Verbal Communication

Verbal communication is made of symbols (words) which represent feelings, ideas, objects, and people.

Symbols have three qualities: they are arbitrary, abstract, and ambiguous.  These qualities are why miscommunication occurs.

Symbols are arbitrary:

    • They are not fundamentally connected to what they represent.
      • “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare R & J
    • Certain words seem right because as a society we agree to use them in particular ways.
    • Language changes as we invent new words.
    • Meanings change over time.
60 years ago Today
Gay = happy Gay = sexual orientation
Apple = fruit Apple = computer
Mouse = furry mammal Mouse = computer component

Symbols are ambiguous:

    • They don’t have clear cut, precise meanings.
    • While words don’t mean exactly the same thing to everyone, there’s an agreed-upon range of meaning.
    • Ambiguity leads to misunderstandings.
    • To minimize ambiguity, we should be as clear as possible when speaking w/ others.

Symbols are abstract:

    • They are not concrete or tangible.
    • They stand for ideas, people, events, objects, feelings, etc. but they are not the things they represent.
    • As symbols get more abstract, overgeneralizations occur.  This is bad.
Abstract Reading Matter
Less Abstract Book
Even Less Abstract Textbook
Concrete & Specific Communication Mosaics by Julia Wood