Wise men speak because they have something to say;
Fools because they have to say something.
We communicate every day, both in personal and professional life. But how? Are we effective? Are we good or bad communicators?
Communication is more than very complex and fascinating scientific subject. And some study it, explain it and considered it also an art, where people share emotions in painting, drawling or writing, etc. In fact, communication cannot simply be considered the transmission of the message from sender to recipient because it can be affected by a vast range of factors. These include emotions, culture, the medium used to communicate, and extremely important the context and the systems that govern ourselves.
An accurate, effective and unambiguous level of communication is actually extremely hard to be understood and implemented. Moreover, the process of interpersonal communication cannot be regarded as a phenomenon which simply “happens” but must be seen as a course of action that involves participants who negotiate their roles with each other, whether consciously or unconsciously.
On the latter, the School of Palo Alto, and in particular Paul Watzlavick1 would remind us: "One cannot not communicate”. This, in other words, means that every behavior we have (including silence) is a form of communication2.
Communication is an innate capacity since the Stone Age and although the ways of communicating have changed a lot and will change again, the need to communicate will never run out. The problem, if you wish, is that often people have no awareness of the type of messages they are sending out, risking misunderstanding and conflicts in interpersonal relations. However, the development of different form of communication gave a great boost to the development of human civilization, culture and society, from alphabet to social media.
Researches, discoveries, new studies happened because of the improvement of communication. Different tools of communication have been used to enhance public awareness and general understanding of beneficial and harmful events. Through communication old generations could meet new generation generating progress and great achievements were made also in the field of education through new form of communication and knowledge transfer. Can anyone imagine the world without communication?
Verbal, Non-Verbal, Paraverbal
Man is the only organism known that uses both analogical and numerical communication modules.
The numerical or digital language is made up of symbols that we usually use in speaking and writing and have a very complex and extremely effective logical syntax.
The analogical language is practically expressed in every non-verbal and paraverbal communication that is the body language understood in all its manifestations: facial expression, inflection of the voice, sequence, rhythm and cadence of words, hesitations, tone, irregularities in breathing, involuntary tensions of muscles, proxemics, and any other non-verbal expression of which the organism is capable, as well as the signs of communication present in every context in which an interaction occur (breaking a plate in a kitchen…).
The "non-verbal" aspects of communication are usually less noted during an interpersonal intercourse although these are the ones that, in fact, determine the effectiveness of the interaction. And therefore, it is the extra-linguistic element that is more adequate to convey what one is truly expressing. And it is scientifically proved that a robust 2/3 of our communication is everything else than the words that come out of the mouth.
In Italy, by experience, we know well how a mother's stern gaze can signal her approval/disapproval better than shouting out words… and some people say that if you want to shut up an Italian you should tie his hands (!)
In truth, verbal, non-verbal and paraverbal aspects complement each other and in general are simultaneously active in a physical interpersonal communication exchange with equal value so that they affect each other and aid each other in delivering thoughts and ideas.
Language development and verbal communication
When the interpersonal interaction cannot happen, verbal communication become essential to support our formal or informal communication. For didactic purposes, it is interesting to analyze three of its subsectors:
- syntax, from the ancient Greek: σύνταξις "coordination", which consists of σύν syn, "together", and τάξις táxis, "an ordering", represents the set of rules, principles, and processes that govern the structure of sentences in a given language;
- semantics, from the ancient Greek: σημαντικός sēmantikós, "significant") is the linguistic and philosophical study of meaning, in language, formal logics, and semiotics;
- pragmatic, from the ancient Greek πρᾶγμα (pragma), "exploit, act", and that from πράσσω (prassō), "to do, to practice, to achieve", is a subfield of linguistics and semiotics that studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning.
Understanding these three “subsectors” of verbal communication is particularly useful when dealing with people with particular psychological conditions and when certain non verbal conditions may misguide our interpretation of the meanings. In this case, the first will focus on problems related to the coding and decoding of information, channels, redundancy and noise (syntactic problems); the second will deal with the true meaning of communication for communicants (semantic distortion), and the third, the pragmatic one, will deal with the effects that communication has on the behavior of the speakers and the reaction to a process or activity, also known as feedback.
This is a word that we often use without a proper understanding and application. Among the others feedback can be defined as an essential information about something said or written. It could be corrective or encouraging to support the solution to a problem or the clarification of some issues.
In fact, in communication feedback is part of a chain of cause-and-effect that forms a loop between the actors and its main value is to be addressed as an effect not on the recipient, but actually on the sender. The example of the ball and the sleeping lion I often quote in my classes should help clarifying. When kicking a steady ball, this moves by the energy that we pass from our foot to it and the trajectory can be “easily” understood by principles of mechanic. But if we give a kick to a sleeping lion things completely change and it is hard to expect that he will make the same flight of the ball. In fact, the lion will take from its own metabolism the energy necessary to react, while our kick will only transmit information which will make it decide to move away, to look at us, decide that we are not interesting and go back to sleep, or in the worst case, to attack us.
Many recent studies demonstrate that appropriate feedback can be used as a form of ongoing training as it helps both teachers and students to improve and better calibrate their teaching/learning path, including non-threatening relations and a strong link between performance improvement and correct evaluation of the outcomes.
In interpersonal communication, by analyzing feedback, it becomes less important to know whether the message of the sender is intentional or not. And therefore, if the sender is aware or not of having issued such a message: the intentionality is indifferent since in any case it will be the receiver to interpret the message, and it will therefore be the latter to decide how to interpret it… The communicative interaction is therefore conceived as a system, and as such falls under the domain of the General Theory of Systems according to which a system is defined as a set of mutually interdependent objects, so that a variation in the state of one of them always tends to be reflected in the others and the system as a whole; similarly, a change in the system tends to influence the component parts.
In this sense we understand that the fundamental nature of communication is strongly affected also by the physical, social, cultural factors that are present “here and now” in the supra systems and in the sub-systems which influence the relations of the actors.
And even when lessen the value of the above mentioned processes because that we don’t really believe are connecting with the conversation we are involved, remember that communication remains an essential foundation for the growth of human society.
Watzlawick P., Beavin J. and Jackson D., Pragmatics of Human Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies and Paradoxes, Faber & Faber, 1968.
1 Paul Watzlawick (July 25, 1921 – March 31, 2007) has been one the most eminent theoretician in communication theory and radical constructivism.
2 Thus states the first of five axioms of communication defined by the School of Palo Alto, California, which emphasizes how communicating is an implicit act of the nature of man and does not exclusively depends on a rational decision.