Verbal and nonverbal communication are part of the backbone of society. They are necessary to people getting along with each other and building the cultures we call our own. Studying communication means understanding the basics of what make verbal and nonverbal communication both different and similar. It is possible to separate these two types of communication, but more often they occur together, especially in the face-to-face communications we engage in every day.
The Three Primary Components
All communication (verbal and nonverbal) has at least three components. The person who creates the communication, the communication itself, and the person who receives the communication. In speech-based communication, this is the speaker, the words they used, and the listener. Another example would be written communication: the writer, the written piece, and the reader. In nonverbal communication, an example would be: the person smiling, the smile itself, and the person seeing the smile.
Defining Verbal and Nonverbal communication
Verbal communication encompasses more than just spoken language. In this instance, verbal encompasses oral (spoken), visual (seen), written, and electronic communication. Nonverbal communication encompasses tone of voice, facial expression, and body movement. In face-to-face communication, both verbal and nonverbal communication overlap because you are not only hearing the words being used but also the tone of the person speaking, giving you a different understanding of what they say.
The Three Tiers
There are three tiers of communication: Personal, Media, and Mass. Personal communication is when it is a single person dealing with another single person. Media communication is the intermediate level characterized by one-on-one interaction across a distance, such as in point-to-point telecommunication (telephone, radio, telegraph, etc). Home movies also fall into the media communication section. Mass communication is something we are all familiar with thanks to television and newspapers.
The Sign Language Misconception
Sign language is not considered nonverbal communication because it falls into the category of visual language-based communication. This is a common misconception in the study of verbal and nonverbal communication.
The Categories of Nonverbal Communication
Nonverbal communication can be broken into several categories: facial expression, eye contact, posture, voice, apparel (dress/clothing), color, odor, time, and space. These are not all physical objects, but also behaviors. The language of time is cultural. In one area of the world, lateness is acceptable, while in others it is not tolerated. Much is the same with spatial behaviors. Some cultures stand closer to each other during their communications than others.
Communication and Culture
All communication is affected by culture. Verbal communication from one region of a country to another can be quite different based on the local culture. Nonverbal communication is much the same, but culture conceptions can dictate what is or is not allowed. For example, in Japan, control of facial expressions is absolutely necessary in dealing with superiors.