Tag Archives: nonverbal

Verbal communication

"She sent me a signal; just a subtle one, that someone not used to reading verbals would miss. Most people are terrible at reading verbals."

Verbal vs nonverbal communication

Until fairly recently, I had little ability to read nonverbal communication, which meant that I had little wiggle room on one of the principal axes of communication. But I still needed to communicate with people. So I looked for patterns in their behavior. Tried to remember explicit preferences they’d stated, notice when they responded positively or negatively to a thing, and infer the preferences revealed by the things they sought out or tried to avoid. I formed explicit mental models of how people behaved, which were generally modifications of my model of how people in general behave. This is the story of how I learned that this ability is not universal.

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Communication From Another Dimension

In my post complaining about the way people talk about Guess, Ask, and Tell Cultures, I summarized them this way:

The gist of the difference is that in “ask culture” it’s normal to ask for things you want even if you don’t expect to get them, it’s normal to refuse requests, and it’s not expected to anticipate others’ needs if they don’t ask for things, whereas in guess culture, you’re expected to offer things without being asked, you don’t ask for things unless you really need them or strongly expect the other person will want to give them, and it’s rude to refuse requests. (Tell culture is a variant on ask culture where instead of just making a request, you express the strength and exact nature of your preference, so other people can respond to your needs cooperatively, balancing your interest against theirs, and suggesting better alternatives for you to get what you want.)

But the more I think about it, the more I'm sure that the problem isn't that one or all of these is bad - it's that these distinctions are insufficiently dimensional. Here are a few more precise axes along which communication differs:

  • Explicit vs Indirect
  • Verbal vs Nonverbal
  • Anticipation vs Self-Advocacy
  • Zero-Sum vs Coöperative

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