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Components of Communication: Connotation, Denotation, and Contextual Meaning

Components of Communication: Connotation, Denotation, and Contextual Meaning

Author: Kelly Nordstrom

Recognize the difference between connotation, denotation, and contextual meaning as part of communication.

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Components of Communication

Source: Young man black tshirt, public domain,

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Thank you for joining me for this tutorial on components of communication. This lesson covers verbal, nonverbal, and components of communication in context. Let's get started.

So what are our objectives today? What are the components of communication? What is nonverbal communication? Why does context matter?

Let's dive right into it. Let's talk about the components of communication.

Oftentimes we think that communication is what we say. But what we don't realize is that what we say is influenced by our body language. Are we smiling, frowning? Are we pained? These are our facial expressions.

What are our gestures? Are we nodding in our head yes or no? What is our body position? Are we slouched or leaning forward? And is the tone of voice sharp and loud or timid and apologetic?

And then there's the context of situational? 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? And even environmental factors, such as the room, is it cold is it too hot?

And then there's 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? And are there leftover feelings from previous conversations?

All of these things, body language, pattern of communications, and the context or situation-- All of these things together influence your communication. You could sit in a meeting and not say a word, yet communicate to everyone around the table. So let's dive a little deeper into nonverbal communication.

Just as we talked about, nonverbal communication includes all aspects of communication, everything but words. This includes our body language, tone of voice, gesture, facial expressions, everything we just talked about.

Now there was some research conducted by a psychologist named Albert Mehrabian in 1967. And he indicated the following breakdown of communication. Did you know body language accounts for 55% of our communication, our tone of voice, 38%, and verbal, these are the words, 7%. That's it.

This is most relevant in situations where your words do not match your body language, or your nonverbal communication, your tone of voice, your gesture, face. Your nonverbal trumps your verbal in situations where your words don't match your tone of voice, your gesture, your facial expressions.

So let's take a look at an example. You can see here, our employee has said something in a meeting. And we're going to take some time to analyze this. He says, "Oh, that's a great idea. We should consider having all management evaluate their staff three weeks prior to evaluations."

Now let's team that up with what is here on the left, no eye contact, chuckling as he's saying it, he's nodding his head no, and then he tosses his pen down and this paper. "Oh, that's a great idea. We should consider having all management evaluate their staff three weeks prior to evaluations." That takes on a different meaning than it would if this person had eye contact, and he was serious, and he was nodding his head yes and taking notes. "Oh, that's a great idea. We should consider having all management evaluate their staff three weeks prior to evaluations."

So do you see how these words do not align with this person's nonverbal, no eye contact, kind of chuckling and scoffing as he's saying it, nodding his head no and kind of tossing is pen down on a paper? He's upset. Guess what everyone around the table is going to focus on. His nonverbal cues are going to trump his words. This does not mean that we shouldn't choose our words carefully, or that words don't matter. But it's important to align them with our nonverbal cues.

So written communication, we send tons of emails. The reader and receiver does not have the luxury of seeing our nonverbal cues. They don't have access to the tone of our voice. And they can't see your body language or are nonverbal cues. So there's more emphasis here on the written word.

You can see here in this email, there's no tone necessarily written here. But you understand that this is a very serious message. Take a moment, pause the video, and read this email. See if you can determine what tone this email should be taking on from the words that have been used. Again, they've been chosen carefully. And just as I mentioned, the reader does not have access to our nonverbal cues or our tone of voice. So in many cases it could be misunderstood. So you can see that it's easy for tone to be misunderstood in the case of written communication. Even if the writer is very careful. So sensitive, complex, or highly nuanced topics should be handled in person.

So now that we're talking about context and interpretation, let's move on to contextual meaning. Every word, every phrase has a meaning, whether it's denotation, connotation, or contextual. And oftentimes there could be a difference between them. You'll see here, denotation is one of our key terms that's going to be coming on in. Feel free to pause and take a look at the definition. Connotation and contextual meaning are also key terms, so take a look at those as well.

So let's take a look at an example here. I have the word "sick." So the denotation of that, this would mean ailing physically or emotionally. If we were to look it up in a dictionary, this is what it would say. But watch how it changes. When different groups work together, they start to develop their own language, their own meanings of words, especially in groups that have worked closely together.

So the connotation of sick is generally negative. Someone ailing physically or emotionally is negative. But now the context, if we look at a group that-- Maybe we have a group of graphic designers, and they use the word "sick" like those graphics are sick, that's awesome, this is really good stuff. "Sick" now all of a sudden has a positive connotation.

So if they were to be communicating outside of their group, this could be a common source of miscommunication. And on the other side of the fence, if you're outside of that group, and they're talking about the word "sick" or other words that they use, it's important to not assume that you know the meaning of it.

Let's take a look at an example so we get a better idea of what this is. So here we have a contextual meaning again. And we have our employee. He 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. Again, I didn't look this up. This is just what I'm-- I'm saying we may find in a dictionary something close to that.

The connotation of a flowchart is very rigid and structured. Everything is in its place and it's very organized. So let's say this employee works in a group, and his idea of a flow chart is not a visual representation of responsibilities and deliverables identified by shapes and colors, and what we're used to seeing. His idea of a flowchart is just an informal timeline with due dates. That's all he's looking for, a straight line with some lines that indicate the dates and deliverables. That's his idea of a flowchart. This is what his group considers a flowchart.

So you can see that the people in his group, they communicate all the time. So they know exactly what a flowchart is. But this is for people who are not in that group, or maybe they're new to the group, or they don't communicate with this group as often as the internal folks.

And here's a way to remedy this. These people need to be clear and concise with their communication. They need to know their audience. If they're outside of their internal group, they need to be able to tweak it, maybe explain it, be clear, explain what you need with a flowchart, communication free of bias to ensure it's neutral. How is my tone? And of course, we want to ensure the intended message was received correctly. Was emphasis placed where it needed to be placed so this person is clear on what's expected?

It's also important to note groups or individuals with different cultural backgrounds. We want to be sure that messages are received, that the intention of your message has been received correctly. It's also important to communicate clearly to groups of people maybe where there's a history where things were not communicated effectively or heard effectively. Pay special attention to those complex communications. Or there are less rules or less roles established yet. Follow through to make sure they understand what they're doing.

So this concludes today's tutorial. Let's go ahead and check our objectives, make sure we met them all.

What are the components of communication? We talked about the nonverbal cues in some cases trump what is said.

What is nonverbal communication? Well, we talked about facial expressions, gestures, body position, tone, the context, and how some groups even have their own language and their own meaning to words, and how it's really important to make sure that we take into consideration cultural backgrounds and other professional experience, people outside of that group, so the communication is clear and concise.

Why does context matter? Well, we talked about denotation, connotation, and contextual meaning.

So thank you for joining me for this tutorial. I hope to see you again soon.

Terms to Know

The tone or feeling of a word or phrase.

Contextual Meaning

The meaning of a word or phrase within a particular context.


The dictionary definition of a word or phrase.