How far does non-verbal communication (NVC) regulate conversation?
How far does non-verbal communication (NVC) regulate conversation?
Interpersonal communication i.e. face-to-face communication is broken down into two forms, one being Verbal, the actual words used. The second being Non-Verbal, which includes facial expressions, eye contact, tone of voice, body posture and motions, and positioning within groups. It may also include the way we wear our clothes, or the silence that we keep.
In 1948, Harold Lasswell, a political scientist proposed a linear model, which explains the communication process as "Who says what to whom in what channel with what effect." Lasswell’s model focuses primarily on verbal communication. See diagram below
Following this theory, which presents communication as a linear process, within which the roles of the sender and receiver are clearly distinguished. It would be fair to summarize that communication, is the major factor in this model. This model shows that information about the sender and receiver is not deemed relevant, neither is feedback.
The following theorists dealt with the criticism of this theory by showing that although the verbal communication is a part of the message, it is actually a very small part. To find out what kind of effect our communication has, we need some kind of feedback. If I speak to you, I listen to your responses and watch for signs of interest, boredom etc. In other words, I use feedback from you to gauge the effect of my communication. If you give me positive feedback by showing interest, I'll continue in the same vein, if you give me negative feedback by showing boredom, I'll change the subject, or change my style, or stop speaking.
Osgood and Scramm proved that more factors had to be considered for effective communication to take place. “It is misleading to think of the communication process as starting somewhere and ending somewhere. It is really endless”. Schramm W. (1954) quoted in McQuail & Windahl (1981)
The Osgood and Schramm circular model is an attempt to remedy that deficiency: The model emphasizes the circular nature of communication. The participants swap between the roles of source/encoder and receiver/decoder.
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Osgood & Schramm
Further research into communication takes a step further, by recognizing that there are even more factors involved when communication takes place.
One of the most complex theories was produced by Berlo. See diagram below
“A given source may have a high level of skill not shared by one receiver, but shared by another. We cannot predict the success of the source from her skill level alone”. Berlo (1960)
From both the diagram and the quotation, Berlo shows that it is the Non-verbal part of communication, which is the far greater factor when making conversation. This clearly shows that it is not the words that you use (verbal), it is the way that they are both sent, and received, which affects whether the message is successful or not. All the following factors will have to be taken into consideration, A person’s beliefs, culture, attitude, relationship to the person who they are communicating with, whether the grammar used is familiar to them, and life experience.
According to A. Barbour (cited in Louder than Words) the total impact of a message breaks down like this:
Seven percent verbal (words)
Thirty-eight percent vocal (volume, pitch, rhythm, etc)
Fifty-five percent body movements (mostly facial expressions)
Therefore Non-verbal communication accounts for approximately ninety three percent of communication.
Appearance is another major factor when considering non-verbal communication, to the degree that if a lady’s car had broken down the middle of Manchester, on a cold November evening, and she was aware of two people that she could approach for help. The appearance of these two people would probably affect her decision. The person to her left is a biker; the biker being dressed from head to toe in black leather, the only bits of his skin that she could see, covered in tattoos, and he was listening to loud music. The person to her right is a police officer in his uniform, the lady would feel more comfortable in approaching the officer in uniform to ask for his help, rather than the biker. This lady had formed a judgment of both the biker and the police officer just by looking at their appearances.
Body language is another major factor of non-verbal communication. This regulates how well a conversation proceeds, for example, you are waiting in a doctor’s surgery for an appointment, and there is someone else there also waiting to be seen, this is where phatic communication comes into force. This is initiating conversation, with maybe a nod, or a smile, or attempting to make small talk with the other person. If the response you get from the person is a one word answer and they deliberately then pick up a magazine, or turn slightly away from you and start to glance at posters on the wall, then they are discouraging any further communication with you. Whereas if the person you are talking too, is maintaining eye contact with you, and leaning slightly toward you, answering your questions with further open ended questions, then this gives the impression that they are interested in what you have to say, which will encourage you to continue your conversation with them.
Eye contact is also an important channel of interpersonal communication, as it helps regulate the flow of communication, and it shows interest in the person you are communicating with. For example a person who is being examined by their doctor will feel more comfortable and have more belief in what the doctor is telling them, if the doctor is looking directly at them whilst talking, rather than head bent down over his prescription pad.
Facial expressions are crucial in portraying a message in the correct tone intended. Smiling is a very powerful expression as it transmits friendliness, warmth, and a caring nature. Therefore if you smile frequently you will be perceived as a likable, friendly, warm and approachable person, which will encourage another person to start a conversation with you.
Using gestures whilst speaking encourages people to listen to what you are saying, If you fail to gesture while speaking, you may be perceived as boring, stiff and unanimated. This will give the person you a talking to a negative impression of the message that you are trying to get across to them.
Posture is another way that you communicate, A person communicates numerous messages by the way they walk, talk, stand and sit. Standing erect, but not rigid, and leaning slightly forward communicates to people that you are approachable, receptive and friendly. Speaking with your back turned or looking at the floor or ceiling should be avoided as it communicates disinterest or boredom.
Proximity is a factor that has to be considered dependent upon the relationship between the people involved in the communication. For example if a teacher is having a conversation with a student, and notices that they are wearing a really nice style of jumper, this would need to be said to the student with more physical space between them at the time, than if the teacher was saying the same thing, to their partner. As if the teacher was too close to the student at the time, then this could make the student feel very uncomfortable.
Paralanguage is the feature that accompanies speech and contributes to communication but is not considered part of the language system. How something is said rather than what is said. Aspects of this include pitch, volume, pace, intonation and tone. Consider the following phrase “I really care about you”, now if this phrase was said to you by your partner, who had their arms open and was smiling at you, it would send you a different message than if your partner had said it to you whilst their arms were crossed, and they were glaring at you. The same words are given a different meaning by the gestures your partner displays. Also the paralanguage used, would also have a great influence on the meaning that you would take from this simple phrase, if the words were dripping with sarcasm, or said in an angry voice, a different meaning would be taken from them, than if they were whispered as sweet nothings in your ear. The tone that this phrase is spoken in has a great bearing on the message taken from it.
Non verbal communication plays a huge part in our everyday lives, we have all been in the situation where we have needed to power dress, maybe when attending an interview, or meeting the in laws for the first time. On the first day of a new job, when you are introduced to people that you will be working with, you will be making judgments about these people, from the clothes that they are wearing, how friendly and approachable they appear to be, what age group they are, will you have anything in common?. When meeting your partner’s friends for the first time, you will ensure that you make small talk, so that they go away with a positive impression of you. Always having a smile attached to your face, at the beginning of a new relationship should be conducive to the rapport.
I found the following theorists interpretations extremely interesting.
Hall, Regarding Proxemics
developed the idea of a set of expanding circles, called reaction bubbles, that described how humans manage the space around them.
The innermost circle he identified as Intimate space, reserved for those we are closest to, and usually measuring 6 to 18 inches (15 to 45cm) in radius.
The next level up he dubbed Personal space, the distance we are comfortable maintaining with close friends, about 1.5 to 4 feet (0.5 to 1.2m).
He used the term Social space to indicate our preferred proximity to acquaintances, about 5–12 feet (1.5–3.6m).
Public space for the distance we need for public speaking, 12–25 feet or more (3.6–7.6m).
Halls reaction bubles diagram
Figure 3 Hall Reaction Bubbles
Kinesics - Birdwhistell
Birdwhistell’s Six Key Assumptions
1. All body movements have meaning potential in communicative contexts.
2. Behaviour can be analyzed because of patterns and repetitions.
3. Although body action has biological limits, the use of body motion in interaction is part of the social system.
4. People’s visual bodily activity can influence others.
5. Communicative functions of bodily activity can be studied.
6. A person’s use of bodily activity will have unique, idiosyncratic aspects while also being part of a larger social system shared with others.
-- R. Birdwhistell, Kinesics and Context, 1970
After considering all of the above factors, it has become very clear to me, that when I wish to communicate with another person, there are far more important factors to consider, than just the words that I am going to use.
Barbour, A. (1976) Louder Than Words: Nonverbal Communication Columbus, Ohio: Merrill
http://www.cultsock.ndirect.co.uk/MUHome/cshtml/introductory/schro1.html accessed on (22/11/07)
http://www.cultsock.ndirect.co.uk/MUHome/cshtml/introductory/smcr.html accessed on (22/11/07)
http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/comm321/gwalker/nonverbal.html accesses on 01/12/07
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