Our Penchant for Communication

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Humankind has come a long way over the eons in terms of how we communicate with one another. But so much of what we say to one another still isn’t captured by the words we speak or the text we type.

Ask any scientist or researcher in any area of human history or development, and they will probably tell you that of all the uniquely human capacities, our penchant for many and sophisticated forms of communication has been key to our evolutionary success. And the fact that we communicate so frequently and in so many different ways attests to the truth of the often-heard axiom that we simply “can’t not communicate.”

Communication has been defined as the process of imparting or exchanging information as well as the primary means of establishing connections between people, places and things. Communication also comes in many forms. Most human communication is verbal, and involves the use of sounds and commonly accepted rules for assembling those sounds to convey ideas to others. And even before true language skills are acquired, infants can — through the use of various distinct sounds — express their wants and needs to an attentive ear.

People also communicate non-verbally through the use of gestures, body language, facial expressions, type and degree of eye contact, types and extent of touching, etc. And the degree to which they might be consciously aware of the types of messages they might be sending can vary considerably. Certain behaviors that are not strictly verbal, such as how one’s words are intoned or stressed also have the capacity to greatly influence the overall message and impact of verbal communication.

It would be hard to fully explain the impact of the development of written language and mankind’s subsequent ability to preserve and pass on information in a more permanent way. And we’ve certainly come a long way over the eons with respect to the mechanisms by which we communicate in this manner. We started by drawing pictures on stones and the walls of caves, progressed to inscribing characters on leaves and parchment, and now typically press keys that convert electrical signals into graphic representations viewed on a screen! It’s pretty exciting (and perhaps a bit frightening) to think of where we might go next.

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Working for so many years as a therapist made it imperative that I constantly work to improve and hone my communication skills. Because communication is necessarily a two-party process (requiring both the information sender and recipient to have sufficient imparting, receiving, coding, and decoding skills), it was essential that I acquired not only good listening and information-imparting skill, but also that I developed the ability to simultaneously process the multiple levels of communication typically exhibited by clients as well as the information contained within their messages.

I once was first approached for professional services through written communication from a woman whose letter was eloquently penned and remarkably straightforward. She didn’t express herself nearly as clearly during her initial visits. And her voice often quivered, the pace of her speech varied remarkably, and her position in her chair ranged from leaning far forward with her arms outstretched to sinking back into the cushions with her arms wrapped around herself. Boy, did she communicate! She had lots to say about her fears, needs, and concerns; and the utmost attentiveness and respect for all of her various forms of communication was absolutely necessary because very few of these things were expressed directly.

Therapists are not exempt from the “you simply can’t not communicate” rule. Whether it’s a subtle look of surprise or shock, a change in posture, or a slight difference in voice tone, therapists wittingly or unwittingly communicate many things to their clients, which is why it’s so important for a good therapist to be constantly aware of these things and to be very mindful and deliberate about the messages she or he really wants to send.

I hope there is some information in this post that might prove helpful to those reading it. I also hope I’ve communicated the main messages I wanted to get across clearly and effectively. One of the benefits of written communication (especially in the age of word processing software) is the ability to edit and refine (which sometimes I do so compulsively and in such a nit-picky manner that I simply have to stop myself). Even so, we never really know exactly what we’ve managed to communicate until others respond. So, I have my fingers crossed.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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