The ways in which we can communicate involve much more than simply the ability to speak clearly. In fact, distinctly enunciating every syllable as though your life depended on it, is bound to fall confusing on someone’s ear. Verbalizing your thoughts and intentions is only one of several ways to share thoughts, ideas, and values. Others include the written word, artistic expression, nonverbal communication, and body language.
The latter two have perhaps more subcategories than the others combined. Facial expressions, gestures, eye movements, and using hands all play an essential part when communicating visually. There are so many aspects to communication that it can be overwhelming trying to figure out how to make yourself completely understood. Yet, it also has the power to make or break relationships on a personal level as well as on a global scale.
Regardless of how cumbersome it may be, are there any other methods to get our point across? What other modes are there to share our thoughts and convey them to someone else?
The written word
Words have always fascinated me. I began writing poetry at an early age which initiated creative ways to express myself in rhyme and meter. Although writing articles on personal development requires a much different style, strictly stating facts in a dry, mundane way may bring clarity, but will bore much of the audience.
All writers are subject to grammatical rules established for their language. The challenge is how to take the 26 letters of the English alphabet and string them together in a way that is unique, inspiring, and enjoyable.
The other day, I had a discussion with Susan Rooks, the editor of my book. After explaining I wasn’t always sure about the rules for commas, she assured me most people don’t. “Not only do I know the rules,” she stated. “I know when it’s okay to break or disregard them.” But even following – or not following – all the rules, there are no guarantees that the written word will always be understood and interpreted the way the author intended.
The spoken word
We can all but throw out the rules when it comes to spoken communication. Although there are accepted ways of speaking – as in making sure the subject and verb must agree – there are no punctuation marks save for perhaps occasional “air quotes.” There was a famous entertainer named Victor Borge who created one of the most hilarious skits which he called “Phonetic punctuation.” He derived verbal sounds for various punctuation like commas, periods, questions, and exclamation marks. If you have never heard this bit, I implore you to find it online and listen. (There is a link in the last paragraph showing him reciting it on the Ed Sullivan show).
Rules can also be a hindrance at times. In the English language, double negatives are not to be used. Yet one of the most iconic rock songs ever written breaks it countless times. When Mick Jagger sings, “I can’t get no satisfaction,” there’s no doubting what he means. However, if it were to be taken literally, he is saying, “There’s no satisfaction I can’t get,” which is neither what he is saying nor very musical.
Complicating things is that in some languages, such as the Spanish language, their rules state the opposite, and the adverb (no) must complement the verb (can’t). “Can’t get no satisfaction” is precisely the correct way to say it. If you know of any Spanish speakers learning English, you’ll hear them use double negative since they are likely translating in their heads before speaking.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle the spoken word faces is being taken out of context. Without a permanent record of what is being said, words can be misheard or misconstrued to whatever the listener chooses.
Once again, there is no guarantee every word you speak will be understood the way you’d like it to be.
The unspoken word
The most telling of all communications is body language and nonverbal cues. We can always connive or deceive someone, but body language occurs naturally. Those who study body language, known as “Chronemics,” say there are certain signs in the eye and facial expressions that might contradict what the person is saying, and those gestures are what truly need to gain our attention.
Although body language varies individually, there can be great disparities between cultures. Eye contact, in most Western Cultures, is a sign of confidence while it can be observed as a rude gesture in others. Facial expressions tend to be the most universal of all body language. The one extreme exception is that in Polynesian cultures, they stick out their tongues to greet one another.
Although our gestures and expressions have no influence on the written word, understanding them for face-to-face communication can be a valuable way to understand what the other person is telling you.
Whichever method of communication you are implementing, the clearer we make ourselves the more effective our interactions will be. We cannot insist or force the other person to understand us. Doing the best job we can to convey our message is the only part of this process in our control.
Communication, in general, implies someone else is involved. If we become too wrapped up in our own interests, it hampers our ability to get our point across correctly. Treat them the way you would want to be treated. If your conversation shines a light on you and leaves them in the dark, they may purposely misunderstand or take your words out of context.
From every nation across the globe, communication is something that will always be necessary. The more effective one communicates, the more valuable that person becomes. It is both an art and a science; something which we can always improve upon.
Unfortunately, the one style of communication we have recently witnessed far too often is negative talk. But the only success it has achieved is division, strife, and hate.
Isn’t it obvious this style of communication does not work?
It has been and continues to be brandished rather arrogantly and forcefully.
It hasn’t worked. Neither will it ever work.
It’s time to adopt new strategies. Discontinue the harsh rhetoric and unleash one of care, concern, and compassion. Most of us have had those moments where someone’s kindness saved us from the grip of defeat. It is life-changing.
Now more than ever, it’s incumbent upon us to work to unite others in conversation, welcome the diversity, and embrace both the differences and commonalities. It is the best way to raise your art of conversation to another level.