Oftentimes people think that communication is what you say. What you may not realize is that what you say is influenced by your body language.
What are your gestures? Are you nodding your heads yes or no? What is your body position? Are you slouched or leaning forward? What is the tone of your voice? Is it sharp and loud or timid and apologetic? These things all tell a lot.
The context of a situation can also give information. Is there a negative history between the individuals communicating? Is the topic being discussed hitting a nerve with you? Is the attitude positive or negative toward the person communicating? Even environmental factors, such as the temperature of the room, can influence context.
There is also the pattern of communication. Does it feel inauthentic? Does it feel like it's being discussed the way it should be discussed? Is the correct emphasis being placed on what you feel is important? Are there leftover feelings from previous conversations? All of these things--body language, pattern of communications, and the context--influence your communication.
Nonverbal communication includes all aspects of communication but words. This comprises body language, tone of voice, gesture, facial expressions, etc.
This is most relevant in situations where your words do not match your nonverbal communication. Your nonverbal trumps your verbal in situations where your words don't match.
Imagine your employee has said something in a meeting. Team up what is said with the actions on the left. This might mean the employee is upset. It would be saying something completely different if you team the phrase with the actions on the right. The employee's nonverbal cues are going to trump his or her words.
This does not mean that you shouldn't choose your words carefully, or that words don't matter. It does mean that it's important to align them with your nonverbal cues.
You probably send tons of emails. The reader/receiver does not have the luxury of seeing your nonverbal cues. They don't have access to the tone of your voice. They can't see your body language. There's more emphasis here on the actual words.
You can see here in this email, there's no tone necessarily written here, but you understand that this is a very serious message from the words:
In many cases, it's easy for tone to be misunderstood in the case of written communication even if the writer is very careful. Sensitive, complex, or highly nuanced topics should be handled in person.
Every word and every phrase has a meaning, whether it's denotation, connotation, or contextual meaning. Oftentimes there could be a difference between them.
Take a look at the word "sick." The denotation of that is to be ailing physically or emotionally. The connotation of sick is generally negative, but watch how it can change: When different groups work together, they start to develop their own language. Maybe in this instance you have a group of graphic designers, and they use the word "sick" to mean something good. "Sick" now all of a sudden has a positive connotation.
If they were to be communicating outside of their group, this could be a common source of miscommunication. On the other side, if you're outside of that group, and they're talking about the word "sick," it's important to not assume that you know the meaning of it.
In this image you have have an employee that sends out an email that says, "I need you to create a flowchart for this project." The denotation of "flowchart" is a visual representation of responsibilities and deliverables identified by shapes. The connotation of a flowchart is very rigid and structured.
Say this employee works in a group, and his or her idea of a flowchart is that it is just an informal timeline with due dates. For that employee and his or her group, a flowchart is a straight line with additional lines to indicate dates and deliverables.
The people in this group communicate all the time, so they have a common understanding of what their flowchart is. People who are not in that group or new to the group may not understand.
Communication should be free of bias to ensure it's neutral. You want to ensure the intended message was received correctly. Ask yourself: how was my tone? Was emphasis placed where it needed to be so this person is clear on what's expected?
Note groups or individuals with different cultural backgrounds. You want to be sure that the intention of your message has been received correctly. It's also important to communicate clearly to groups of people that have experienced ineffective communication. Pay special attention to those complex communications. If there are fewer roles established, follow through to make sure team members understand what they're doing.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Kelly Nordstrom
The dictionary definition of a word or phrase.
The tone or feeling of a word or phrase.
The meaning of a word or phrase within a particular context.