George Carlin once said, “Everybody smiles in the same language.” 

In fact, our facial expressions can convey a plethora of information about our emotional state. Take, for instance, a scenario in which you see a loved one frowning, choked up, and on the verge of tears. Your response is to throw open your arms and wrap them in a hug. Without saying a word, you have had, in fact, a conversation, in which your loved one has conveyed sadness and you, the want to comfort and perhaps understand why they are upset.

It’s called non-verbal communication. Along with facial expressions (frowning, crying) and touch (hugs), non-verbal communication also includes body movement and posture, the tenor and volume of our voice (regardless if it is words or grunts and groans), and gestures. It was once said that, “Communication is 93% nonverbal.”

Although the veracity of this statement has been disputed, traced back to a couple of studies from 1967 that stated that non-verbal communication is “7 percent verbal, 38 percent vocal, and 55 percent facial,” and while the numbers add up, the methodology of those studies is in question. Regardless, the statement has apparently become an urban legend, as it is called in “Communication is 93% Nonverbal: An Urban Legend Proliferates” by David Lapakko for The Communication and Theater Association of Minnesota Journal (CTAMJ). I heard it on an episode of Seinfeld.

Disputed percentages aside, the power of non-verbal communication is hard to ignore. Let’s go back to gestures. I’m sure we can all remember a time when we may have been the recipient of the middle finger. This somewhat simple gesture can leave one feeling discombobulated, or worse, even if for only a brief time. Obviously, it is not the gesture, per se, but the meaning behind it. If we were an alien, or someone unfamiliar with this cultural phenomenon, we would feel a different kind of discombobulation, wondering why that person just made such an odd gesture.

That is the key—understanding the communication, whether it is verbal or non-verbal. I’d argue that the song of the whale, the song of a bird, or the gesture and/or grunt of a cave dweller would need to be understood by the whale, bird, or fellow cave dweller that is the target of the communication. In our capacity as humans, we have developed verbal communication, creating languages that have evolved, providing thousands upon thousands of words to increase the specificity and clarity to not only express our thoughts and provide information to others, but also gather the information we need from others. 

The next evolution has been communicating with machines and developing machines that communicate with one another and with us. And that requires language as well, one that requires the understanding of humans and machines alike. I’m sure we are not far from a difficult conversation with a somewhat indignant machine sarcastically asking, “What language are you speaking?”

I jest, of course, but this month’s Quality provides some insight on moving communication forward in the age of Industry 4.0. So, check out, “Surface Tools: Speaking the language of Industry 4.0” and “Choosing Your Words Wisely: Help us clear up the confusion of NDT terminology.”

Enjoy and thanks for reading!