Human communication developed as the species evolved over time. Humans began communicating nonverbally long before they started communicating verbally, and they communicated orally long before they started communicating in writing. In the history of humanity, written communication is a fairly recent phenomenon.
In modern humans, the development of communication skills follows this same order for individuals: We learn to communicate nonverbally first. We then learn to communicate orally, and eventuallydepending on the culturewe learn to communicate in writing. Infants and children learn the nonverbal and oral communication of their cultures fairly quickly and easily. Written communication, however, requires both more time and more formal instruction to master.
In our interactions with others, we do well to remember that both as a species and as individuals weve had more practice communicating nonverbally than we have verbally and that nonverbal communication tends to convey more meaning than the verbal part of the message. Nonverbal messages may supplement, support, or contradict verbal messages accompanying them.
The use of space, both between people and allocated to people (territory), and time (amount, kindwhether exclusive or shared, and controlwho waits for whom) are also powerful nonverbal communicators.
Because much of what is communicated nonverbally occurs below our level of conscious awareness, we often fail to recognize its importance in human communication. Nonverbal communication, however, often determines how verbal messages are interpreted. Nonverbal communication serves primarily to communicate attitudes, feelings, status, and other affective (emotional) messages. Because we have been doing it longer, and because nonverbal messages are more difficult to control than verbal messages, when the nonverbal and verbal messages contradict each other, people tend to believe the nonverbal.
In business (and in any group setting) nonverbal communication helps regulate activities, including verbal (both oral and written) flow. The amount of space allocated executives, for example, serves at least two purposes. First, it protects them from intrusions that would interfere with their accomplishing important tasks, and, second, it communicates their status, both to themselves and to others.
Language facilitates group cooperation and allows information and knowledge to be transferred from individual to individual, from place to place, and from generation to generation. It also allows for the accumulation of knowledge through the storieshistoryof a people. This process began, of course, orally. Long before writing was developed, groups of people told stories to educate the young and to preserve the history of the group.
In business, oral communication, whether in face-to-face situations or telephone conversations, serves many of those same functions. People learn the history of an organization and about its culture primarily through the stories people tell, and relationships are forgedor brokenprimarily by what and how things are said.
The process of accumulating and transferring information and knowledge was greatly accelerated by the invention of the printing press. Before the printing press, books had to be copied by hand. For this reason, most early books were considered sacred. In the Middle Ages, only the very rich could afford books, and even large libraries contained very few books. The printing press made the proliferation of books, newspapers, and magazinesand libraries to house thempossible.
Electronic communicationincluding electronic mail (email), online discussion lists, the Internet, and the World Wide Webhave further amplified the power of language to shape ideas, culture, and our personal and professional lives. Electronic communication allows for the exchange of ideas at a rate far exceeding that of any other form of distribution.
Members of every group have certain expectations for both verbal and nonverbal communication within the group. Group members are expected to dress a certain way and use common gestures. In some groups, such as the military and police force, this kind of group identification is considered so important that uniforms are the required dress. Group members are also expected to use common vocabulary, pronunciation, and sentence structure. The vocabulary and logic used to present ideas identify people as being part of a group every bit as much as does style of dress. Accountants, engineers, musicians, and athletes all have their own vocabulary. If you want to fit in with a group, you need to know how to dress the part and speak the language.
A common language helps people work together to achieve common goals. In the United States, the expected language of business is what we typically call Standard English. Whatever special vocabulary you need to fit in with others in your profession, you will need to be able to use Standard English to work comfortably in most organizations in the United States. To be successful, those who work for international organizations will also need to be familiar with the languages and cultures of those with whom they are doing business.