How interpersonal communication feels like

How interpersonal communication feels in person – now this will be a large subject, with which I’ll also want to learn more from friends and others with different kinds of needs. Like, how will how you do all this differ if you’re deaf or have a different kind of speech impediment or some other issues interfering between what others say and how you perceive it?

I love books about interpersonal communication. Last year I read some pearls in one and then some more. Now I’m still searching for good books, and still want to find that De Vito one, in audio. (Yes, I know Learning Ally probably has it). I’ll want to read the parts that are relevant to me, then find others to share thoughts with, and find ways to combine a talent pool around it. If I had a group of people I could go to an event or location with, then compare my perception with theirs after, that could be interesting. How would those who use eyes to compensate their ears perceive something differently from those who use ears to compensate for eyes and so on.

Back to the beginning. There are many of those graphs that always show how interpersonal, face to face communication perception is always 55% of visual nonverbals, 38% of tone of voice and only 7% of actual words used. Here is an example graph. But this whole 55/38/7 puts an awful lot of standardizing and stereotyping in the picture, and just isn’t so helpful. What if you are blind or low vision? What if you’re deaf or autistic? Will you completely miss 55% of cues? Isn’t it more likely you’ll learn to compensate and get the info with some other method, getting better the more use that method? Lying can, I believe, be easier to detect in voice than from visual cues. And wouldn’t the deaf be able to get that “tone of voice” thing from people’s facial expressions and behaviors? Above all, if people really only pay 7% attention to what you are actually trying to communicate, humans are just not very good in communicating. If it’s really just 7%, I will often prefer to type, and then read out my thoughts as text to speech for you (so I don’t even have to speak with my own voice). There, you can hear my “tone of voice” as Fiona or Daniel voice what I’m saying.

There is also a huge difference between the actual words people say (that 7% of communication above), and what they actually mean. Those two can be very different, and your expected reaction can be rather different too depending on what is expected as a response based on the situation. For instance when a female person pours her feelings and emotions, you are expected to not offer advice or interrupt, but just passively listen and nod, after which she will feel better, and your likely feeling of having become emotionally drained should be kept hidden from the person who just caused it. Or the many examples of social lies, “does this garment make my posterior look fat?” does not expect a honest answer, just a lie to make the other person believe that they do in fact not look as fat as they probably are. Or the so common rhetorical how are yous when meeting people. Whereas those aren’t rhetorical in many other parts of the world, when people actually ask it because they want to know, in USA people ask and noone wants to know. So I’m fine thanks. Next subject.

Needless to say, the 55/38/7% model is far from how it works for me, or how it’s ever been. Typically, and for the past several years (maybe always?) the communication functions like this:

  1. Listen to the actual words people say.
  2. Try to decipher what they actually mean. The directness of the communication style differs vastly by culture, and in USA the usual communication style are very indirect, veiled. “It is always so messy here. The trash can is full.” is a statement, however if someone says that, what they really mean is “take out the trash please”. “We should go out and have coffee together sometime” means exactly what it says if you are in Scandinavia or Northern Europe in general. If someone says that in USA, what they mean is usually something like “I find you sexually attractive and would like to find out your potential compatibility for relationships and/or availability for casual sex”. Isn’t it fun when you move from a culture where people say things closer to what they mean to a culture where everything is tried to be kept hidden, where there’s a lot of dancing around hidden meanings, and then you get blamed when you miss all that between the lines? Sigh. So they say something, but what is it exactly what they want? People in USA sometimes go to extremes to avoid direct communication. I guess it’s just part of their culture. It certainly makes it a lot more difficult to understand what is wanted or the purpose of something when it’s not clearly stated at any stage.
  3. Listen to cues in their voice for any underlying agendas or for their feelings or emotional statuses. This too depends on language and culture and how emotionally expressive people are in a given culture. Also there are people whose emotional cues of the voice are completely unusable. For instance I once had a roommate who always sounded like she was really angry as she most of the time was shouting and just sounded angry. I was told by others that she wasn’t, and that was just her style of speaking. It was not a very good match. Then there are others who have part of their job description to sound pleasant, so for instance if you work as a waitress or in retail or are a social worker, then your voice will give the vibe that you are really interested in whatever someone is saying when you are not and wish them to just shut up and go away. People don’t often notice when their voice is contradictory when it’s just part of voice uniform they are wearing. So when trying to interpret the voice thing, first you need to establish a baseline. What does this person sound like? What do they sound like when they talk with friends? When they are happy and excited? What do they sound like when they are unhappy, upset, bored, tired, or flat out lying? It will take practice. And I know I’m not the easiest to decipher in this field, as first of all, I sound flat unless I’m using on purpose a voice that has some emotional cues for helping the others to hear me better. And there is often a huge difference when talking in other languages. Since English is my third language, I’m not as expressive as in my primary languages. I don’t have the “correct”, typical intonations or all the emotional expressions with the correct phonemes always in place. The voice can tell so much, if a person speaks. But if speaking is difficult, or you are speaking in a language of less familiarity, the emotional cues are far less part of that, so if trying to listen to those you’ll be far off. And let’s be honest: since not all of us are as emotional in our feelings or regular behaviors, it’s rather silly to always assume that there is always some emotional undertones in “how” someone says whatever they are saying.
  4. Try to detect some of the visual cues. Typically this would include those facial expressions, body language, the way someone is dressed, their haircut, style of shoes etc. Those apparently are very relevant (the graph link above). Presentation style matters too. An American speaker will be more emotional and try to waken emotional responses from their audience and speak in her or his way with regular handspeak. A Finnish speaker will be taught to keep their hands mostly to their side, and not use too much facial expression, especially if you are talking science. An Italian will have their own handspeak and their usual amount of facial, emotional and vocal expressions when publicly speaking. Lots of people get coached for public speaking, probably less for private speaking. So how do the others do this? I studied body language from books as a kid. I would be able to tell something if I knew where someone’s feet were pointing, or could also perceive if a group seems open or closed to others. But before knowing if someone is interested or bored in something, I’d go for the vocal cues first.
  5. Repeat all these steps all the time while around people. If listening, it’s less intensive, but if you’re also speaking and replying, it’s much more taxing. Are you saying the correct type of response? Are you showing the correct type of facial expressions while you say it? If that other person gives off a weird vibe, is it because of something you said or said with wrong kind of expression to them, or is it just some other stuff going on with them? It is all part of being an introvert, so after an exposure to people, that will also mean a sensory downtime (primarily for sight and hearing) will be very appreciated and needed. I have a limited amount of people energy, and once that runs out, no amount of coffee, alcohol or even puppies can fix that (puppies can, if not around people)

How do you do your interpersonal communication? I would like to hope people’s communication style differences will mean they all work differently.

What I’ve learned from some deaf and hard of hearing people is that some of the for instance are lipreaders. If they can’t see you or your lips are mumbled or you have a mustache or are talking in dark, they can’t “hear” what you are saying. If I’m wearing headphones while somewhere, I won’t be able to see you. Maybe the hearing and seeing differences are no more than when dealing with other cultures or regions, but some small differences can be huge.

People from different cultures say things differently, and some topics perfectly fine are a taboo somewhere else. And body language and the expected amount of eye contact and how and when to interact or reply to people differ as well. And you’ll always get numbed to the rules of communication style around where you live, at least after a few years. But completely changing the expressiveness or other parts that see more core features can take a much longer time. Or they may never change. I will probably never have a desire ti act like an older Texan lady and sound and look as emotional as they are, yet if I’ll be an older person living in Texas, my style of communication will be compared and judged to that standard. While I maybe silently judge everyone around me as being too emotionally behaving, and of using way too veiled communication styles.

A relevant note: Neurotypical people only think using a language. Apparently. My primary thinking mode is more like images and concepts. Language mode is secondary, and it’s got like a rotary setting to switch between different languages. And some more old screenshot candy, hints for communication here, and here.

So what is your communication process or style like? Comment.


6 thoughts on “How interpersonal communication feels like”

  1. There’s a lot of different communication methods, gestures, signs, spoken, tactile, written, and each of them carry their own nuances. Some of which can be transferrable, and others which cannot. For example, I have a tendency to use my hands and arms when I talk, only because I am used to using them when I sign as well. Good or bad?

    That’s in the eye of the beholder, not mine. To some, they may consider it distracting, and to others, they may notice it and be curious but not consider it distracting. I have been told by both deaf and hearing people what distracts them and there’s nothing I can do about it. However, I can listen and make a concentrated effort to minimize the distraction.

    The key is to always remember more often than not, it is usually not intentional. For example, the famous walrus mustache barrier, I’m a goatee man myself so I do understand where the walrus mustache fella is coming from. It’s a pain in the hair to keep it trimmed all the time but almost always once they realize how often they might be communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, they usually end up trimming just enough to show the outlines of their lips without sacrificing the bushiness.

    Also, I have been fortunate to have roommates from all over the world, as well as live all over the USA in 9 different states. Over the years, not only with local customs and slangs, but also with international customs and slangs, my “original” interpersonal communication simply grew organically to a point where it breaks many rules no matter where in the world I am.

    Often to a point where the receiver becomes easily offended even though it is unintentional. For example, in sign language, it is not unusual to provide some space between signers so they can use as well as see the entire “signing frame”. As a result, with signers, I often tend to put space between us but hearing people are always asking me “why I am so far away? come here a little closer.” I can lipread you from here just as well as you can hear me from over there.

    It’s a natural interpersonal environment for me but not for others. However, it is not necessarily applicable to all native sign languages due to their cultural influence. Such an example would be the the comfortable habit of standing in front of someone to communicate face to face with very little space between the two of us.

    This is something I picked up from my African roommate. At first, it was an unusual experience for me but after two years of living together, I found myself no longer inhibited by this. However, there are cues as you described where I have learned to recognize it is not necessarily cultural but possibly neurological. For those who prefer a degree of personal space between us and them, it is not always obvious but for me, I welcome it when they inform me why.

    Because it allows me to understand their reason, which in effect, leads to successful communication. Communication is an effort that results in respect of the differences. And that includes respecting other people’s inhibitions as well as letting go of one’s own.

    For example, the deaf-blind who communicate using tactile methods such as a Braille reader or tactile signing needs a degree of respect and understanding that any inhibition of being touched must be removed to show genuine respect. Otherwise, you end up being “polite without regards”.

    It’s a big, big, world out there, my friend and with 7 billion people on the planet, there’s no rule of thumb that fits them all. But there is one rule of thumb that fits all interpersonal communication, respect. Did I just contradict myself just now? lol.

    Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. so much variety isn’t it? personal space is a big thing, i hate people who get too close or touch without asking. also always trying to guess how far or much details others see.
      i (forgot what i’ve blogged this week, short term memory..) read this week that the shape of lips influnces one’s accent. seems bizarre – i know eg british and us english look different but learning any language never was about looking, just sound. so, while deaf accents exist… do visually impaired ones too? i don’t hear those, but might be able to guess from body language if someone’s been blind forever or along time.
      kids can hear already before they are born, but then after looking and mimicking becomes a thing. will spoken get delays if someone can’t see (or see well enough?)


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