Everything You Do Says Something
What Does Non-Verbal Communication Mean For Your Life? Everything…
Communication seems like such an assumed, natural, and simple part of life.
Well, outside of the fact that words are meaningless.
But it just doesn’t seem like it deserves much attention, right?
Well, first read this, just so we are on the same page of communication’s mess: Communication is Simple, Right?
However, there is something else in communication’s mess that makes communicating even more complicated and messy.
Defining Communication — (in case you missed the last article)
First, we have to deal with what communication even is.
A technical definition might look like this:
The process of a continuous series of behaviors leading to a purpose through which people create and manage relationships exercising mutual responsibility in creating shared meaning.
Who comes up with this stuff?
- There is this constant act of giving and receiving messages that have a goal to them.
- This act shapes the people involved while being dependent on the uniqueness of each person involved.
- Which creates the shared meaning that results from the interaction.
At this point, a layer of complication should be emerging for you as this moves communication from words we speak to each other to something much larger with some overwhelming implications.
If you don’t know what I’m referring to yet, just consider the communication process laid out in a model.
You have a sender and a receiver. The sender sends a message using various symbols that have meaning and the receiver receives it. Once received, the receiver gives feedback using the same kind of message.
Except that, interchangeably and constantly, the sender and receiver switch roles. While the sender is sending a message, the receiver is also sending a message as a sender that the original sender is receiving and they are both giving feedback to those messages at the exact same time.
But wait, there’s more!
Embedded in this process is that there are a bunch of other messages impacting the communication process.
- The context — which could be the physical setting, the social situation based on the nature of the individuals and their relationship, the historical setting that each brings into the process, the psychological situation of each participant, and the cultural situation that must be navigated based on who is involved, where they are from, and what values, meaning, expectations, norms, and beliefs come from their cultural understanding of the world.
- Or what communication scholars call “noise” — anything that distracts from the communication. Whether external effects like sounds or visible effects of the room or the internal noise of how each participant is feeling or thinking.
- You also have the channel — the component that the sender and receiver might not be in a room and they might not even be in the same space — the media or channel used to communicate a message can be almost anything or anywhere.
It would be convenient if communication was constricted to two people sitting in a vacuum of a space where they say one completely understood word at a time with no visuals, noise, context, or complexity.
It would also be much less valuable.
We want communication to be simple, but it isn’t.
And what is noticeably complex is that most of the communication happening in the above description has very little to do with word choice.
In Communication Theory, this would be principle number four:
Communication is constant and continuous.
In other words, you are constantly communicating — you are constantly sending and receiving messages…even when you aren’t talking.
The more common term for this is Non-Verbal Communication.
A couple notes on this from what we know about its impact on the communicative act:
- Non-verbal communication is primary to verbal communication. A non-verbal takes precedence over something that is spoken as it is perceived to be more believable and genuine than words. Someone saying “I love you” while gritting through their teeth is an example of this.
- Non-verbal communication can be intentional, but it can also be unintentional and often is the latter. We don’t always realize what we are communicating or even that we are communicating.
- Non-verbal communication is ambiguous — one act or image can have an infinite number of meanings and it is based on the audience and how they interpret it. There is no 1:1 ration of what something means and the ensuing meaning can be different for every different context of the message or for every different receiver of the message and how the interpret it.
- Non-verbal communication is multi-channeled. What does this mean? That non-verbal communication is everything except the words themselves.
Types of Non-Verbal Communication
Kinesics — any movement from your body. Eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, posture, touch.
Paralanguage — any sound associated with the message. Pitch, volume, rate, speed, or the quality of what your voice sounds like function as paralanguage.
Vocal Interference — the extraneous sounds or vocal tics we make while saying something.
Proxemics & Spacial Usage — what is in the space, what objects are present, and how does a person exist in and use that space or those objects.
Self-Presentation — The physical appearance and sensory effects of you and the space. Scent is the most dominant to our perception, but it is everything from how you dress to what you look like to what kind of presence you give off.
I’m not sure if we realize the immensity of what this implies.
You and Everything Involving You is a Communicative Act.
You and everything involving you is not only part of the message, but is the primary message.
How you speak, when you speak, the timing of your message, the faces you make, how you stand, how you sit, whether you are standing or sitting, how you look, what shirt (if any) you are wearing — these are all ways you are communicating something.
But it goes further — how you keep your house, what decorations you put in different places, the objects you call your own, how you drive, or even your profile picture you use for social media — these are all communicating something.
Is communicating something.
Everything you do says something.
Yes, this makes communication messy and complicated and a bit overwhelming, but it also means that everything you do has immense potential to create a particular kind of world.
Be Aware of What You Are Communicating
Remember, we are often communicating through non-verbals unintentionally — these things are so assumed and natural that they often exist at a sub-conscious level.
We also have the problem that there is no one meaning for a particular communicative act and, even with the same person, it can mean something different depending on the situational context and how they interpret it.
Despite these issues, though, it is also going to be the primary mode of communication in every relationship.
If you can be more aware of this phenomenon, it will allow you to be more intentional about everything you do. When you notice that each behavior, appearance, or move is sending a message, you can enter into that message much more intentionally.
But secondly, it will force you to ask, when you do notice, what that message is. Sometimes this will be minor and have no real effects on the situation, but sometimes it can make or break a relationship, an organization, or a culture.
We need to be able to see that everything we do, say, or enact — every single part of our lives — is saying something.
I’m trying to discover how to “Become More Human”
If you’re interested, I’d be happy to share what I’m finding to help craft how you live, too. You can find more here: