Saturday, January 05, 2013

I say that big talk's worth doodly-squat.

I have no idea how this was omitted from my "pet peeves" list, but after mentioning this in last week's sermon at Providence Church, I felt inclined to immortalize this via the miracle of the Internet.

Quick Communication/Rhetoric Lesson ...

There is a difference between "vocal" and "verbal" as descriptors. In fact, 93% of the time (at least) I heard "verbal" when the person intends to communicate the concept of "vocal." In other words, this is a common faux pas.

Working Definitions:
  • Verbal - of or pertaining to [the use of] words [or symbolic language]; note the Latin verbum for "word"
  • Vocal - of, pertaining to, or uttered with the voice [i.e., audible]
Think back to the SAT. Remember the “Quantitative” and “Verbal” sections? Remember how quiet it was in the room, even during the "Verbal" part of the test? Of course, the subject matter was dealing with words, non-vocal words.

N.B. Verbal and vocal are not mutually exclusive categories.  For opposites, we'd have verbal vs. non-verbal and vocal vs. non-vocal. Thus, some communication can be verbal & vocal or verbal & non-vocal.

Verbal communication includes the use of words to convey a message. Non-Verbal communication includes all the ways we communicate apart from words (e.g., gestures, body language, moviment, or posture, facial expressions, eye contact, voice tone, voice volume, rate, clothing, hairstyles, architecture, etc.)

Some Examples:
  • Verbal & Vocal - Someone speaking the words, "I'm happy."
  • Verbal & Non-Vocal - Someone sending a text, "I'm happy."
  • Non-Verbal & Non-Vocal - Someone smiling when opening gift, communicating happiness.
  • Non-Verbal & Vocal - Someone loudly squealing with delight when opening the perfect gift, which even someone in the other room would recognize as a happy person.
Verbal communication is perceived through either sight or sound.  However, non-verbal communication can occur through any sensory channel, through sight, sound, smell, touch or even taste.

As an aside, the non-verbal and verbal components of communication may be in conflict.  When that occurs, the non-verbal is typically more readily believed than the verbal.  For example, think back to the last time you saw a child who was made to apologize to another child, especially a sibling.  When the words conflict with the eye-rolling or the sigh that precedes the words or the muffled manner in which they are spoken, the real meaning shines through.

In fact, the vast majority of our oral communication is non-verbal (in the categories of vocal and visual). UCLA Professor (emeritus), Dr. Albert Mehrabian's early communication study is often quoted in support of the belief that the actual verbal content of our communication is relatively small compared to the power of the nonverbal. The conclusion of Dr. Mehrabian's classic study looks like this:
  • 7% of meaning is in the actual words spoken (verbal).
  • 38% of meaning is in the way words are spoken, or tone - e.g., volume (vocal NV).
  • 55% of meaning is derived from what we see e.g., facial expressions (visual NV).
  • Ergo, 93% of communication is non-verbal in nature.
From a practical standpoint, this is important to remember because when we talk we tend to put a lot more emphasis on word selection, but when we (or others) listen those other aspects of communication dominate the message.

When I have taught preaching to seminary students I have emphasized this in a lecture dealing with style (word selection and message structure) versus delivery of a message.  How one delivers a sermon, for example, can go a long way to helping or hindering the communication of a message to an audience.

It's been said that one cannot not communicate.  I believe that to be true and I hope we can communicate with precision and with a view toward how our communication (verbal and non-verbal) impacts others, for their good and God's glory.

Okay, I'm done with the soap box.  It's available for anyone else who now needs it.

P.S. I realize that in much of the English speaking world verbal has become synonymous with something spoken as opposed to written down (e.g., "merely a verbal agreement," implying nothing in writing).  I may be the bad Ag, but I have about as much tolerance for that as I do "I could care less" now being synonymous in usage with the correct "I couldn't care less."

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