Verbal Communication refers to the spoken word. 


Verbal communication is made of symbols which represent feelings, ideas, objects, and people. 


Symbols have three qualities:



I.  Symbols are arbitrary: 

They are not fundamentally connected to what they represent.

Certain words seem right because as a society we agree to use them in particular ways.

Meanings change over time.

Language changes as we invent new words.


50 years ago



Gay = happy

Gay = sexual orientation


Apple = fruit

Apple = computer


Mouse = furry mammal

Mouse = computer component


ďThat which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.Ē Shakespeare R & J


II.  Symbols are ambiguous:

They donít have clear cut, precise meanings.

While words donít mean exactly the same thing to everyone, thereís an agreed-upon range of meaning.


(Take a few moments to write in the first image / representation of the words below) 





Ice Cream


















(Discuss differences in each student's list; i.e."tree" does not evoke the same image for all)

Ambiguity leads to misunderstandings.

To minimize ambiguity, we should be as clear as possible when speaking w/ others.

(Take a moment to make each of the ambiguous statements more clear)

Ambiguous Language

Clear, specific language


 You are rude.

I donít like it when you interrupt me.


We need more team spirit.



I want more freedom.



Your work is sloppy.



Letís watch a good program.




III.  Symbols are abstract:

They are not concrete or tangible.

They stand for ideas, people, events, objects, feelings, etc. but they are not the things they represent.



Reading Matter

Less Abstract


Even Less Abstract


Concrete & specific

Communication Mosaics by Julia Wood



You can never not communicate


Nonverbal actions account for 65%-93% of the total meaning of communication.


Itís not so much what you say, as how you say it that matters.


Like verbal communication, nonverbal communication is ambiguous.


      1.     Kinesics: Refers to body position and body motion, including motions of the face.

                              a.   Audiences show interest w/ body position and facial expressions

                              b.   Body position signals whether we are open or closed to interactions

                              c.   Faces are capable of more than 1000 distinct expressions


      2.     Haptics: Use of physical touch.

                              a.   Touch is essential to healthy life; dysfunctional families, monkey experiment

                              b.   Touch communicates power and status: People with power invade and touch others who have less status.

                              c.   Historically, women are more ďtouchableĒ than men

                              d.   Gender specific rules for touch


      3.     Physical Appearance: How people look and certain aspects of appearance.

                              a.   Physical qualities: sex, skin color, size, etc.

                              b.   Clothing, accessories, shoes, jewelry, etc.


      4.     Artifacts: Personal objects we use to announce our identities and personalize our environments.

                              a.   Home decorations, posters, other personal objects to define space

                              b.   Professional uniforms, settings


      5.     Proxemics: Personal space and how we use it

                              a.  Culturally specific

                              b.  U.S. = 3-4 feet w/ acquaintances & 1 Ĺ feet w/ friends

                              c.  Women and minorities generally have less space than white men

                              d.  Invading othersí space communicates power and status

                              e.  City plans: ghettos, environmental dumping, trailer parks communicates power and status


      6.     Environmental Factors: Elements of setting that affect how we feel, think, and act

                              a.  Arrangement of furniture and physical space

                              b.  Lighting, noise, smell

                              c.  Malls vs. school vs. stadium vs. library vs. court room vs. home

                              d.  Fast Food restaurants example

                              e.  Comfy chairs vs. stiff, uncomfortable chairs

                              f.   Feng Shui


      7.     Chronemics: How we perceive and use time

                              a.   Time is used to convey power and status

                              b.   People of lower status have to wait (doctor, principal, boss)

                              c.   Teachers and tardiness

                              d.   Western vs. Eastern concepts of time

                              e.   Length of time we spend w/ others

                              f.   Countriesí views toward vacation time


      8.     Paralanguage:  vocal communication that isnít words.  Includes sound, volume, rhythm, pitch, and inflection

                              a.  Sarcasm

                              b.   Menís vs. womenís paralanguage (aggressive vs. submissive)

                              c.   Whispering vs. yelling


      9.     Silence: A lack of communicated sound

                              a.   Slience speaks volumes

                              b.   Contentment, awkwardness, anger, ignoring, disapproval, boredom


Monitor your nonverbal communication:

         Are you projecting the image you desire? 

         Do others interpret your facial and body movements correctly?

Think about space and your use of it, vocal qualities, clothing and other artifacts, how you use touch, how you communicate with time, facial expressions and body movement, etc. 

Donít assume.  Use ďIĒ language to clarify (just like checking perceptions).

Pay attention to context (the who, what, where, when of specific interactions).

Start perceiving nonverbal behaviors actively.