AllisonSheppard.us
art in real life

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I'm mortally afraid of being bored.  I like to write about learning, making, science-ing, thinking, and creating.

Use Your Words, Not Your Body

When I hear the word 'communication', I think of speaking and writing. But in reality, we all communicate with more than our spoken or written words.  

I heard a first grade teacher calmly instruct a rowdy student with the catch phrase, "Use your words, not your body."  Wow, what a powerful way to help a 7-year-old understand that pushing and hitting another person is actually a form of communication!  In six short and simple words, this teacher also conveyed that most humans would prefer not be punched, but rather would prefer the use speech to convey needs and wants.  She was stealthily teaching impulse control and communication.  Nice work!

That's a very cool teachable moment, and I have used that catch phrase with my own child.  But I wonder if communication between people can ever really be only our words, not our body?

Actually, we use a myriad of non-verbal ways to communicate with one another!  My thoughts for this blog post were inspired by my re-reading of Malcom Gladwell's book, Blink.  Blink is a well-penned essay discussing split-second decisions people often make as a result of unconscious observations and feelings. Gladwell highlights the myriad of ways people communicate beyond using words and verbal communication.

Do humans prefer verbal communication? As highlighted by my first grade example above, we spend lots of time educating and parenting our children to utilize the power of the written or spoken word.   In fact, we are so verbally-wired that we now have the ability to speak to our machines (e.g., Siri, Cortana, and Alexa)!

In order to think about why we communicate verbally with one another, let's first, think about why we communicate at all.  What has to happen before we feel the urge say something or write something (or scream something)?

First, we feel.  We think. We want.  These perceptions are received, stored and analyzed by our amazing brains.  Imagine how much information your amazing brain is able to process!!  Information (scienc-y word: data) that inspires communication can come into our brains (science-y word: 'input') from all of our senses.  For example super-loud music may cause our sense of hearing to generate discomfort data.  Or our sense of touch may generate pleasure data when we snuggle under a super-soft micro-fleece blanket.

As our senses input data to our brains, we may want to tell other people about our experience of that data. And that is how communication is born.    

 Tiny fingers + Tiny mouth = nonverbal communcation

Tiny fingers + Tiny mouth = nonverbal communcation

Babies cry, right? Yep, we begin communicating from birth.  A newborn's senses tell the brain about being cold (or hungry, wet, bored) and then he/she screams loudly (sometimes for hours) to alert whomever is in close proximity.  

But, babies don't just cry to communicate.  It's true! In the first minutes and hours of life, we communicate with our world in non-verbal ways.  Did you know that a hungry newborn baby's brain will tell the baby's mouth to begin looking for something to "latch on" to in order to eat? (Yes, latch-on is the real scienc-y term).  Many times the only thing that is immediately available are fingers, toes, blankets, etc.  

Knowing this is so powerful, especially when you are a first-time, sleep-deprived parent of a tiny newborn ball of joy.   I remember thinking, "You mean, I can prevent the crying if I just notice fingers+ mouth?"  That's powerful. 

What about when we get older?  Since we don't usually consider it appropriate for adult to put their fingers and toes in mouth to demonstrate hunger or gather data about a wall by licking it as a toddler might, we mostly gather and give data (communication) far less messy ways.  But, that doesn't mean we only use our words!  That's what Blink (Gladwell) touches upon about.  If you're interested, I encourage you to check out the book. 

I would love to hear about other resources, articles, books, etc. about this topic.  I find it fascinating, so let's chat about it in the comments section below!

Next, I want to think about:

  • Do all humans prefer to communicate verbally? Is there a hierarchy of rules in human communication (i.e., verbal is best, but are there second and third bests)?
  • Is it possible to detect non-verbal communication from others, and is is worthwhile to teach children how to do this?
  • Is it possible to and/or worthwhile to teach people to control or change their own non-verbal communication?
  • Does unconscious comprehension/data collection of our environment mean that information is forever inaccessibly mysterious?
  • In teaching people to better communicate, how universal should one's interface be?