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» Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication

Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication

Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication

The concept of communication

It is undeniable that the world around you is about communication. So, what is communication?

Communication is always a two-way process, involving creation and exchange of meaning. It has at one end the initiator of the message and, at the other end, the receiver, who must be prepared to listen and understand the message, in order to make communication possible.

Communication is the process of conveying the wishes, ideas, and feelings of one person to another. It also means the correct reception of all these as closely as possible to the way in which they were meant.

Even if it is a two-way process, the responsibility for the effecti­veness of communication is the sender's, who has the duty to check with the receiver if the message has been correctly heard and understood.

1. Categories of communication

According to the number of people involved in the act of communication, we can divide experiences of communicating into four categories.

a)     Intrapersonal communication is communication within and to yourself

We communicate within ourselves, we convey the message and we are also the person receiving the communication when, for instance, we reflect on our tomorrow's plans and intentions.

b)     Interpersonal communication is communication between two or several people.

People interact face to face, for example a teacher and a student during an oral exam.

c)     Group communication is communication within and between groups of people.

Groups of people can be small groups and large groups. As they have different purposes, they also behave differently (for instance, a group of students behaves differently from a group of people gathered for a conference).

d)     Mass communication is communication used by or transmitted to very large numbers of people, much bigger than what we can call a group (the Internet, media, telephony).

2. Functions, needs and purposes of communication

Communication has functions such as: to warn, to inform, to advise, to entertain, to explain, to describe. We perform the act of communication to a certain end, having in mind needs we want to satisfy.

to co-operate (the most important need and purpose of communication),

to exchange information,

to survive (e.g. a freshman student, in his first university year, trying to rent a room, get a place in a hostel or find the best bus routes to his faculty),

to form and maintain relationships with other people around us (e.g. the Internet),

to persuade other people to think or act as we want them to (e.g. imagine a teacher giving advice about how students should study for their session),

to gain power and manipulate (politics).

3. The communication process

How do we communicate? What happens when we communicate?

The communication process contains several stages: there is always a source of the message (A, the transmitter). The transmitter encodes the message, chooses a medium or channel of transmission, a destination of the message (B, the receiver), which decodes it. The responsibility for the accuracy of the meaning is the sender's. He has to think about:

how to encode the message,

what channel of communication to use,

how to personalize communication to fit the needs of the audience

which would be the best vehicle for the message-email, face to face, notes.

The message has an impact on the receiver. He listens, compares, analyses, judges, reacts, thinks up an answer as a reaction. When encoding and decoding the message, the two ends of the communication process, the sender and the receiver are influenced by social status, beliefs, age, sex, culture, personal experiences. These filters can flaw, block or even interrupt communication.

One of the strongest filters that can foul the communication path is assumptions (people with strong regional accents are considered to be less credible than those speaking with middle-class accents; people with a low voice are given more credit than people with a squeaky one; those who use the space around them purposefully seem to have more authority).

To give a clearer example, let's imagine a good friend of yours comes to Cluj and wants to visit you. He calls you and asks you if he could walk to your flat. You ask your friend where he is and then you tell him you are within walking distance. You hear the hesitation in his voice and check again the place where he is. You realize you assumed he meant Babes Bolyai street, instead of the Babes Bolyai University and you misinformed him.

4. Barriers to effective communication

To understand this issue, it is enough to think back and remember situations when, even if you tried hard to put your message forth, you were misunderstood. Why did that happen?

There are so many reasons why people can't really communicate. The speaker and the listener may have similar reasons:

they have incomplete communication skills, e.g. they are good listeners but poor speakers or vice versa,

they cannot relate to and empathise with people,

they do not know enough about the subject,

they give incomplete information, on purpose or by mistake

they give too much information on the topic.

a.     Language (semantic barriers):

Sometimes language can be a barrier because of which the message cannot be understood. This can be caused by:

foreign accent,

dialect (People from Transylvania understand with difficulty those from the south of Romania, who speak very fast),

jargon (It is used by people sharing a common experience: medical, scientific, young generation, technical jargons. Sometimes, it is used deliberately to convey the impression of privileged knowledge),

words with ambiguous meaning (E.g. the so-called false friends: to be infatuated means to be in love).

b. Psychological aspects.

There might be personality or emotional problems, which prevent the commu­nicator from giving a clear message and the listener from hearing it. There may be:

a personality clash between the two parties, when the speaker is very aggressive, and the listener very passive, shy or vice versa,

emotional/loaded words, which express emotion, and provoke both the communicator's and the listener's attitudes, opinions, and prejudices (e.g. when you call a black person a "nigger", instead of an "Afro-American").

c. Physical situations

Under certain circumstances, physical situations can also interfere with the communication process. These situations are:

illness or physical disability (deafness, a very weak and low voice),

poor timing,

interruptions, distance from the person receiving the communication,

inadequate space, noisy environment (rooms with improper acoustics where courses are delivered, might prevent correct communication and understanding between the teacher and the students).

5. Types of communication

According to the codes we use there are three types of communication:




The conveying of a clear message depends on both verbal/non-verbal communication, as the speaker establishes both a conscious and a subconscious rapport with his audience.

1. The verbal communication consists of the words we use to transmit the message. It is important but not essential as, according to statistics, it accounts for only 10% of the effectiveness of the presentation. By words you can manipulate, convince, influence your audience. This channel of communication is addressed to the audience's mind.

The non-verbal and the symbolic channels of communication are related to the presenter's delivery skills (90% of the effectiveness). Ultimately, the success of the presentation is provided by the presentation style, rather than the content of the speech.

2. The non-verbal communication is a range of non-verbal signals (the way you use your voice to emphasize certain words, the animation and what you express with your face, the way you move your body and the gestures you make, charisma,) organized into:

body language. It tells a lot about people's feelings, attitudes and intentions (gesture, gaze, facial expression, posture, body contact and body proximity, touch),

paralanguage (pitch of voice-how high or low your voice is, pace of speech - how fast you speak).

The non-verbal communication modifies and underlines the verbal message. It existed before the verbal transmission of messages, being a primary code of communication. This type of language is based on culture, and it presents cultural differences. Think about how different the correct behaviours are in the Japanese culture, the American one, the standards in the Middle East. Issues such as gestures, the way you use your space - outward moving gestures or not, being the initiator of the discussion, eye contact or lack of eye contact, vary culturally.

This type of communication is difficult to manipulate, as it can betray feelings or attitudes such as your lack of interest or enthusiasm. In case the body language transmits a message that conflicts with the verbal one, the speaker loses credibility. The nonverbal communication is addressed to the audience's heart.

3. The symbolic communication is related to the way you dress, is addressed to the audience's eyes, and is easy to manipulate.

Example. When running for a certain important position, candidates who have charisma, a well-controlled body language and dress appropriately (symbolic language) have more chances when they present their ideas on TV. The candidates who lack all these count on their verbal messages, and prefer to speak on the radio, rather than appear on television.

What have you learnt?

Answer the questions.

a. What is communication?

b.     How can we divide communication by the number of people involved?

c.      What are the functions, needs and purposes of communication? Give examples.

d.     Describe the stages of the communication process.

e.      How can we classify communication according to the channels used?

f.      What are communication filters or barriers?

2. Analyze a friend's communication acts for half an hour. Were the messages meant to inform, persuade, advise?

3. Read the following fragments. List the types of communication from the point of view of the number of people involved and the channel chosen.

"What are you doing here?" she cried, grabbing Mary's arm and pulling her away.

"I turned the wrong corner and couldn't find the way back to my room," explained Mary. "And then I heard someone crying".

"You heard nothing of the sort!" snapped Mrs. Medlock. "Now come along back to your nursery or you'll be punished!"

Mary felt herself being pushed and pulled up one corridor and down another. Then she was showed through the doorway of her room.

"Now, you stay where you're told or you'll find yourself locked up. I've got enough to do here without looking after you too."

Once Mrs. Medlock had slammed the door, Mary threw herself down on the bed, red with rage. Gritting her teeth, she insisted, "There was someone crying! There was! And I'm going to find out who or what it is!" (Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden, p. 52).

The purser looked at the anxious frowning face of Mr. Botibol and he smiled, knowing quite well what the man was driving at. "Well, you see, the captain has a little conference with the navigating officer, and they study the weather and a lot of other things, and they make their estimate."

Mr. Botibol nodded, pondering this answer for a moment. Then he said, "Do you think the captain knew there was bad weather coming today?"

" I couldn't tell you, the purser replied. He was looking into the small black eyes of the other man, seeing the two single little sparks of excitement dancing in their centres. "I really couldn't tell you, Mr. Botibol. I wouldn't know."

"If this gets any worse it might be worth buying some of the low numbers. What do you think?" The whispering was more urgent, more anxious now. (Roald Dahl, Completely unexpected Tales, p. 62).

II. Listening/Reading Skills

Communication is a two-way process. While one half is involved in speaking, the other half is listening and trying to understand the message. Effective communication exists between two people when the receiver interprets and understands the sender's message in the same way the sender intended it.

1. Listening v reading

The audience is made of listeners, not readers. Two obvious consequences of this fact are the speed with which you deliver the speech and the constant clarification process - signalling, recapping, summarizing.

The listener's thoughts are distracted by a lot of things. A reader can reread a sentence, a paragraph or even an entire chapter. If your mind wanders, you can take a break and then return to your book and make an effort to focus again. Listeners only have one chance to understand what you are saying, they cannot re-listen to the speech.

Readers can vary the speed of their reading and, if the material is complex or unfamiliar, they can stop, refer to a dictionary, discuss with other people. Listeners can't vary the pace of the speaker's delivery.

Readers can anticipate and read in order to see the general idea, and then, read again what is relevant. During a presentation, only the speaker can see the general idea and have a complete picture.

The main responsibility for the message belongs to the speaker. The person or the people receiving the communication are also responsible for the message to get across effectively. As we have said, two people are involved in the dialogue: the speaker and the listener. Therefore, we should give the skills involved in listening the attention they deserve.

We take it for granted that we listen all the time. We may think we listen to what people say, we listen to the radio or TV but how much do we really hear? Listening is not simple. Most of us have very poorly developed listening skills. We live in a visual world, which absorbs us in its images and we forget to listen. Another cause for not listening properly is the stress and pressure we face daily. Finally, lack of interest leads to lack of communication. True listening rarely occurs. One person cannot give simultaneous undivided attention, assess and frame a reply to what is being said. Double attention is not possible. When two people meet to discuss one subject, if they do not focus on communication correctly, what they really discuss is two different subjects put forward by each one.

The listening speed is twice as fast as the speaking one, and the implications are major. There is a real distinction between merely hearing the words and really listening for the message. When we listen effectively, we understand what the speaker is thinking by empathy, as if we were standing in his shoes, seeing through his eyes and listening through his ears. To listen effectively means being actively involved in the communication process and not just listening passively.

2. Difficulties by the speaker/the listener


the speaker's voice is too low or monotonous,

the message he sends is too complex or too simple,

he may be experiencing a mind blank,

there is a contradiction between the body language and verbal one,

he is too focused on the reactions of the listener,

he lacks credibility, and confidence.


the listener is distracted and does not listen,

he anticipates what is going to be said and switches off,

he listens mainly to find an opening to get the floor,

he frames the answer while listening,

he evaluates and makes judgments about the speaker or the message,

he does not ask for clarification.

3. The three basic listening modes

  1. Aggressive or combative listening happens when we are more interested in promoting our own point of view than in the message itself; we listen to find opportunities of taking the floor or attacking weak points and destroying arguments.
  2. In passive or attentive listening we are interested in hearing and understanding the other person's point of view, but we remain passive and do not check if what we are hearing is correct.
  3. Active or reflective listening is the most useful and important listening skill. In active listening we are also interested in understanding what the message means, and we are active in checking out our understanding. This verification or feedback process is what distinguishes active listening and makes it effective.

4. Steps that can enhance listening

stop talking, remove distractions; give the speaker all your attention,

be patient; don't interrupt the speaker; let him finish before you speak,

if you disagree with what the other person is saying, try to get a full understanding of that point of view before you speak. Repeat or paraphrase the other person's idea to make sure that you have understood it completely, or ask the speaker to rephrase it.

if you don't agree with the expressed point, do not plan what you are going to say or else you will not be able to pay attention to the whole message,

ask questions to clarify but also to encourage the speaker,

listen to the main ideas as well as to the supporting examples or facts,

try to think about the message, not the delivery,

be empathic and nonjudgmental; don't argue or criticize,

don't respond to just the meaning of the words; look for the feelings or intent beyond the words,

observe non-verbal clues; use eye contact and listening body language; face and lean toward the speaker and nod your head, as it is appropriate; try not to look critical,

do not hurry to immediately answer questions: some people just like to ask questions and are not interested in the answer.

5. Listening tips; body and verbal language

The point about active listening is that the listener focuses on making the communication effective and he doesn't replace the message with one of his own. Active listening does not mean to be silent, but that you take an active part in the conversation. Some rules for active listening behaviour:

look at the person to whom you are talking. (Tip: if you find it difficult to look at someone's eyes, try looking at the bridge of their nose),

smile naturally and sincerely, enough to show that you are interested,

nod encouragingly, showing that you follow he speaker,

make affirmative noises: Uh, Uhu, Mmm,

use verbal prompts: "Really? It must have been interesting".

What have you learnt?

1. Answer the questions

a.      Why are listening skills as important as speaking skills?

b.     What are the differences between listeners and readers?

c.      Why isn't the message very clear sometimes?

d.     Name three listening modes. What are the main features of each of them?

e.      What is active listening?

f.      What can you do to enhance the listening process and become an active listener?

2. Analyze you own way of listening. Are you a good listener? Do you try to empathize with the speaker? Which listening mode matches your listening skills?

III. Presentations

. Why presentations?

Under certain circumstances, communication can be only non- verbal, while for a presentation we need all three codes of communication:


non - verbal,


Delivering presentations has become part of our life, so we can consider presentations as a fact of life. Presentations take many shapes: they can be formal or informal, to a person or to a group of people, with or without visuals.

So, when are we making a presentation?

when you interrupt a discussion and comment on it,

any time you are heard by someone,

when you present your ideas to friends over a cup of coffee,

when you talk to your superiors or peers,

when you defend your diploma paper.

and on many other occasions.

Making a presentation is difficult, even challenging. You speak in front of real people who might have different opinions, be smarter than you, refuse to cooperate and support you, who challenge you with their questions.

Statistics rank the fear of speaking in public before the fear of death. Speaking in public is intimidating and challenging even when you deliver your speech in Romanian, your mother tongue. If you are a shy person, the experience can be very unpleasant. You will experience all the symptoms of nervousness dry mouth, sweating palms, lack of air. Then, why are presentations necessary? What motivates us to do this?

They are necessary because, depending on the needs, they are a way of:

informing/persuading the audience,

answering their questions,

presenting your ideas and expressing yourself,

making yourself known and appreciated by the others,

progressing in your studies and career

2. Types of presentations

Presentations differ according to their characteristics: number of speakers, listeners, technology used and level of formality or relation between the presenter and the listeners. Until now, as part of their final exam, the technical students have been asked to present, in front of their teacher and colleagues solo presentations, lasting for 5-7 minutes, semi-formal and with visuals, such as bar graphs, pie charts, handouts, etc. Very often they expressed their lack of satisfaction with the number of students involved in delivering the presentation, as they thought it would be more advantageous to share the presentation with a colleague. In the following you will see some of the advantages / disadvantages of solo and shared presentations, as there are pluses and minuses in each type.

a.     Number of presenters

1. Frequently, there is only one presenter. The pluses of such a presentation are the following:

one person prepares/delivers the whole presentation,

he makes all the decisions about the topic, material included, delivery, and answering questions,

the person is in control of the presentation and can adjust it any time he considers it necessary - he can ad, skip, shorten or lengthen the ideas and facts presented. Thus, the format of the presentation is extremely flexible.

The minus is that the whole burden is on the shoulders of a single presenter and he is in charge with everything.

2. Presentations with two presenters are also frequent. Whenever there are more than one presenter, there should be a perfect communication between them. Each one should know his role and the other's role, what questions and answers will be covered by each of them, when to take turns. They cannot interrupt each other without a previous agreement.

The pluses of such a presentation are:

it is easier to present a shorter part,

it is easier to answer the questions referring only to one part,

it is easier to share stress.

The minuses are:

the presentation is less flexible, as you have to take into account your partner,

there might be mismatches between the two partners

3. Presentations with more than two presenters

They are necessary when the presentation is about the work achieved by a whole team. The planning should be very careful and each participant should know everything about the development of the presentation: who will open/close it, who will answer the questions, etc. These presentations are even more rigid than those with two presenters.

b.     Number of listeners.

It can affect the presentation and the way it is delivered. We can speak of small groups (1 to 35 people), and of lager groups (more than 35). The former category requires a less formal presentation (the speaker can sit, the effort of covering the audience is not very big, he needn't speak from behind a lectern, he can take questions during the presentation, and establish a less formal rapport with the audience), while the latter requires a lectern, a microphone, and the speaker must stand. A one-to-one presentation can be a mere conversation or a more formal one, depending on the relationship between the two interlocutors (e.g. peer to peer, teacher to student).

All the audience is important and could challenge the presenter. Nevertheless, there is a group of people in the audience that should be given special concern: the critical listeners and the influencers.

The critical listeners are those people who can make decisions: the teacher, the owner of the company, the manager. Your presentation is firstly addressed to them, as they will approve the follow-up stages: the implementation of what you suggested, your hiring, the final grade, etc. You will pay special attention to them, by keeping eye contact, creating a positive rapport, showing your respect. Whenever you use handouts or any other materials, make sure the first copy gets to them.

The influencers are also powerful people, whose opinion is taken into consideration and trusted by the decision makers - technicians, lawyers, and experts in that field of activity. Even though they might not be very high in the hierarchy of the organization or the company, they are really powerful. In order to make them appreciate your presentation as effective, you should try to meet them in advance to establish a positive rapport, compare your points of view, find questionable areas and counterarguments to your suggestions and develop persuasive answers.

c.      Level of formality

It depends on the relationship between the presenter and the audience (a peer, an outsider or an insider).

The formal presentations are very structured and less flexible, the speaker will stand, use transparencies or power point images, and answer the questions at the end of the presentation. During less formal presentations, the speaker will sit and use a flexible format, the listeners will sit or stand, the questions will be answered during the presentation, or there will be a discussion, and visuals will be less formal, such as slides, the flipchart.

3. Purpose of the presentation

Generally speaking, there are two types of presentations:

a. informational presentations, meant to transmit information,

b. persuasive presentations, meant to persuade, convince the audience to take an active step.

a. With this type, the focus is on giving information/explaining facts. It can be followed by an action, but not necessarily. The action can be dissemination of information, implementation of a project, gaining knowledge.

1. The status report. It is brief and meant to inform other people about the progress of a project. The focus is on:

general presentation of the status of the project,

what has been changed in the project,

solutions to existing or prospective problems

2. Product demonstrations, when the presenter shows/describes machines, products and tells how these work. This type of presentation is very dynamic and it can be long or short. It is easy for the speaker to get the attention of the audience, as they are highly interested because of the practical issues presented.

Explaining technical information and projects

Because people in the audience are not always technical specialists, these should be brief. Presentation of technical info can be boring, because of the technical details and incomplete technical knowledge with some of the people in the audience. The focus is on:

technical facts explained in non-technical terms,

visual aids, examples, analogies to explain the technical facts.

When the topic of the presentation refers to technical projects or information, the presenter should answer a question before he starts designing the presentation: how much technical knowledge do listeners have?

if the listeners are experts with specialized training, you can deliver highly technical data,

if they have technical background but they are not specialists, they will know the basic technical terms, but need explanations for specialized data,

if they do not have a technical background, you will use simple, non-technical language,

when they have mixed technical background, you should find the lowest level of technical understanding.

b) This type of presentation is a selling presentation and the listeners are always asked to respond with action and implement what they have just learnt. The focus is on persuading the listeners to follow the presentation with some kind of action.

In order to design a persuasive presentation, you should wear a listener's hat, empathize with your audience. Listeners are people like you, so you can test the strong/weak points of a presentation on yourself. A persuasive structure should answer the following questions:

Why should I listen to you? - motivating the audience,

What is going on? - describing the content,

What should we do? - setting goals,

How do we do that? - accomplishing goals,

What are the benefits? - evaluating outcomes,

What could go wrong? - evaluating the implementation.

The closing part should answer all these questions.

Note: these practicalities do not apply to the students' scientific or technical presentations, which, in general, are informative, and meant to demonstrate or explain technical facts.

Selling ideas (on projects, to help the organisation, etc)

This presentation is persuasive and tries to engage the listeners into the ideas presented. In order to do that, it should pay attention to the listeners' needs, expectations, and concerns. It focuses on:

link between new and old ideas,

description of the new idea,

benefits of the idea.

Selling a product or services

This type of persuasive presentation is very demanding as it depends on high presentation skills and personal charisma. Very often the answer of the audience is negative. It focuses on:

features of the product,

benefits of the product.

4. Steps in the preparation of a presentation

When preparing any kind of oral presentation, the basic steps to keep in mind are the following:

analyze your audience,

select a topic and limit it accordingly,

determine your primary purpose or objective,

collect materials and select effective supporting info,

choose an appropriate pattern of organization or structure,

prepare a written outline,

add visuals,


check the equipment.

What have you learnt?

1. Answer the questions:

a.      What is a presentation?

b.     Why are presentations necessary?

c.      How can you classify presentations from the point of view of:

number of speakers,

number of listeners,

level of formality

d.     What are the purposes of presentations? List types of presentations according to their purpose.

2. Characterize the technical students' presentations by:

Number of speakers

Number of listeners

Level of formality


Level of technical knowledge presented by the audience

Read the following two situations. Who are the critical listeners? Who are the influencers?

The premises of a football club. A trade of players is going on. The people attending the meeting are: the owners of the teams, four football players, the coaches, the managers of the teams.

The students are being received by the Dean. They want to present the living standard in the hostel and complain about it. The people attending the meeting are: the students' delegation, the Dean, the administrator of the hostel, the manager of the faculty.


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