Semiotics & Nonverbal Communication

by | NYC/Brisbane, USA/Australia

Sunday, 18 September 2011

tags: australasia, making sense, semiotics

Semiotics, is the study and understanding of signs.  Signs are not limited to what comes to mind for most people- billboards, advertisements and storefront displays.  Rather, semiotics, and more specifically social semiotics is the study of how we interact and communicate with others by analysing the different channels of communication being used.  Often, many of these channels are based on nonverbal elements and cues. 

During any interaction with another person, we are communicating with each other constantly, primarily through nonverbal channels.  This is occurring through multiple channels and is both strategic and non-strategic (or intentional and unintentional).  This includes body language, voice tone, clothing and adornments, the environment, timing, and touch.

To envision all the different nonverbal elements present in any given situation, picture a black, blank screen in front of you.  Now imagine dozens of circles, of different colors and sizes, appearing and disappearing with the timing of each varying while consuming the majority of the screen replacing the black portions.  

If you cannot picture this, do not worry; just click the link [here] to see a video of what I am describing.  A picture is provided below as an example.

Now picture each dot as a different element of nonverbal communication.  On its own, it is not very significant and without it, it is easy to say it has little relevance on the entire picture.  For nonverbal communication, a single element such as choosing where to sit during a negotiation or meeting, or perhaps a hand gesture can be viewed as having a minimal importance on the overall impact of the situation.  

However, now start to take away more and more of the dots and the bright screen becomes darker and darker.  Similarly, ignoring more and more of the nonverbal elements, you understand less and less of what is going on. 

Just because you are unaware of all nonverbal communication elements does not mean they do not exist or their importance is insignificant.  Ignoring all the nonverbal elements can have a detrimental effect on the situation.  Equally, the same is true by embracing the other end of the spectrum- concentrating on a single element can have a dramatically negative effect by putting all your effort into analyzing one element at the expense of all the others.

In the coming 5 part series on “Semiotics & Nonverbal Communication,” I will offer tools that I have been using to research and analyse various nonverbal elements from a semiotic perspective from a variety of situations including political discourse, news media, conflict resolution (mediation, negotiation, facilitation, etc.), and interpersonal, informal conversations.

 © Jeff Thompson 2012

I view this series not solely as way to share what has worked for me, but also as an opportunity to engage readers to hear about your experiences as well.  I look forward to comments and feedback. Below details each of the articles in the series:

Part I: Introduction to “Semiotics & Nonverbal Communication

Part II: Semiotic Analysis of Nonverbal Communication

Part III: METTA- How To Be Aware Of The Nonverbal Elements

Part IV: The 3 C’s Of Nonverbal Communication

Part V: Applying Semiotic Analysis & Nonverbal Communication

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