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The Power of Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication

Introduction

Interpersonal communication is a rich, often complicated world that people navigate while being mindful of other people’s boundaries and their own comfort zone. Healthy communication is one of the essential human needs that form the core of one’s mental health and, to an extent, personal identity. It maintains the connections people establish with each other and is a basis for business relationships, friendships, and romantic relationships alike. However, it is not frequently discussed that, among other characteristics, communication is a powerful force with the potential to severely impact a person emotionally and mentally. This paper attempts to discuss and examine the power and the manifestations of said power observed in verbal and non-verbal communication.

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Verbal Communication

The language’s greatest strength and, simultaneously, its greatest weakness and potential for hurting others lies in its ambiguity. Verbal communication relies on a unique relationship between action and perception. Two identical sets of vowels and consonants that compose two identical phrases might be interpreted differently depending on the situation. Not only through misunderstandings between people but through the use of different intonations and contexts; otherwise, innocent words might become hurtful. A speaker’s intention that manifests through their choice of words with the use of knowledge of another often fundamentally changes the way the language is perceived.

Often, though, ambiguity persists independently of the will of the communicator, resulting in the unintentional double-entendres. The concept of a double-entendre refers to a phrase, established or otherwise, that intentionally or not conveys multiple meanings. When exercised as a figure of speech, a double-entendre is often used to enrich a text or a piece of art, creating a whimsical or sarcastic feeling. An example of a deliberate double-entendre, conveyed via described verbal communication, would be Mercutio’s line in Romeo and Juliette “Tis no less [a good day], I tell you; for the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon.” (Shakespeare, 2014, 2.4.8-9) The power of such duplicitous phrases lies in their ability to confuse, entertain, and engage the audience, making it wonder about the true intention behind a communicator’s words.

Yet, when it comes down to the volatile and often unpredictable in its intensity power of casual verbal communication, double-entendres are, most often, are not intentional. Seemingly neutral words, when placed together in a certain order or within a certain contextual framework of use, have the capacity to unintentionally hurt the feelings of others. For example, an obesity-themed research project sending out an e-mail announcement of looking for a larger study group might be misinterpreted. Additionally, it might be then negatively perceived as hurtful or even offensive due to the sensitive nature of the subject (Marinescu & Wolthoff, 2020).

Thus, it is beneficial for the communicators to consider the potential parallels and innuendos that could be reasonably derived from their speech. This is not to advise on being mindful of every possible misinterpretation or, to take it one step further, deliberate meaning-twisting. Yet with language and its omnipresence and the people’s lives, certain implications write themselves, and it is in the interest of everyone involved to be, within reason, aware of them.

Furthermore, cultural connotations of words and phrases differ substantially, often leading to the establishment of additional barriers in understanding. International and multicultural verbal communication is often complicated by the translation barriers originating when a person is attempting to convey their thoughts through a non-native language. These barriers create an environment of general confusion with a higher potential for misunderstandings and, by extension, emotional hurt. The power of language lies in its ability to package and present a variety of important concepts, histories, and images that form the core of a person’s identity (Fischbach, 2020).

When a cultural or ethnic component is added into the mix, language becomes a tool of self-identification and, in certain environments, self-preservation (Cameron et al., 2018). This dynamic explains the stress people feel in a foreign linguistic environment: when unable to speak the same language as everyone around them, a person is largely powerless. On a practical level, this situation limits their flexibility and efficiency in day-to-day situations, but on a personal and emotional level, it takes away the capacity to express who they are.

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Such importance of language and its role in self-identification and self-esteem can be linked back to an important concept studied within the course, namely language symbolism. Words and phrases hold power not by their own virtue but due to the symbolic meanings that they convey (Wood, 2020). They act as an abstract verbal representation of different concepts and phenomena, including the most important principles and values in a person’s internal philosophy and worldview. The vowels and consonants included in words that describe love, friendship, or hurt are mainly tools with little to no use outside of the meaning attached to them.

However, by adopting these tools and incorporating them into communication as means of self-expression, people have provided words with the power this essay discusses. Almost any other word or verbal symbol could have been hypothetically used to refer to a specific concept, as long as a sufficient number of people agree on it (Wood, 2020). The power of language and verbal communication in general lies in the hands of the people who practice it since they have given the language its current importance.

Thus, it is an act of self-awareness and responsibility for everyone engaged in communication to be aware of the pain and confusion they might unintentionally inflict on others. As established already, words are by far the most efficient way to convey one’s thoughts and feelings in a conversational context. The concepts that words represent may, in certain cases, be of the utmost sensitivity and importance to those who try to discuss them. Even without malicious intent, careless use of words thus has the capacity to attack one’s deepest values and ideals. Linking it back to the full title of the essay topic: Sticks and stones can break my bones but words…

Non-Verbal Communication

Although the links between the feelings, thoughts, and value systems and non-verbal communication are more complex in structure, they can be established and manifest themselves in conversations extremely often. The term refers to any other aspect of communication that is not the use of words, such as body language and gestures. Interestingly, it also covers the ways in which people utter and positions words and phrases in their speech, namely pauses, intonation, or volume of voice.

Arguably, non-verbal communication is characterized by even greater levels of ambiguity and uncertainty than verbal communication. As much as phrases might have multiple meanings and interpretations depending on the cultural context and other factors of influence, there is generally an agreement on what certain words mean (Wahyuni, 2018). Even when there are multiple meanings allowed, which is a common occurrence in languages worldwide, dictionaries and common knowledge combined tend to account for the variations. However, non-verbal communication is exceptionally subjective, often relying solely on the intricacies of how one individual perceives another individual’s behavior.

Certainly, socially accepted rules exist for the meanings of some of the most popular gestures, with some countries, such as Italy, heavily relying on them in their casual communication process. Yet when it comes down to interpreting the tone and presumed intention assigned to the tone, in a conversational setting, facts and logic are hardly applicable. Thus, by analogy with the observation depicted above, non-verbal communication can be even more unpredictable and needs to be handled with care.

Additionally, non-verbal communication’s power relies on its perceived believability and genuineness. It is generally believed that lies do not hold the test of non-verbal indicators, such as immediate facial expressions or involuntarily body language details. Some of the aspects of non-verbal communication are directly tied to the immediate body reactions to a person’s emotions. Consecutively, within the communicational process, one party might take the unintentional non-verbal signals of another party as a sign of the true way they are being perceived (Turney, 2017).

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However, the fact that people are generally more trusting towards nonverbal signals doesn’t truly indicate that nonverbal signals are honest or always interpreted reliably. Those who are skilled in manipulating words are generally skilled in altering their nonverbal reactions as well, particularly if required. People in the professions such as politicians, actors, and spies are coached and trained to keep their bodies and faces under control, communicating exactly what is intended.

Finally, a potential for affecting and even destroying human relationships lies in situations where verbal and nonverbal signals contradict each other. When affectionate words are accompanied by the bodily expression of animosity through the facial expression of dislike and a closed-off pose, a receiving party in the exchange is bound to react with distrust. Similarly, if a person is cursing someone while delivering them a soft look or smile, the receiving party is likely to react with confusion, feeling it is being toyed with. Such situations are to be avoided if one wishes to communicate their thoughts effectively since they may hurt not only a particular interaction but the communicational record with a particular recipient in general.

Conclusion

In conclusion, verbal and nonverbal signals alike have the capacity to hurt feelings, alter relationships and affect the self-esteem of other people. Both groups of symbols are omnipresent in a person’s daily life, being used by people to communicate their feelings, thoughts, and desires to each other. They have been assigned by society to the widest range of contexts, including some of the most sensitive and universally respected topics there are. It is in the best interests of a communicator to be mindful of the power these signals convey, as this awareness would allow them to avoid their unintentional use.

Productive and healthy interpersonal communication is based on mutual respect and understanding of boundaries, which includes avoiding intentional and unintentional insults between the parties involved. The hurt perpetrated by a negative verbal or nonverbal exchange is rarely physical or tangible but remains extremely memorable and impactful despite, or, perhaps, because of it.

References

Cameron, D., Frazer, E., Harvey, P., Rampton, M., & Richardson, K. (2018). Researching Language, Routledge. Web.

Fischbach, M. R. (2020). The Power of Words. In Black Power and Palestine. Stanford University Press.

Marinescu, I., & Wolthoff, R. (2020). Opening the black box of the matching function: The power of words. Journal of Labor Economics, 38(2), 535-568.

Shakespeare, W. (2014). Romeo and Juliet, CreateSpace, Act 2, Scene 4, 8-9.

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Turney, M. A. (2017). Nonverbal cues ‘speak’volumes. Tapping Diverse Talent in Aviation: Culture, Gender, and Diversity., Routledge.

Wahyuni, A. (2018). The power of verbal and nonverbal communication in learning. In the 1st International Conference on Intellectuals’ Global Responsibility (ICIGR 2017). Atlantis Press.

Wood, J. T. (2020). Interpersonal communication: Everyday encounters., 9th edition, Cengage Learning.

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