you cannot easily change. Still other nonverbal communication is unconscious and the result of habits you have developed.

Nonverbal messages serve a variety of functions in interpersonal communication either in com- bination with or instead of verbal messages. You send messages to people by means of both non- verbal vocalizations and visible signs. Primary vocal characteristics, such as the quality and tone of a voice, are unique to each individual. But other vocal features, such as sounds, noises, behav- iors, and pauses and silences, also contribute to your interpersonal communication. Similarly, some body language is personal and has meaning only to the communicators, but other visual signs convey a standard, shared meaning in a particular culture. When some visual signals, such as hand gestures, are used outside a specific culture they may have entirely different interpreta- tions and thus be misinterpreted.

You can improve both your verbal and nonverbal communication skills by analyzing your com- munication, observing others as they communicate, and practicing and adjusting your communi- cation. Improving your verbal communication skills is essential for educational and professional success. Some ways to improve your verbal communication competency are to improve your vocabulary, to increase your awareness of the language you use, to make appropriate language choices, and to adapt your language to communication situations. It is important to provide feed- back and check for understanding to make sure that both the sender and the receiver of the

Summary and Resources Chapter 4

communication share the meaning of words, and you must modify your language to ensure that your use of language is appropriate. The same is true for nonverbal communication. It is impor- tant to be more aware of what signals you send and how such signals are interpreted because you are then better able to adjust your behaviors for different interactions. Over time, this higher level of attention to both your verbal and nonverbal communication will help you increase your overall interpersonal communication competency.

Key Terms

abstract symbol A word or gesture that relates to an idea or concept that exists only in the mind and does not represent a tangible object.

affect blends The mixture of emotions communicators can experience and express during an interaction.

biased language Language that presents an attitude that is not objective or balanced, is preju- diced, or uses words that intentionally or unintentionally offend people or express an unfair attitude concerning a person’s race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disability, or illness.

confirming message A message that provides a basic acknowledgement that the other person in an interaction is present, accepted, and that the relationship is important.

connotation What a word suggests or implies; connotations give words their emotional impact.

de facto language A language that may not be recognized legally but exists in reality or in fact.

denotation The dictionary definition or descriptive meaning of a word.

dialect A variety of a language that is spoken in a geographic or social group of people that dif- fers in grammar, pronunciation, and structure from others’ use of the same language.

disconfirming message A message that is the opposite of a confirming message because the other person in an interaction is disregarded or even ignored.

emblems Gestures that are clear and unambiguous and have a verbal equivalent in a culture.

eye gaze The act of fixing one’s eyes on someone.

formal language Speech or written expression that is more careful and more mannered than everyday speech and is used in the academic world and most professional workplaces.

gestural communication Communication that involves using and moving one’s body.

haptics The study of touch as a means of communication.

inflection Changes in vocal pitch.

informal language Speech or written expression that is common or nonstandard and is usu- ally not appropriate in academic and professional speech or written communication.

intimate zone Distance of 6 to 18 inches between communicators, which is reserved for close, intimate relationships.

Summary and Resources Chapter 4

jargon The specialized or technical language of a specific group or profession that may not be understood by outsiders.

kines The smallest identifiable body movements.

kinesics The study of visible means of communicating, using body language such as eye behav- ior, facial expression, body posture and movement, and hand gestures.

nonverbal leakage Spontaneous expressions that involuntarily occur during an interaction as a direct result of an emotional experience or feeling.

nonverbal vocalization A type of paralanguage that consists of sounds, noises, and behaviors that are often accompanied by body language.

paralanguage Voice characteristics and nonverbal vocalizations that communicate feelings, intentions, and meanings.

personal zone Distance of 18 inches to 4 feet between communicators, which is appropriate for everyday encounters.

phonology The sound of a particular language or dialect.

pitch The placement of one’s voice on the musical scale; the basis on which singing voices are classified as soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, or bass.

proxemics The study of physical space as a means of communication.

public zone Distance of 12 to 25 feet between communicators, which is maintained for public speaking.

racist language Language that demeans or insults people on the basis of their race or ethnicity.

Sapir-Whorf hypothesis Theory that language is not just a way of voicing ideas, but it actually shapes and determines those ideas.

sexist language Language that excludes individuals on the basis of gender or shows bias toward or against people due to their gender.

social zone Distance of 4 to 12 feet between communicators, which is suitable for business or other formal interactions.

tempo The rate of one’s speech; how slowly or quickly one talks.

timbre The overall quality and tone, which is often called the “color” of one’s voice; the pri- mary vocal quality that makes a voice either pleasant or disturbing to hear.

vernacular A variety of language used by speakers in informal situations.

Critical Thinking and Discussion Questions

1. Think again about the discussion from Chapter 3. What do you think is the relationship between language and culture? How do they interact with one another, specifically in your dominant culture?

Summary and Resources Chapter 4

2. In what ways are denotative or connotative meanings uniquely important in achieving shared understanding in an interaction?

3. Recall a conversation where someone used disconfirming or biased communication toward you. How did you respond and how did this response alter the tone of the interaction?

4. Think about a recent interaction you had. Did you derive more meaning from nonverbal or verbal communication in that encounter? Why was that type of message more important?

5. What form of nonverbal communication do you tend to focus on when communicating with others? Why do you think that you emphasize this particular type of nonverbal communication?

6. Consider the different forms and functions of verbal and nonverbal communication discussed in this chapter. Are there other functions of both verbal and nonverbal communication?