Every time we verbally give a message to someone, we also impart a nonverbal message. In some instances, the nonverbal component may stand alone. For example, in a singles bar, a glance, a stare, a smile, a frown, and a provocative body movement all convey meaning. As such, no discussion of communication would be complete without consideration of nonverbal communication which includes body movements, the intonations or emphasis we give to words, facial expressions, and the physical distance between the sender and receiver.
The two most important messages that body language conveys are (1) the extent to which an individual likes another and is interested in his or her views and (2) the relative perceived status between a sender and receiver. For instance, we’re more likely to position ourselves closer to people we like and touch them more often. Similarly, if you feel that you’re higher status than another, you’re more likely to display body movements – such as crossed legs or a slouched seating position – that reflect a casual and relaxed manner.
Written communications include memos, letters, fax transmissions, electronic mail, instant messaging, organizational periodicals, notices placed on bulletin boards, or any other device that is transmitted via written words or symbols.
Why would a sender choose to use written communications? They’re often tangible and verifiable. When printed, both the sender and receiver have a record of the communication, and the message can be stored for an indefinite period. If there are questions concerning the content of the message, it is physically available for later reference. This feature is particularly important for complex and lengthy communications. The marketing plan for a new product, for instance, is likely to contain a number of tasks spread out over several months. By putting it in writing, those who have to initiate the plan can readily refer to it over the life of the plan. A final benefit of all written communication comes from the process itself. You’re usually more careful with the written word than the oral word. You’re forced to think more thoroughly about what you want to convey in a written message than in a spoken one. Thus, written communications are more likely to be well thought out, logical, and clear.
Of course, written messages have their drawbacks. They’re time consuming. You could convey far more information to a college instructor in a one hour oral exam than in a one hour written exam. In fact, you could probably say the same thing in 10 to 15 minutes that it would take you an hour to write. So, although writing may be more precise, it also consumes a great deal of time. The other major disadvantage is feedback, or lack of it. Oral communication allows the receiver to respond rapidly to what he thinks he hears. Written communication does not have a built-in feedback mechanism. The result is that the mailing of a memo is no assurance it has been received and if received there is no guarantee the recipient will interpret it as the sender intended. The latter point is also relevant in oral communiqués, except it’s easy in such cases merely to ask the receiver to summarize what you’ve said. An accurate summary presents feedback evidence that the message has been received and understood.
It can be argued that every body movement has a meaning and no movement is accidental. For example, through body language we say, Help me, I’m lonely; Take me, I’m available: Leave me alone, I’m depressed. And rarely do we send our messages consciously. We act out our state of being with nonverbal body language. We lift one eyebrow for disbelief. We rub our noses for puzzlement. We clasp our arms to isolate ourselves or to protect ourselves. We shrug our shoulders for indifference, wink one eye for intimacy, tap our fingers for impatience, and slap our forehead for forgetfulness.