Talk:Non-verbal communication

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I have heard it said before that "90% of communication is non verbal" but I find it very hard to believe. If 90% conversation is non-verbal how is it that, with apparently 90% of the content missing, I can understand the radio? How is it that deaf people have more problems than blind people when it comes to learning to language communication? Surely if 90% of communication is non-verbal then I could get away without speaking at all - but it's exceedingly difficult to communicate be mime. On the other had if you put a thin opaque screen between two people they can communicate without great difficulty - certainly less difficulty then if you made them communicate by mime anyway. Given all this - how can 90% be non-verbal? I find it hard to believe. --Bob M 20:52, 9 June 2009 (UTC)

You're jumping to the reasonable enough conclusion that communication = verbal communication = 100% of all human communication.
But, basically, if you add whatever percentage of verbal communication you want to the additional amount of communication made available by body language (hunched shoulders, clenched fists, etc.), non-verbal sounds (including coughs, smorts, sighs, laughter (remind me one day to mention how people use laughter in non-humourous contexts), etc.), facial expressions (eyebrows (surprise/frown, etc.), smiles, lip-biting, etc.) then that totals 100%.
As you point out, two people separated by a screen can communicate - verbally - if both can hear and speak, but they would have to take the other person's word for it (literally) that they meant what they were saying. But those circumstances are neither normal or natural conditions for human communication - nor are telephone communications, reading/writing, etc.
Could rave on for hours, but it's late & need me beauty sleep. Will be back on this anon.--Technopat 21:34, 9 June 2009 (UTC)
Getting back in here before it gets cold. You mention how difficult it is to communicate with mime, but I have experienced perfectly adequate communication in many circumstances in which I had no idea of the local language, and in which facial expressions and gestures have more than adequately conveyed hospitality and cooperation or threats and danger.
Beckoning with the hand from a distance conveys more than shouting and more effectively. Pointing with a finger, pointing a finger at someone, etc. In fact I'm warming to the subject now... will probably develop it further.
Children, until I forget what age - 2 and a half?, depend exclusively on body language and tones of voice to interpret their relationship with others. An adult's verbal communication with them is just a meaningless string of sounds, until it accumulates and develops into a mother tongue.
And taking it to the world of business, politics, diplomacy, etc, no leader would dream of leaving it to mere words on a piece of paper or over the phone - they go out of their way, literally, for that chance to meet face-to-face.
Many of my students these days are video-conferencing, a vastly superior way of communicating to the traditional call. It's true they spend many hours exchanging emails, drafting reports of different types, but they still arrange to meet at least once a year to evaluate past results and to plan future developments...--Technopat 05:49, 10 June 2009 (UTC)
OK. But I most certainly did not say that verbal communication was 100% of communication. I said that I doubted that non-verbal was 90%. You make the pont that non-verbal makes up some part of communication and I naturally agree with you. But whatever that proportion is it must logically be substantially less that 90%. Imagine watching a debate on television. If you turn off the sound and just watch the people speaking then (if you are lucky) you may get some of the emotional content. However if you turn of the screen and just listen to the audio then you get almost all of the content - you even get the emotional content from the tone of voice.
If 90% of the communication were non-verbal you would expect the opposite result.--Bob M 06:09, 10 June 2009 (UTC)
And I can find people who agree with me: here, and here - to name just a couple. Sorry but it looks a bit like an urban legend to me.--Bob M 06:41, 10 June 2009 (UTC)
Aaaagh! Just lost a whole new reply on this one!!!!!!! (insert whatever emoticon you like). Will be back...--Technopat 15:07, 10 June 2009 (UTC)

(outdent)Trying to salvage from memory what I added in reply to yours above. First of all, I wasn't insinuating that you'd stated that 100% etc. I was just pointing out that it's a pretty logical conclusion to draw at face value. And as Tefl teachers, I reckon it's a pretty inevitable state of affairs, given that we spend so much of our time concentrating on & fine-tuning verbal communication.

It brings to mind the difference 'tween "will" and "be going to". Googling gives 5.690.000.000 results for the former (not all of which will refer to the auxiliary!) and 112.000.000 for the latter (again, a false representation of reality 'cos nobody says very few people say "I be going to..."). However, as much of communication is verbal, and most of that verbal communication is face-to-face, and most F2F communication deals with the 1st person, the "... going to" structure is the most commonly used future in English, as any student spending time in an English-speaking counrty will discover, whereas the most common future most students come across in their learning process is with "will", mainly, but not exclusively, because much of the language they come across is written.

On the other hand, as you know, for every half dozen experts advocating one particular viewpoint, there'll be six others preaching the opposite. If there's a majority leaning one way. it'll become mainstream theory (although there'll be plenty of discordant voices) until th enext theory gets adopted.

An article I came across the other day - no direct bearing on percentages of nonverbal communication, but does mention NVC in passing. [http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/1983----.htm The Psychology of Language and Thought Noam Chomsky interviewed by Robert W. Rieber]

First of all you most certainly were "insinuating that you'd stated that 100% etc." you wrote: "You're jumping to the reasonable enough conclusion that communication = verbal communication = 100% of all human communication." So I accept that you didn't insinuate it - you stated it outright! Ohmy.gif
Anyway, Stirthepot.gif you still haven't addressed the most obvious anomaly. You maintain that 90% of conversation is non-verbal. You have not addressed my television example above.
Let's try it again - if I close my eyes when I speaking to someone then I can still communicate. According to your point of view I've just lost 90% of my input - but it doesn't slow me down a lot. On the other hand if, for some reason, I can no longer hear them but I can see them then complex communication is a lot more difficult.
Let's try it another way. Imagine that we both have to give a talk on The General Theory of Relativity. I do it using a microphone but hidden from the audience. You do it non-verbally using mime. According to your idea that 90% of communication is non-verbal then you should have the advantage. But even a moment's though should be sufficient to convince you this is not the case.
I mentioned previously that deaf people people have more problems learning to communicate verbally than blind people:you would expect the opposite to be the case if you were right.
The only sort-of responses I see are pointing out that it is possible to communicate at some level with people who don't speak your language and that you can tell people to "come here". All this is true. But try explaining the principles and consequences of global warming including CO2 forcing, glazier melting, movement of tropical diseases - it would be absurd to try to explain these things without using words.
In fact, apart from some very very simplified and specific examples it is pretty obvious that the majority of communication is carried out using words. In fact, I'm afraid that, the more I think about it, the more absurd it seems to suggest that 90% of communication is non-verbal.
So here's my challenge. Zoff.gifCan you give me a realistic situation where a significant amount of technical, social or personal information needs to be exchanged between two normal adults who speak the same language, and where this communication could be carried out much better without them speaking than if they were allowed to speak? Remember you need to show that 90% is non verbal, so it has to be much much better without speaking - not almost as good. Obviously if 90% is non verbal then the answer should really be "every and all situations". But what I'd like to learn is "any situation at all" where the people who don't speak have the advantage.--Bob M 16:15, 10 June 2009 (UTC)
Sigh! Have you never been seduced by a smile? A flutter of the eyelids? Yer a hard man, indeed!
And I do NOT "maintain that 90% of conversation is non-verbal." :) On the other hand, in my earlier reply that got lost I did address your TV example but forgot to include it in my salvaged version above: admittedly TV represents an encroaching amount of influence in our lives, but in evolutionary terms it is still negligible and does much to falsify reality
Re. your deaf people having "more problems learning to communicate verbally than blind people", but I'm sure you'll agree that most deaf people have little need to learn to communicate verbally as their sign language is perfectly suited to their communications needs under most circumstances. The fact that they can only communicate effectively in that particular language with someone who knows it is the same as a speaker of only one language only being able to communicate effectively in that language with another person who knows that language. In both instances, they could of course communicate with gestures and any other example of non-verbal communication.
Re. your talk on The General Theory of Relativity, such situations are far less common examples of human communication, not only in terms of vocabulary items, but also in terms of how often they occur in one day, anywhere on the planet, in comparison to the raised eyebrows, a nod and a wink in innumerable noisy pubs/discos. Ditto "the principles and consequences of global warming including CO2 forcing, glazier melting, movement of tropical diseases": scientific and technical instances make up only a small part of a human being's daily communication needs - even for scientists and technicians, who, unless they live in their labs, have to interact with other human beings in non-technical situations, and even they, when in their labs, must necessarily resort to non-verbal communication most of the time.
Non-verbal communication is not necessarily intentional and/or aimed at an audience, and in fact is the hardest to thing to hide from others. Any idiot can tell a lie using mere words, but there's a high probability that he/she'll get caught out. And modern security systems are now increasingly based on detecting telltale signs that humans can't hide - postures, gestures, facial expressions, tics, breathing, and so on.
In answer to your challenge to provide examples of where non-verbal communication is more effective and efficient than the spoken word, off the top of me 'ead and apart from the noisy pub/disco above: an operating theatre; diving; sex... --Technopat 17:17, 10 June 2009 (UTC)
You state: "And I do NOT "maintain that 90% of conversation is non-verbal." I am most glad to hear it, as it seems to be pretty self-evidently untrue. But why, then, did your original version of the article - and to which I objected say: "Non-verbal communication refers to the approximately 90% of communication that takes place between people." I'm at a bit of a loss to understand the difference between the two concepts.
I take your point that deaf people can communicate with sign language - but that just strengthens my point. They can't get by just on mime and I'm sure you will agree that deaf sign language is a language in every sense of the word.
RE theory of relativity, I'm glad that you accept that in the case of complex instructions and language it is clearly obvious that communication cannot be 90% non-verbal.
I of course accept that non-verbal communication is largely unintentional. I have never suggested that it doesn't exist. Only that 90% is a grossly exaggerated figure.
Re your examples of non-verbal conversation. First off I find it amusing that you dismiss my television example on the grounds that it is evolutionary insignificant. My TV point was simply designed to illustrate the fact that the meaningful content was in the words not the actions - but that is not the humorous point. Having dismissed TV as too modern, two of your examples (three if you count the disco) are equally modern. To go through them individually.
An operating theatre - by happy coincidence my wife is a theatre nurse and I've just had a word with her. She tells me that operating theatres are most certainly not silent places. When pressed to tell me if they could be totally silent she admitted it might be possible with an exceptionally highly trained team. When asked if it would be better silent she said definitely not.
Scuba Diving - I agree that in this highly rarefied and exceptional circumstance you are stuck with gesture. My suspicion is that scuba divers would prefer a system that would allow them to talk to each other and that it is a second best but, yes, OK, in this situation you are better off with (or rather are are obliged to use) body language.
Sex: Well, I think that rather depends on the people. Some people talk and some don't. (Not that I claim vast experienceTh unsure.gif) Although I accept it would be pretty difficult to manage it without quite a bit of physical activity.
But it's pretty clear that if 90% of communication were non-verbal then you wouldn't have needed to think up rather extreme situations like scuba diving and operating theatres--Bob M 19:04, 10 June 2009 (UTC).

Cross-cultural differences[edit]

For example:

  • In Israeli Hebrew, a hand palm up at waist level, with fingertips together, lightly shaken, means "wait a bit" (rega, rega) whereas in Argentine Spanish, it means something like "up yours."
  • In Turkish, stroking or scratching the cheek with the fingertips means "bologna!" or "poppycock!" since it mimics the barber's shaving motion (barbers being stereotyped as full of idle chatter.) In the English I'm used to, it may mean nothing more than a contemplative itchy face.
  • European beckoning with palm up, or Asian, palm down

Will 14:29, 6 September 2009 (UTC)

That would probably better come under something about, well, cross cultural differences :-) --Bob M 09:23, 7 September 2009 (UTC)
With blink to this article. By the way, in Spain - Europe - beckoning (to children, at least) is palm down.--Technopat 11:46, 17 September 2009 (UTC)
Done.--Technopat 11:59, 17 September 2009 (UTC)