The term communication is freely used by everyone in modern society, including members of the general public, organizational behavior scholars, and management practitioners. In addition, the term is employed to explain a multitude of sins both in the society as a whole and in work organizations. Despite this widespread usage, very few members of the general public—and not a great many more management people—can precisely define the term. Part of the problem is that communication experts have not agreed on a definition themselves.
Most definitions of communication used in organizational behavior literature stress the use of symbols to transfer the meaning of information. For example, one analysis stresses that communication is the understanding not of the visible but of the invisible and hidden. These hidden and symbolic elements embedded in the culture give meaning to the visible communication process.5 Of equal, if not more, importance, however, is the fact that communication is a personal process that involves the exchange of behaviors and information. Today, of course, this personal process is not just face-to-face, but is increasingly carried out electronically through Facebook, MySpace, blogs, wikis, texting, mobile phones, and e-mail.6 Although associated with emerging Web 2.0 technologies, the still personal aspects have been noted in no uncertain terms by most organizational behavior scholars.
The opposite end of the continuum from the tangible, often sophisticated electronic media and information technology is nonverbal communication. Although verbal communication has long been recognized as being important, nonverbal communication is particularly relevant to the study of organizational behavior. Sometimes called the “silent language,” nonverbal communication can be defined as “nonword human responses (such as gestures, facial expressions) and the perceived characteristics of the environment through which the human verbal and nonverbal messages are transmitted.”12 Thus, whether a person says something or, equally important, does not say anything, communication still can take place. Body Language and Paralanguage
There are many forms of nonverbal communication. Probably the most widely recognized is body language. Body movements convey meanings and messages. This form of communication includes facial expressions and what people do with their eyes, feet, hands, and posture. For example, good salespeople, advertisers, and even poker players capitalize on their knowledge of people’s eyes. As explained by Preston: when an individual is excited or aroused, the pupils of the eyes will dilate. When haggling over a price, the buyer will unconsciously signal an alert seller that a particular price is acceptable. . . . Some colors or shapes cause more excitement than others, and the reaction registers in the shopper’s eyes. With this research information, marketing people redesign their products to better appeal to buyers in a competitive environment. Good poker players watch the eyes of their fellow players as new cards are dealt. The pupil dilation very often will show if the card being dealt improves the player’s hand.13 Besides the obvious meanings attached to things such as a firm handshake or touching the other person when making an important point, at least one communication expert believes that what the person does with the lower limbs is the key to body language. He explains: That is where the tension and anxiety show. The person may claim to be relaxed, yet the legs are crossed tightly, and one foot thrusts so rigidly in the air that it appears to be on the verge. Even a person’s clothing can become important in body language. In addition to dressing for success, physical appearance in general seems important. From her research with clients, one consultant concluded that physical attractiveness is “the single most important quality in determining your success at every...
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