Communication Skills (Pt.2)

Last time I described what communication is and what the basic elements are; to recap:

The five basic elements are:

  1. The sender: Who is trying to communicate?
  2. The message: What is the sender trying to communicate?
  3. The medium: How is the send trying to communicate?
  4. The receiver: To whom the sender trying to communicate.
  5. The response (feedback): What was the result or effect of the communication?

Which were then refined into:

  1. The sender
  2. Encoding
  3. The message
  4. Decoding
  5. The receiver
  6. Feedback
  7. Noise
  8. Personal filter areas

So, what else can I tell you about communicating? Well, I’ve communicated the verbal portion of communication, but there are nonverbal portions as well.

Albert Mehrabian is a behavioral science researcher who is well known for his publications on the importance of verbal and nonverbal communication.

In his studies, Mehrabian[1] comes to two conclusions. First, that there are basically three elements in any face-to-face communication:

Secondly, the non-verbal elements are particularly important for communicating feelings and attitude, especially when they are incongruent: if words disagree with the tone of voice and nonverbal behaviour, people tend to believe the tonality and nonverbal behaviour.

It is not the case that non-verbal elements in all senses convey the bulk of the message, even though this is how his conclusions are sometimes misinterpreted. For instance, when delivering a lecture or presentation, the textual content of the lecture is delivered entirely verbally, but the non-verbal cues are very important in conveying the speaker’s attitude towards what they are saying, notably their belief or conviction.




According to Prof. Mehrabian, communication is comprised of words (7%), tone of voice (38%), and body language (55%).

Tone of voice is the volume, speed, pitch, and vocal inflections; body language are the gestures used, how they are holding themselves, and their facial expressions. Body language plays a significant role in interpersonal communication – and it’s important to understand body language.

Body language is broken down into five categories: Illustrators; Emblems; Regulators; Adaptors; and Emotional Displays.

Illustrators: A gesture is used when painting a picture of what is being said. For example, when holding up two fingers in the air, is it for peace or victory, or an aggressive gesture?

Emblems: These are basically any motions that represent something, like the peace sign, or digits for numbers, or thumbs up.

Regulators: These are gestures used to control the interpersonal communication. Shaking of the head can show disapproval or disagreement. A raised palm turned downwards can mean to slow down, and a single finger spun quickly in front of you usually means to speed up or wind it up (finish). Like illustrators and emblems, regulators can also mean different things to different people. In parts of India, the shaking of the head from side to side is a gesture of approval and agreement, the exact opposite of what it means in North America. Someone from a Mediterranean culture (Italy, Spain, Greece, etc) may use the slow down gesture to mean “come here”.

Illustrators, emblems, and regulators are gestures that we do on purpose to help in our communication. But there are also things that we gesture or do that are actually subconscious. Those are adaptors and emotional displays.

Adaptors: These are the nervous habits folks have and are most-likely stress-induced; they are repetitive motions.

Emotional Displays: This is an unintentional display of a person’s emotions.

Now, here’s the kicker. Sometimes, even the professionals have trouble reading body language – professionals like behavioral scientists. Many of the gestures are culturally bound so they might not be what you think they are. So, try not to look too deeply into a person’s body language because you could be dead wrong.

Try to control your body language (this takes practice, for the longest time I would look at people’s mouths as they spoke instead of in their eyes). Here are some examples:

  • Not establishing and maintaining eye contact might make you look defensive or unfocused.
  • Nervous habits (biting fingernails, pulling on your clothing, or shifting your weight) might show that you are anxious or uncertain.
  • Speaking to fast, or mumbling can be viewed as nervousness or a lack of confidence.
  • Sitting while your listeners stand can be viewed as arrogant.
  • Leaning against a wall while speaking makes you seem disinterested or excessively casual.

Join me next time for Obstacles to effective communications!