After reading this article you will learn about the verbal and non-verbal mediums of communication.
Verbal communication means communication through words. We use words to share thoughts, feelings and ideas with others. Words are meaningless unless the receiver understands them in the same meaning as intended by the sender. Words can be oral or written. When messages are sent through oral words, it is known as oral communication and when they are sent through written words, it is known as written communication.
Verbal communication can, thus, take two forms:
A. Oral communication and
B. Written communication.
A. Oral communication:
Oral communication means transmission of messages through spoken words. Most of the communication takes place orally. When people meet each other, they interact face-to- face and share their thoughts. The way we talk reflects our personality, educational background, emotional state and relationship with the listener.
Oral communication is used:
1. By choice:
Managers transmit messages orally when they want speedy transmission of ideas.
2. Nature of information:
Highly confidential information where evidence in writing is not to be retained is generally transmitted orally.
When receiver of information does not want to read long notices, managers transmit information orally. Oral communication can be formal and informal. Formal oral communication takes place through formal presentations, group discussions, meetings, interviews etc. Informal oral communication takes place through face-to-face conversation or telephone. Informal communication helps in maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships.
Merits of oral communication:
Oral communication has the following merits:
It is a fast medium of communication. It takes long to write, despatch and receive a letter while orally, messages can be transmitted and received simultaneously. Messages can be instantly encoded, transmitted and decoded.
The sender can receive immediate feedback from the receiver. Doubts and clarifications can be sought at the point of discussion, thus, enhancing efficiency of the message. Message can be reframed for better understanding and action. While feedback is more apparent in two-way communication, in one-way communication, feedback can be provided through gestures.
Two brains can think faster and better than one. ‘One plus one makes eleven.’ When people discuss matters orally, they arrive at better proposals and solutions than can be thought of by one man alone.
It is an economical means of communication. It saves time and money on stationery and administrative staff. People at distant places can be immediately connected and actions can be initiated without delay.
If the message is not clear, sender can change his voice, words or tone to make it clear to the audience. Written words cannot be easily changed.
6. Personal touch:
It adds personal touch to communication. When managers personally talk to subordinates, it carries more meaning than transmitting the same message in writing.
Secrecy can be maintained in oral communication. Confidential information is transmitted orally so that no evidence is maintained in writing.
8. Non-verbal clues:
Actions speak louder than words. The speaker can make out through actions of the receiver whether or not he has understood the message.
9. Inter-personal relations:
It is an effective medium of communication to develop healthy inter-personal relations amongst superiors and subordinates. Personal meetings and discussions create healthy climate in business organisations.
Limitations of oral communication:
Oral communication suffers from the following limitations:
1. Lack of evidence:
Oral communication has no proof as nothing is evidenced in writing. Matters discussed cannot be used for future reference. Thus, where references are required for decision-making, this is not a suitable medium of communication.
1. Limited time:
Though immediate feedback is a positive feature of oral communication, receiver has very little time to think. He may immediately say ‘yes’ to the proposal while actually it may not be possible for him to act upon it.
Sometimes, meetings run for hours and end up without conclusions. This results in waste of time, money and energy. People deviate from the agenda and discuss issues not relevant to the frame of decided subject matter. It wastes time and energy to come to the point and take relevant decisions.
3. Lengthy messages:
When messages are lengthy, it is not a suitable medium of communication. Human memory cannot retain things for long. Both sender and receiver may not be able to recall the message, it is always better to write lengthy messages.
4. Geographical locations:
It is not a suitable form of communication where sender and receiver are separated by geographical distances. Talking on phone is costly and noisy. Travelling long distances for personal meetings may be costlier.
5. Attitudinal problems:
If sender and receiver have personal biases and prejudices against each other, oral communication becomes ineffective. They tend to find faults with others’ suggestions rather than arrive at consensus.
Fraction of inattentiveness can result in loss of important information. This results in misunderstanding and varying perception about the message conveyed.
Oral communication is prone to noise. Disturbance in telephone lines, mike connections, faxes, interference by the third person etc. reduces the effectiveness of oral communication.
9. Assigning responsibility:
It is difficult to assign responsibility and hold people accountable for mistakes and inaccuracies in carrying out the messages as they are not recorded for reference.
B. Written Communication:
Written communication transmits messages, ideas and thoughts in writing with documentary proof in the form of notices, letters, circulars, hand-outs, manuals etc. In a large organisation, managers interact with various stakeholders, like consumers, suppliers, Government, labour unions, shareholders etc.
These stakeholders are separated by wide geographical distances and, therefore, managers cannot communicate with them orally. They adopt written means of communication for smooth conduct of the organisation.
It needs lot of deliberation, effort and thinking to put a message in writing. Similar to oral communication, written communication can be used in formal and informal channels. Fax, letters, reports, notices, etc. are the usual means for transmitting messages in writing.
Merits of written communication:
Written communication has the following merits:
1. Documentary evidence:
Written communication is a record on paper. It, therefore, has evidence for future reference. Reference to any point can be made at any point of time if matters are put in writing.
2. Legal evidence:
If disputes arise that require judicial interpretations, written information helps in maintaining legal defence.
3. Better understanding:
Messages in writing can be read as many times as the reader wants to understand the message.
4. Well stated message:
The sender can think, analyse and take time to put the message in writing. The message is more balanced than oral communication.
5. Wider access:
It can reach a much larger audience and geographical coverage than oral communication. In case of mass communication, letters and newspapers can be read by a large number of people.
Responsibility can be fixed in written communication as against oral communication. People can be held liable for mistakes, errors and omissions.
It maintains uniformity of policies and procedures. Oral communication is liable to different interpretations but written facts clearly specify what is expected of whom.
8. Lasting impact:
What one reads is more lasting than what one hears. Reading messages has a lasting impact on readers.
9. Noise free:
It is free from noise. One can write and read at convenience. Internal (fans, people talking to each other) and external (loudspeakers, telephone disconnection) disturbances do not affect the efficiency of written communication.
10. Suitable for lengthy messages:
Lengthy and complex messages can be better encoded and decoded when put in writing.
Limitations of written communication:
Written communication suffers from the following limitations:
1. Writing skills:
Writing is an art. Everybody cannot put messages in writing. If the sender does not have writing skills, written communication will be of little value.
Putting messages in writing requires huge amount of paper work. In many departments, files get misplaced which delays the processing of information.
It is a time-consuming means of communication. It is not suitable where immediate feedback is required.
4. Different interpretations:
Choice of words should be carefully made when messages are put in writing. Receiver’s understanding of the words and language should be same as that of the sender.
It is a costly means of communication. Lot of time and money are spent on drafting and sending the message. In big organisations, separate mailing departments are maintained. Stationery and administrative costs are huge. The message should be so drafted that benefits outweigh the costs.
6. Lack of personal touch:
It lacks personal touch between the sender and the receiver.
7. Lack of secrecy:
Written messages cannot remain secret as they pass through a number of levels and departments.
8. Non-verbal clues:
Sender cannot read facial expressions and gestures of the receiver. He cannot understand how well the receiver appreciates what he wants to convey.
9. Lack of flexibility:
Written messages lack flexibility as they cannot be easily changed. Lot of time and money have to be spent on changing the message. The above discussion makes it clear that oral or written medium of communication depends upon the situation.
If information is formal that does not require personal link of sender with the receiver, it is lengthy and needs to be preserved for future reference, or is required for legal interpretations, written communication is more appropriate than oral.
If, on the other hand, information has to be given to a small number of people who are centrally located, it is confidential and does not need to be stored for future or legal reference, oral communication is more appropriate than written. Daily, routine and informal matters are generally communicated orally while important, formal and non-routine matters are communicated in writing.
Principles of Management Differences between Oral and Written Communications:
1. It is flexible.
2. Responsibility cannot be easily fixed.
3. It is liable to different interpretations.
4. It has no documentary proof.
5. It can reach a limited number of audience.
6. It is less costly in terms of time and money.
7. It does not have a lasting impact.
8. It is suitable for sending short messages.
9. It helps the sender to receive immediate feedback on the message.
10. It adds personal touch to communication process.
1. It is rigid or non-flexible.
2. Responsibility can be fixed.
3. It maintains uniformity of action.
4. It has documentary proof.
5. It has wide access to receivers.
6. It is expensive.
7. It has a lasting impact.
8. It is suitable for sending lengthy messages.
9. Feedback cannot be immediately received.
10. It does not promote personal relationships between the sender and the receiver.
‘Actions speak louder than words.’ Our gestures and facial expressions can express what words cannot. We do not communicate through words alone. A pat on the back or a word of praise can motivate workers to do things that oral or written instructions cannot. In fact, body movements, gestures, voice, tones etc. account for about ninety three per cent of our communication. Only above seven per cent of communication is done through words.
Nonverbal communication takes place without use of words. It conveys messages through body movements and audio-visual signals. It helps to understand the mental and emotional state of the sender and receiver, form impressions about attitudes and behaviour of people and, thus, helps to improve the communication. It is a less deliberate and conscious form of communication. Gestures and expressions come on their own and reflect the effectiveness of communication.
Non-verbal communication can take the following forms:
A. Body language (kinesics),
B. Para language,
C. Sign language, and
D. Space language, time language and surroundings.
A. Body Language (kinesics):
Body language is the language of body. It is the way our body communicates through its parts. Our face, eyes, posture, gesture etc. reflect our attitudes, emotions, mood, feelings (positive or negative) etc. A nod of head, blinking of eyes, waving of hands can indicate lot about our reflexes without actually speaking anything. ‘Face is the index of mind.’ Face can tell what we are thinking without actually saying the same.
While words speak consciously, body speaks sub-consciously. It always tells the truth. We can jumble with words but not with our body. Body also reflects our status. In a conversation of two persons, one of whom is sitting erect and tensed and the other relaxed and strong, it can be inferred that former is the subordinate and latter the superior.
“We talk with our vocal cords, but we communicate with our facial expressions, our tone of voice, our whole body.”
Study of messages conveyed by our body is known as ‘Kinesics’.
Our body speaks through its parts as follows:
1. Facial expression:
Face expresses what is going on inside us. Face speaks what words cannot. Fear, anger, surprise, sadness, happiness etc. are reflected through our facial expressions. The forehead, eyebrows, cheeks, lips etc. reflect our inner emotions. Though not very often, facial expressions give wrong signals also. A person may be frowning because of acute headache while his co-workers may take it as a sign of resentment.
Eyes, as part of the face, express how deeply we are involved in the discussion. When two persons are talking, direct eye contact is the most effective way of expressing oneself to the other. Raised eyebrows and eyelids express surprise or excitement.
Closed eyelids may express pain or deep concentration. Fixed eyes express concentration. Long eye contact reflects interest in the subject while brief eye contact reflects disinterest. Sometimes, eyes may send wrong signals also. Red eyes reflect anger but if a person has not slept the whole night, red eyes reflect lack of sleep and not anger.
Head position reflects confidence in the subject being discussed. Nodding of head shows that listener is understanding the speaker. Head held high is a sign of honour and self-confidence. A head bent low is a sign of modesty and politeness. In negative cases, it may even reflect shame and a sorry figure. Head posture is, thus, an important indication of non-verbal communication.
Gestures are the physical movements of arms, legs, hands and head. They reflect meanings which are usually understood by everyone. Tapping foot reflects impatience, tapping finger reflects thinking, pounding fist on the table reflects anger, ‘V is a sign of victory, a blink of eyes shows acceptance and twisting of lips shows disagreement.
5. Body shape:
Our body can take three shapes:
(a) Ectomorph: thin and tall,
(b) Mexomorph: strong, muscular and bony,
(c) Endomorph: fat, round and soft.
The shape of our body reflects our physical appearance, confidence level and character. Tall and erect body is seemingly more confident than stout and stooping body.
Posture is the way we carry ourselves. An erect posture reflects confidence, a bent posture reflects thinking, relaxed posture reflects balanced state of mind, sitting backwards with legs apart is a sign of disinterest. The way we sit and stand reflects our attitude towards job and the person whom we are talking to.
Physical appearance, that is, the way we dress, do our hair style, wear make up, wear our shoes etc. greatly reflect our attitude towards our job and peers. Appearance is a strong form of non-verbal communication. Pleasant appearance attracts the listeners and non-pleasant appearance does not.
B. Para Language:
Para means ‘like’ and para language means ‘like language’. It is use of non-verbal communication, which is similar to language. It is closest in meaning to verbal communication. Words convey meaning through para language.
It indicates how a speaker speaks. ‘Thanks’ said with a sad face and ‘sorry’ said with a happy face do not convey the right meaning. Sarcasm, criticism, nervousness, calmness, joy, anger etc. are reflected through tone and pitch of the voice.
Para language facilitates non-verbal communication in the following ways:
Voice is an important indicator of our personality. A soft voice indicates calmness and hard voice indicates harshness or strictness. A clear voice indicates clarity of subject and stammering voice indicates nervousness. Clarity of voice affects effectiveness of communication.
Voice takes care of the following aspects:
(a) Pitch variation:
Pitch of the voice means tone of the voice. Voice can have a high or low pitch. A person speaking at the same pitch becomes boring for listeners, howsoever interesting his subject may be. Voice modulation makes the speaker interesting. Some words also need extra stress to convey the right meaning.
High or low pitch indicates the following:
People having high authority tend to speak in high tone and those subordinate to them tend to speak in low tone or pitch. High authority people who are humble by nature, however, speak in low pitch.
(ii) State of mind:
People in excitement or anger speak in high tone and those in balanced mental state speak in low or soft tone. “Don’t raise your voice. I’ll not be convinced by your shouting” reflects high tone of a person in angry mood.
(b) Volume variation:
Volume means loudness. Voice should be loud enough for audience to hear.
Volume of voice is affected by the following:
(i) Mode of communication:
If the speaker is talking on phone, his volume has to be low but if he is addressing a seminar or conference, the volume is comparatively high.
(ii) Size of audience:
A large audience or gathering requires high volume of the speaker and a small gathering requires low volume.
(iii) Emphasis on words:
Certain words or sentences that need special attention are spoken at a higher volume than the rest.
(c) Speed and pause:
Speed is a great contributor to voice. Speed has to vary with the subject matter being conveyed. Important matters should be discussed at a low speed so that no part of the information is skipped out. Routine and general information may, however, be communicated at a fast speed. Use of grammatical pauses (comma, full stop, question mark, exclamation mark etc.) increases the efficiency of speed. Punctuation marks break the speed and add powerful influences to it.
Note the change in this conversation:
A: “How are you I have not seen you for long I hope everything is fine.”
B: “How are you? I have not seen you for long. I hope everything is fine.”
B’s communication is more powerful than that of A. Pauses make the speech powerful provided they are used at the right places.
Non-fluencies are the pauses that are scattered at intervals over the speech to make it more interesting and understandable. Use of words like ‘ok’, ‘all-right’, ‘Is it clear’, ‘oh’, ‘uh’, ‘um’ etc. make communication effective. They add fluency to the speech. They give breathing time to both speaker and the listener. Nevertheless, their use should be made judiciously. Using too much of these words can make communication boring.
2. Proper stress on words:
Proper stress on words clarify the meaning of the sentence.
(a) I am going with you:
The stress is on ‘I’. It means I and nobody else is going with you.
(b) I am going with you:
The stress is on ‘you’. It means I am going with none other than you.
Stress changes the meaning of sentences and conveys what the sender intends to convey.
3. Mixed signals:
What one wants to say and how he says must correspond with each other.
A says to B: “Please switch off the light. It’s been on for hours.”
B gets irritated and replies: “I switched it on just half an hour ago. How do you say it’s been ON for hours?”
Though A wanted to say that the light was on for quite some time, use of the word ‘hours’ miscommunicated the message.
‘What’ and ‘How’ of the message should go together to make communication effective.
Language can be improved by listening to good speakers and news channels on Television and Radio.
Para language is an important supplement to verbal communication. It makes verbal communication complete and effective. It tells about the personality, position, educational background and mental state of the speaker.
However, different signals convey different meanings in different cultures. Pauses in speech are considered good by Japanese but Americans prefer fluency in speech. Receivers or listeners must, therefore, be open-minded and patient when they are listening to people of different cultures.
C. Sign Language:
Signs are the symbols that convey almost 50 per cent of what we want to say. Sign language is a non-verbal form of communication where sender conveys message through symbols.
Sign language can be of the following types:
1. Visual signs:
Visual signs convey messages through pictures and drawings. Ancient civilisation speaks about itself through carvings and engravings on walls.
Use of posters, pictures, paintings, maps, diagrams, colours etc. is very common to convey the intended messages. Mathematical symbols like ‘<‘, ‘>’, ‘=’ are commonly used in solving mathematical problems. Geography and history books contain maps and charts.
Pamphlets used by tourism industry contain pictures of famous places to give a bird’s eye view to the tourist. Colours are also an important indication of messages. Red generally denotes anger, white denotes peace and green denotes progress. Pictures speak what thousand words together cannot. They make communication effective by attracting attention of the listener.
Presentations in seminars and conferences make ample use of visual signs through slides and graphs. Pictures make communication interesting and also reflect cultural background of the communicator. In the business world, posters and pictures are extensively used for advertising.
However, symbols must be used cautiously when people of different cultural backgrounds are conversing with each other as different symbols could convey different meanings in different cultures. Interpretation of symbols depends upon mindset of the speaker and the listener.
2. Audio signs:
Use of audio signals is an effective tool that supports non-verbal communication. Alarm clocks, siren, bells, ambulance, fire brigades and police vans have peculiar sound which convey standard meanings. The moment one hears the sound of an ambulance, one leaves way even if it is not carrying any patient. (Sound of a police van signals theft somewhere). If we have to take a 3.00 p.m. flight for which we want to get up at 12 midnight, phone alarm or alarm clock serves the purpose best.
Business houses make use of different audio signals to announce emergency, lunch break, starting of the day, end of the day, call a peon etc.
Audio signals make communication faster and effective. They are useful in time management and streamline working of the organisation. However, wrong use of such signals should be avoided, otherwise they become ineffective communicators.
Sign language, thus, cannot be a complete substitute for verbal communication in all cases. It is only an important supplement to verbal communication.
D. Space Language, Time Language and Surroundings:
The space around us, time and physical surroundings are as important non-verbal forms of communication as verbal communication.
Their importance is discussed below:
1. Space language:
Study of communication through space around us is known as space language or ‘proxemics’. Say, we are standing four feet away from our boss and communicating with him. Whether we can reduce this distance or not depends upon how close and intimate we are with him.
If we want to communicate with our friends and relatives, space language can specify the distance we would like to maintain with them and whom we would tolerate in that space. How close we are to the person with whom we are communicating, what is his status, what is our relationship with him, are reflected through the space or distance we maintain with him.
Edward T. Hall presents the space language through the following distances:
(a) Intimate space language:
This indicates a space of 18 inches between the communicators. Within this space, body language is more effective than spoken language. This space is occupied by those who are very close and intimate, like friends, relatives or official contacts. Communication in this space is usually done through eye contacts, whispers, handshakes etc. In the official context, confidential and sensitive matters are generally discussed in intimate space.
(b) Personal space language:
This space varies between 18 inches and 4 feet. Within this space, people talk to personal friends and visitors who may not necessarily be in very close proximity with each other. Normal conversation is carried within this space which is personal but not confidential. In official context, it may relate to important business decisions.
(c) Social space language:
This space varies between 4 feet and 12 feet. This is used for formal business communication. It is not affected by personal relationships, expressions and feelings. Communication is planned and dominated by reason.
(d) Public space language:
It is the space beyond 12 feet. It is used to convey formal messages. Speaking in large seminar halls or addressing public gatherings during elections are examples of public space language. Emotions and personal biases find no place in this form of space language.
Use of space also indicates the way people wish to interact with others. People who sit in the front are active communicators while those who sit at the back are generally listeners. They are not much interested in communication.
Though space or distance between communicators largely tells about the relationships between them, it may not always be so. A doctor and a patient, a lawyer and his client sit very close to each other while communicating but their relationship cannot be described as informal.
2. Time language:
‘Time is money’. Work done in time speaks a lot about the worth of the candidate. An employee who always reaches on time reflects his loyalty and interest in the job. People who value the time high are also valued high by others. Directors and secretaries of government organisations often give appointments to people to indicate value of time for them. Time taken to complete a task indicates worth of the task and the person performing that task.
Time management is a widely practiced field of management today.
Surroundings represent the physical environment in which we work. A well-furnished, carpeted, softly coloured office with a well-designed layout and beautiful paintings on the walls, speaks a lot more than an office with ordinary layout and furniture. The way we decorate our homes also speaks about our taste, status and background.
Architects and structural engineers are widely consulted to give size and decoration to the rooms that can attract business clients and also provide a positive environment to people to work. Environment or physical surrounding is an important non-financial incentive that promotes organisational productivity and profitability.