I Hear What You Say, But What Are You Telling Me: The Strategic Use of Nonverbal Communication in Mediation


I Hear What You Say, But What Are You Telling Me? is a fascinating, original, and invaluable tool kit filled with practical information and techniques for mediators who want to use nonverbal communication to their strategic advantage. Employing a proven process, Barbara Madonik—communication expert, mediator, and international consultant—reveals what it takes to understand, analyze, and utilize nonverbal communication to greatly enhance the mediation process.

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I Hear What You Say, But What Are You Telling Me? is a fascinating, original, and invaluable tool kit filled with practical information and techniques for mediators who want to use nonverbal communication to their strategic advantage. Employing a proven process, Barbara Madonik—communication expert, mediator, and international consultant—reveals what it takes to understand, analyze, and utilize nonverbal communication to greatly enhance the mediation process.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"It is a useful guidebook that should be read several times to capture its wealth of information." (The Texas Mediator, Fall 03)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787957094
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 10/16/2001
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.28 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 1.07 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara G. Madonik is president of Unicom Communication Consultants Inc., a firm specializing in communication consulting and training, and dispute investigation and resolution services. She can be contacted at barbara.madonik@utoronto.ca

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Read an Excerpt



Perceived and Real Levels of Power. There is an admonition that warns, “If you think you will fail, you will be right.” Viewing this expression through the lenses of mediation, you can appreciate that actual or perceived power appears the same to parties. Both are treated as real. As a result, I suggest you discern, appreciate and deal with power to balance the mediation environment.

In considering this issue, or any other regarding managing the environment, I suggest you create a checklist that allows you to evaluate each issue in light of what you want to achieve.

Look at the factors contributing to the impression of power. Social status is one. You can hear it trickle subtly through conversations of parties who name drop or talk about connections to well-known personalities. You can also see it telegraphed by expensive clothes that flash signals of power or garments that delineate social standing or caste. At times you will observe parties wearing costly clothes to intimidate the other side. You can help level parties’ scales by creating a power balance with conversation.

You may not observe an actual blue collar at mediation, however, you can sometimes experience an almost tangible gap in employment status there. When non-management and executive parties come to the table, the relative difference in positions or professions often creates an imbalance. This chasm is particularly obvious during some employment mediations. If you sense there may be potential need for power balancing because of employment status, and you believe you can begin to balance it, in a small way, with dress, check with parties. Do this before mediation. Ascertain the kind of clothing they plan to wear. If a great disparity could affect mediation, nudge parties gently by discussing the value and rapport that similar clothing sends as a common ground message. Remember, sometimes small factors make big differences in mediation. Additionally, you will want to make sure that both parties are represented by competent counsel so there is a perceived power balance in this area, too.

Education level of parties is another contributing factor to perception of power. The potential imbalance is clear in situations in which one party is accompanied by counsel and the other is not. The unrepresented party may see the party with educated counsel as having an advantage. As a mediator, at these times, you must be prudent about balancing parties’ knowledge and remaining neutral. You want to avoid communicating the impression that you are advocating for the unrepresented party.

The perception of power, when no counsel is present, is more subtle. At this time, parties’ education levels may send different messages about power. Some parties see those with higher education or degrees as having an upper hand. Their confidence may dwindle. Knowledge of the mediation process can affect parties’ self-assurance, too. Accordingly, whether parties are represented by counsel or not, I suggest you review the mediation process with all of them, yourself. That way, you ensure they feel knowledgeable and empowered.

Language facility affects perception and levels of power. Parties who express themselves easily, feel comfortable discussing their thoughts and playing at verbal repartee with others. People who lack confidence or ability to express themselves verbally may feel overpowered in the mediation process. For example, lawyers with incisive vocabularies often forget they are not in an adversarial trial environment. As a result, they enjoy eviscerating parties who use basic vocabularies. If you are a mediator in this type of situation, I recommend that you restate the lawyer’s ideas by de-escalating the language. You may also want to caucus briefly with the lawyer, to advise him or her of the less-than-productive effect this type of language is wreaking on mediation.

Parties, whose native language is not English, are subject to feelings of vulnerability. This sense arises out of frustration at their inability to understand and express themselves as well in a second language as they do in their native tongue. Assist these parties before mediation by covering the terms that are used in mediation. See that these people know what steps are followed in the process. If they have counsel, ask their lawyer to preview with them all material they might hear during mediation. Have a translator available or on-site if you know or suspect that one might be needed.

The final factor in perceived or real power is the money that is available for legal proceedings. You may find parties with unlimited funds feel more powerful than those with financial limits. The former can easily afford to go to trial. You may see moneyed parties attempting to coerce other parties as a result of this. If so, I suggest you unearth the benefits of mediation that go beyond money for the coercing parties. Caucus with affluent parties and ask, “What’s important to you in mediation?” and “What will having that do for you?” Collect each party’s respective touchstones. Then drop these touchstones into your conversation with the party. You may be able to propel the party to seek resolution in mediation.


Perceived Safety and Real Safety Issues. Safety, like power, is an issue in which perception and reality play strong roles. For example, the number of people at the table may affect feelings of safety. If there are many more people sitting on one side than the other, parties with fewer representatives may feel overwhelmed or pressured. If you anticipate a mediation like this, canvas both sides before the session. Indicate that the presence of an equal number of people sends a message more conducive to the spirit of mediation and to the reality of achieving positive results. Suggest that if one party feels pushed into settlement, final agreement might not be durable or could create powerful feelings of buyers’ remorse.

The presence or absence of people during mediation affects how safe an environment seems. For example, some jurisdictions mandate mediation except in family or physical abuse cases. These cases are excluded to preclude further violence and fear of potential harm. I, myself, have attended multi-party mediations in which certain parties have been asked to wait in caucus rooms. This physical separation was requested because complainants would not enter the mediation room unless parties who had allegedly threatened them were physically absent from that room. All parties agreed. While these arrangements were not ideal, they did produce the effect of a safe environment for all people who gathered in the mediation room. This arrangement also allowed mediating parties to work toward some type of solution rather than none at all.

To encourage a feeling of safety I recommend you take into account the need for translators and validators. Either or both might be required for parties to feel safe in expressing themselves and executing final agreements.

Make sure, also, that obtrusive people are absent. This communicates a message of safety. Do this before mediation. Ask mediating parties about people who should be barred. Look at the following models to see how to do this.

Case One: Ask both Party A and Party B if anyone should not be present at the mediation. If Party A responds verbally or nonverbally, flesh out the details. If the perception has no basis in fact, but the feelings are real, deal with this appropriately before mediation. Feelings could relate to general fear of the mediation. If the perception seems factbased, discuss this request with Party B. In either case, get agreement from Party A and Party B before finalizing details for mediation.

Case Two: Imagine that parties who are potentially troublesome for Party A appear unexpectedly to support Party B at mediation. Keep these new arrivals in a physically separate location and away from the mediation. (It is safest that Party A and the problematic people literally not see each other.) Then caucus with Party B. Explain how it is counterproductive to the mediation process if the bothersome people stay. You might say, “Since Party A is alone, I believe the process would be more balanced and work best for both parties if you were alone, too.”

Case Three: If multiple parties appear for both sides, ask Party A and Party B to pick one person from their respective supporters. Then ask each party to thank the unselected people for coming and inform them they are not needed at this time.

Parties may draw upon their own resources by bringing talismans for feelings of safety. The symbolism is usually meaningful only to them. Still, I suggest you check with all parties before mediation, to see if they plan to bring materials or objects that could be perceived as a threat to the safety of others. Moreover, you must be sure that no weapons will be present. While this may seem farfetched, it is not. Not long ago there was a case in which people were banned from entering a public place. This exclusion arose because the people wore ceremonial daggers. Although wearing these items was part of a religious rite, the public building had a zero-tolerance ban on any kind of weapon. To the people practicing their religion, the knife was part of a meaningful observance. To others, it posed a threat to their safety.

Finally, look at the message of safety in the geographic location of the mediation. Canvas the parties about it. Ask parties about their feelings of safety. If the location is one that might be seen as generally unsafe or dangerous after dark, make alternate arrangements. By doing this you create an environment in which parties are better focused. Parties can sleep the night before mediation and arrive rested because they are not worried about a dangerous location. They can concentrate during the mediation because they are not concerned if the mediation runs after sundown.


When you consider the different factors affecting communication at mediation, comfort is high on the list. In addition to power and safety, comfort moderates the river of communication. Low comfort levels impede the stream. High comfort levels sweep mediation forward. Comfort involves physical and emotional components. By understanding the nonverbal messages communicated by the environment, you can strategically moderate communication.

Deciding on Meeting Location. Be mindful of the messages the mediation environment broadcasts and the frame of mind it invites. If you can influence the selection of the mediation environment you can affect the messages. Parties might already be somewhat uncomfortable in an unfamiliar environment. I suggest you do whatever you can to communicate welcome and control. Small acts can make large differences. Before mediation, send parties maps and directions so they know exactly where to go. Include the general inquiry telephone number of the facility, too. Arrange for a site that allows parties the choice of public or private transportation. Tell parties in advance if there is limited parking. Propose to parties’ counsel that they pre-pay passes for parties. Invite parties to visit the location before the mediation, to become more comfortable about driving the route or seeing the environment. If you know about high prices like parking or food, prepare parties for that, too. Even if they do not like some of the details you convey, the knowledge gives them a sense of control. That sets up a productive mind set for mediation.

Comfort levels are developed in visible and invisible ways. Twenty-five years ago I made a trip to see a lawyer. His office was located on the second floor. Even though I had visited him there many times, this trip was an eye-opener. This time, I was alone, on crutches, and could not pull the second-floor door toward me, to open it, without risking a fall backward down the flight of stairs. I was powerless until another building visitor came up the stairs to help. Today, of course, there is legislation that guarantees certain types of accessibility. Beyond regulations, however, is the message of intention that parties can convey. Their message can be powerful, if accessibility goes beyond legal mandates. When necessary, I suggest you talk to parties about the strategic advantage gained by physical accommodation resulting from willing acts rather than legal compliance. This perception is vital if parties are looking toward resolution and not just legal settlement. Additionally, I recommend you find a location that goes beyond conforming to minimum legal standards. Locate one that is comfortable for all people who are coming to the table.

Comfort levels are affected by each party’s sense of neutrality. Parties often consider mediation held at one party’s office site as handing the hosting party a “home court advantage”. While the environment may be cost-free and the ambience hospitable, many parties see a territoriality about it. Small signals create great feelings of discomfort. Host parties are used to the office layout, decor, odors, and noises. They have their offices there. Most significantly, host parties are greeted by people they know and who know them. Visiting parties are strangers who literally do not know the way to the bathroom. As a result, I strongly suggest you consider the larger cost at stake when mediating on one party’s turf. Unless you determine an overwhelming reason to use one party’s home ground, engage a space neutral to both parties.

Preparing Main Rooms. If you want to know how to prepare main and caucus facilities most effectively, ask yourself, “What do I want to achieve?” and “What must I do to get me there?” You will have already canvassed parties or their representatives for special accommodation needs. You know that parties operate with different preferred systems. You can anticipate other general needs, as well. I suggest you consider all of these factors so you can create the most effective nonverbal strategies for productive communication.

Begin with the location of the rooms. Ensure there are washrooms, water pitchers (or water fountain), coffee, tea, soda and juices near mediation and caucus rooms. Pre-arrange to have coffee brewed and waiting. You set up a strong kinesthetic, visual and auditory “welcome” message for many parties because of the social implications of serving coffee. First you welcome people with a familiar smell (of coffee). Next, you invite nearness and conversation by creating an environment in which one party pours coffee while standing beside the other. Give parties access to food from a cafeteria or food delivery. Bring candy or fruit and leave it on the table. This strategy is appealing visually and kinesthetically, while also giving parties a quick energy boost from the sugars.

Select room color carefully. Room color affects parties in different ways. The famous Lüscher Color Test discussed by Ian Scott, in his book by the same name, indicates some effects. Reds seem to elicit uneasiness and sometimes aggression. Yellows can bring out feelings of diligence or envy. Blues and green evoke feelings of tranquility and safety. I suggest you also keep in mind Edward Podolsky’s work, The Doctor Prescribes Colors. In it, he indicates people sometimes feel cold in blue rooms and warm in yellow rooms, even though the temperature may be the same.

Parties with a visual preference appreciate artwork on walls. They need neat, clean and attractive environments. If areas appear messy or disorganized, these people are strongly affected by feeling uncomfortable and lack the ability to concentrate. People with an auditory preference really care about hearing clearly. They have no real preference about how rooms look. They need environments that are free from ringing telephones, noisy conversations, buzzing faxes, and outside traffic noises. Their attention to sound is so acute that noises disturb them and redirect their attention away from mediation. They need a quiet environment to operate most productively. People with a kinesthetic preference do not care about a room’s appearance or acoustics. They want chairs that mold to their bodies and table heights that make it easy for them to write. They like the feel of soft carpet under their feet and general coziness. On the practical side, all parties will feel more relaxed and in control after you tell them the location of payphones, elevators, fire exits, and smoking areas.

I suggest you look for a mediation room that is large enough to accommodate everyone’s need for space and that allows parties to move and stretch. The space issue is very relevant for parties with a high visual component, since they need area in front of them to make sense of communication. People with a kinesthetic preference need to move around. Even people with an auditory preference often have to change their physical position to shift their mental bearings. The ideal mediation room is one that has small nooks and areas. In it, parties can cluster to talk privately amongst themselves without leaving the room. As a rule, this type of room is not generally available. If you do get a choice to use a room with this unusual configuration, do it. You can take advantage of parties meeting together and separately without breaking the rapport created in the room.

I recommend you mediate in rooms with windows since they provide natural light, and feel open and spacious. The windows, however, must have blinds or curtains, to prevent interfering glare or distractions. Make sure all lighting fixtures work. Flickering lights distract people with a visual preference. Their buzzing sound annoys people an auditory preference. See if you can meet in a room with adjustable lighting. If so, you can alter the perceptions and mood of all parties in the room. In these environments, I use strong lighting to wake up parties. I use softer tones to invite them into altered states of awareness in which they consider matters, literally, in another light.

I suggest you arrange for a writing board that is erasable (that is, whiteboard or blackboard). One especially effective white board I have used is a medium that captures and prints copies of what appears on the board. This tool invites parties to participate in a planning process and immediately gives them visual, auditory and kinesthetic feedback of their progress. Alternately, you can use an overhead projector, clear transparencies and colored markers. Flip charts do not provide you with the ability to erase material and sometimes act as non- productive reminders of an earlier part of the mediation. Use them in addition writing boards or transparencies. With flip charts you can turn sheets back and forth if you want to remind parties how far they have come in the process.

Finally, do your best to arrange for mediation and caucus rooms that have individual temperature controls. Rooms that are too hot invite doziness. Rooms that are too cold prevent parties from focusing on issues. Additionally, you may want to set room temperature at a certain temperature in the morning, and lower it after lunch, when parties’ tend to get drowsy because increased blood flow is temporarily routed the digestive tract.

Preparing Caucus Rooms. Caucus rooms provide a safe environment in which parties find privacy. In these rooms, parties hold conversations among themselves and with mediators. While the caucus room may not be occupied as long as the mediation room, it must still accommodate parties’ needs. Have an idea before room assignment, which room would be best for each respective party.

Parties must perceive equality. For example, if there are two caucus rooms and a mediation room, parties automatically want to know why they are assigned to one and not the other. They wonder if you have a special reason for making room assignments. If the choice is arbitrary, tell them. If you have reasons, let them know, too. Reasons could amount to number of people in attendance or accessibility. You can give parties the choice of which rooms they use. This strategy provides them with a sense of control over some element in a larger, less manageable thing called mediation. Once parties go into their respective caucus rooms, you may invite them to stake their claim to that room for the day.

That way, they feel intimately connected to the room rather than marooned.

All caucus rooms must be equipped with materials that facilitate communication. See they contain paper and colored markers for parties who make sense through sight, calculators for parties who need to figure, and comfortable chairs for parties with a kinesthetic preference. Have tissues in the room, too, because emotions often surface unexpectedly here. On-site tissues relieve parties of embarrassment and tension. They communicate a clear nonverbal message that crying is an acceptable and normal event that happens during this stressful time.

If you have only one caucus and mediation room pay close attention to alternating parties between rooms. That way, no party believes there is an advantage to an out-of-sight location. This prospect could create tension and make the caucus process divisive rather than constructive.

Finally, stay alert for ad hoc, informal caucus areas. These are spots in which mediators and counsel often cluster to talk about the progress of the case. This is done surprisingly often, is not very private, and occurs without parties present. While discussion is usually off the record, mediating parties are caught off guard when they stumble onto these conversations. People are talking about them without their knowledge or presence. The surprise is destructive to the process. More than this, it undermines neutrality of the mediator and counsel in the eyes of the mediating party. The results can undo any good faith that parties invested in the mediator as a neutral. If you find yourself tempted to do this, stop. Avoid creating or being part of these areas.

Arranging Tables and Chairs. I suggest that you arrive at the mediation room well before the parties do. You may want to change furniture locations. Table and chair positions, size, and shape can influence your nonverbal strategies. You want to exercise awareness and caution when configuring this furniture. Until rapport is developed with the parties, a face-to-face position might instigate a confrontational message.

You will find that the ideal mediation table is round. The round shape seats all parties in a circle around that table. There is no “head” or “end” of the table. Accordingly, there is a strong nonverbal message of mediator neutrality and party equality. Conversely, when mediators sit at the end of a squared table, there is sometimes an implied message that mediators are judging rather than facilitating.

If the on-site table is long and rectangular, you may decide to sit at one end, with participant chairs close to you and positioned at a 45 degree angle facing you. I suggest you insist parties sit on the sides of the table and prohibit parties from sitting at the other “end” of the table. If they were to occupy that end position, it would convey a nonverbal message of power. That would throw the optics of the mediation off balance.

If you do not wish to sit at the head of the table, you can create a more informal setting by sitting on one side, in the middle of the table, and asking parties to sit across from you. This positioning invites parties to talk to you first, avoids confrontation, and actually starts them in the traditional collaborative, side-by-side position with each other.

If the table is small and rectangular, and only one or two parties are mediating, parties can sit on either side of the same corner or sit on opposite corners of the table and face you. You begin conversation with them facing you. Either way eliminates a confrontational position. Eventually the angle of parties in relationship to each other can change easily to a collaborative, side-by-side position while listening to you. Then it can change back to the original configuration or face-to-face conversational position once they are in discussion with each other.

Chairs are the second major furniture consideration. First look at their positions. If you are co-mediating, I suggest you and your co-mediator sit side by side. That sends a message of equality and collaboration to the mediating parties. This arrangement also allows you both to exchange messages seamlessly. If you are co-mediating, you may be asked to allow observers into the room. (This often happens in mediator training and community-based mediation.) Permit only one observer to avoid mediating parties feeling outnumbered. Seat the observer slightly behind the active mediators so mediating parties pay attention to each other or the mediators.

Next look at mobility, appearance, and height of the chairs. Chairs that move and swivel are ideal for mediation. Once mediation is underway, these chairs can move unobtrusively. When parties are ready to talk to each other, their bodies’ automatically shift. If parties are sitting in moveable chairs, the angle of the chair changes toward the other party. That movement is a key cue that parties are shifting mental positions. You can be ready to deal with that change. If chairs cannot swivel, at some point you may have to intervene. When body movements shift, you can suggest that parties might feel more comfortable turning their chairs slightly, so they can talk with each other more easily.

I recommend you position the chairs before parties arrive at the mediation. Make sure that all parties have identical chairs. This creates a perception of equality. If any chairs do not match, get each person a different chair. If some chairs look alike and others look different, put some of the identical chairs on both sides of the table to avoid the impression of team against team. This positioning also sends a nonverbal signal of commonality to the parties (even if the common ground is a chair). Unless all chairs are identical, be especially careful that the mediator’s chair looks different than any party’s chair. That way you avoid any other-than-conscious message of alignment.

See if you can get chairs that are adjustable. They also tend to equalize height. This is often important to perception. Diminutive parties may have their size equalized by using a chair as wide as the other party and one that raises up to great height, so they can look each other in the eye. (This illusion is created constantly for television broadcasts of news anchors with exceptionally different physiques.) Adjustable chairs allow parties to find their individual levels of comfort. Stationery chairs in which people are positioned very low to the table, can induce feelings of vulnerability. The party’s physical relationship to the table could be the same as when the party was a small child and a table was too high. This feeling occurs outside of conscious awareness and often drives unpredictable, nonadult behavior. Chairs that are higher than other chairs sometimes create perceptions of higher rank (as seen in some military environments). These perceptions cross-file into feelings of powerlessness for those not sitting in them. Again, the emotion happens other-than-consciously, but the resulting communication is strong and usually counterproductive to the mediation.

Know the sides of the table on which you want to place your parties. Parties who turn to the left, will access their auditory side much of the time. That means they will be relying heavily on logical, analytical thought. Parties who turn to the right side a great deal, will often find themselves deep in feelings and emotions. You can use sides as an effective strategy if you want less emotion from one party and more from another. If you established, before mediation, that certain sides are non-productive for specific parties, locate these people in different spots in relationship to each other, their counsel, and you. If you are not in a position to change their locations, you can use other subtle physical, eye, paralanguage, and language cues as an alternative to assist parties.

Charts, Props and Other Items. At this point, look at the position of flip charts since they are a method of communication as well as safety. Flip charts can become the physical record of the beginnings, brainstorming and evolution of the process manifested on paper. To some parties, it is the tracking mechanism for the mediation. To others, it is the record upon which parties can rely. There is safety in referring to it because parties do not have to ask the mediator or other parties for the information. The notations are on the flip chart already.

I suggest you write and draw on flip charts by using colored markers to differentiate information. Have a pencil available to scribble unobtrusive notes, in the corner, for later reference. If you use every other flip chart page, permanent marker ink does not penetrate to the second page and look messy. Ff you use dry markers, you may be able to use each page.

If you can make arrangements to have two flip charts onsite, do it. That way both parties can use them to do their own planning and present back to the group. With two charts, you can place one on the left and one on the right side of the table. By doing this you access different representational systems of the parties to get different responses. Two flip charts also let you anchor (that is, attach) the first chart to nonproductive mediation notations (and the negative associations attached to them) and then you can put that flip chart aside. You then work with the second flip chart that is anchored to positive results.

Give thought to other props and articles you may want in the room. Bring a (silent) clock for those parties to whom time is relevant. Place it in a visible but unobtrusive position. That way you acknowledge monochronic cultures and give polychronic cultures a marker in case they do not wear watches. Bring large crayons to use in a “switched hand” exercise in which parties place large crayons in their nondominant hand and get creative. Bring miniature models of cars and trucks if you are mediating vehicular accidents. Miniature size diminishes fear, puts things into a new perspective for parties, and allows people with a kinesthetic preference to communicate effectively about the accident. In your final check, also make sure you avoid props or objects that might be offensive to parties.

See that the environment has devices on-site that might be needed to make final resolution possible. Consider the possible need for a computer. Have a fax at your disposal, if you think you might need one, too. If necessary equipment is not available, agreements fall through before they can be committed to paper. For example, I recall one mediation in which agreement was reached at 2:00 a.m. Because of timing issues, counsel and parties wanted to write up final settlement immediately. The hosting law firm, on whose premises mediation had been held, had a networked computer system. The last person who knew how to log onto the computer system had left at 9:00 p.m. The system was there, but locked off. No one at mediation had a laptop computer, let alone a printer to produce documents. As a result, parties struggled to write terms of a complicated agreement. Hours later, all very fatigued parties executed one very complicated, long hand version of settlement. They left hoping they had made no errors.

Considering Other Ambient Issues. Explore the other issues that affect mediation. Consider ambient sounds that might be present. Are jack-hammers working on the pavement below the window? Is this a quiet area of an office floor or a room next to ringing faxes, telephones or elevators? Is it the other side of a thin wall with a loud-voiced speaker? A noisy environment can be disturbing and embarrassing. I remember holding a pre-mediation caucus in a boardroom that shared a wall with another office. The voice of the lawyer next door boomed through the wall. The lawyer used his speaker phone all the time. My meeting with the client was disrupted constantly by non-stop shouting and private conversations. The client with whom I was meeting was disturbed both by the noise and the fear that his conversations might be as audible to others as the lawyer’s were to him.

Before mediation starts, decide your policy about communication devices and cellular telephones in the mediation room. I recommend that no-cost telephones be available to parties outside the room. If there is a telephone in the room, redirect incoming calls. Make outgoing calls available to parties who want to pick up messages during breaks, or to external validators, who need to check with validating sources so they can move ahead. I recommend that cellular telephones and pagers be turned off. Even the vibration signal must be eliminated or parties receiving calls are still disturbed. That personal disruption is communicated nonverbally to parties in the room.

The final ambience check I suggest is air quality. See that environment is smoke free and that there is separate accommodation for smokers, if necessary. Pay attention to the environment around the proposed meeting place. Steer away from locations that are situated near overpowering smells like coffee bean roasters, industrial sulphuric smells and abattoirs. Also make sure that the area is clean and dust free. Be alert for this particularly in newly renovated buildings in which dust and plaster dust can be a contentious health issue for some parties. When you are considering booking premises, ask about all these factors.

Planning for Food. Food requirements vary with the type and length of mediation. Most mediation locations make coffee or tea available before the process begins. This is a nonverbal signal of hospitality. As mentioned before, inviting mediating parties to be near each other while getting refreshments, often acts as an ice breaker for small talk. Even if discussion does not happen, at least parties are literally in the same room with each other.

Make available decaffeinated beverages or juices, too. Parties may be tense already, so caffeine would be counterproductive for them. You may want to arrange for muffins or bagels, for those parties who skip breakfast and need an energy boost to start the mediation.

Some mediators like to have refreshments on the table. That is strictly personal choice. It lends a hospitable air to the environment. If you know that the mediation will be lasting through the lunch hour, I suggest you have food delivered. In this case, canvas parties for any special needs they have. There may be medial, social or religious restrictions which you should note. Unless I have a specific reason for wanting parties to be physically separate, I usually suggest parties stay on-site while lunching. If parties leave, they tend to lose the linkage to any positive action that has taken place. I recommend you make a real effort to have parties eat in the same room, even if caucus rooms are available. Eating is a social (versus adversarial) activity. It can be a benign way to have parties relax together without conflict being exchanged. Moreover, sometimes, when the food arrives, delivery itself or the choice of what to eat becomes a useful strategy for encouraging parties to communicate. It may be the first agreement that starts the path to resolution.

Introducing Music. I have discovered that music is an untapped gold mine in mediation. You can make it an inconspicuous element that raises the beat of activity or lowers it significantly. You can choose the times you want to use each musical piece to accomplish a different purpose.

Different kinds of music elicit a variety of responses. You must be thoughtful about what you want to achieve and mindful of the parties attending. If you have gathered any information regarding ethnic preferences, investigate bringing some of that type of music. If parties come from different backgrounds, select neutral music. Know the sounds you want to hear in the room. Know the effect you want to produce. Be as prepared for this component of mediation as any other element. Be skillful in your choice. Your selection could interrupt the process and make it a jarring experience, create a refreshing pause, or lead to upbeat momentum. Preparation means knowing what music you will potentially use. It means bringing a variety of music selected in advance of the mediation.

Finally, test your equipment before mediation. Bring extension cords. Make sure there is an outlet or alternate energy source, like batteries, in case you need them. The music, will take care of the rest.


General and Cultural Space Requirements. In Part One I asked you to look at space patterns. Now, I suggest you focus your attention on the general and cultural space requirements that parties need fulfilled to feel comfortable and respected in the mediation environment.

Start with the strategy that the more space you have, the better. You can usually make the environment of a large room seem more intimate, however, you cannot increase the physical size of a claustrophobic room. A larger room allows for flexibility of chair placement and the way parties sit in relationship to each other. Larger rooms allow for private discussions. Parties and counsel are not forced to leave the room and break rapport to talk.

If you know parties will need to hold business discussions and socialize to break the ice, secure a room that accommodates the social distance they need. That would be from about four to seven feet. Because parties generally need to discuss personal issues, make sure those parties have a personal zone of at least four feet. Less than that – from eighteen to thirty inches – forces them into a space meant only for very close interactions. Finally, take into consideration that Party A will need a distance away from you (that is, the mediator) and Party B, while still maintaining his or her own intimate zone of six to eighteen inches to whisper highly confidential information to colleagues or counsel.

Take into consideration special cultural or religious variations from general North American spacing. For example, some cultures require more space around women to ensure they are not touched. Indeed, some cultures require that women sit in a row behind men at mediation. Canvas all of these factors before mediation. If you do not, be prepared to be flexible to accommodate all these circumstances when parties arrive.

Time Considerations. To convey respect regarding time, I suggest you appreciate and work with the way parties perceive time. The potential fallout from monochronic and polychronic time cultures is particularly challenging. One party’s lateness can ignite the mediation before it begins. As a result, I suggest you have a caucus room ready for parties who arrive on time, so they are not faced with parties arriving late. For on-time or early parties, have tasks ready to do in pre-mediation caucuses. That way, if polychronic parties are late, monochronic parties do not take offence. They perceive the tasking as the way activities were slated to run.

Schedule breaks and meals at tentative times only, since monochronic parties fight to stay on an exact timetable even if major progress is being made at that moment. If you stick to fixed times and interrupt a productive session, polychronic cultures will find that disrespectful. If you set no times at all, monochronic cultures will find that disrespectful.

Finally, assign mediation tasks to parties according to their time culture. Make sure you give monochronic cultures one thing at a time while you assign multiple tasks to people who come from a polychronic culture.

Symbolism Awareness. When you read briefs and talk to parties prior to mediation, you may expose information that alerts you to possible problems resulting from symbolism. When you uncover this type of material, contact parties before mediation. You can diffuse many situations this way. For example, if you know mediation parties come from gangs, you can count on members wanting to wear their “colors”. You must act before mediation. Advise all parties that they must show up to the mediation location without gang identification or they cannot be part of the process.

Get curious about information you receive before mediation. Ask questions. For example, if you are conducting an estate mediation, you might want to inquire about mementos or jewelry people plan to wear mediation day. Are there items that could act as a red flag to other parties? If you unearth articles that may be problematic, advise parties to leave them at home that day.

Stay alert for other symbolism may be less conspicuous but as influential. For example, if mediation is slated to be held in a religious environment, some parties may feel awkward. If it is their house of worship, they may not like experiencing this type of process in it. If it is a foreign house of worship, parties may feel uneasy and at a disadvantage. Canvas parties in advance to make sure the environment is acceptable. If there is an objection, find an alternate location.

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Table of Contents




Communication Realities.

A Blueprint for Nonverbal Strategies

Maximizing Your Results.

Part One: Essential Definitions and Practical Applications.

1. Essential Definitions-Terms and Tools.





Levels of Awareness.






2. Practical Applications-Representational Systems.

Eye Cues and Patterns.

Physical Cues and Patterns.

Language Cues and Patterns.

Paralanguage Cues and Patterns.

Deciding on a System.

3. Practical Applications-General Patterns and Techniques.

Understanding Messages in Patterns of Communication.

Identifying Individuals' Cues and Patterns.

Applying Nonverbal Techniques During Mediation.

Part Two: Seven Steps to Getting Results.

Step 1: Be Prepared.

Planning Ahead.

Having Useful Equipment On Hand.

Gathering Facts.

Step 2: Maximizing the Initial Telephone Contact.

Physical Factors In Telephone Communication.

Conversation Management.

Paralanguage Nuances.


Step 3: Managing the Environment.

Examining the Power Balance.

Providing for Safety.

Establishing Comfort.

Conveying Respect.

Step 4: Assessing the Parties.

Knowing Yourself.

Tracking the Big Picture.

Tracking Detailed Information.

Identifying Action Triggers.

Identifying Working Frameworks.

Step 5: Building Rapport.

Engaging the Parties.

Adjusting Your Responsiveness.

Changing Communication In the Room.

Configuring Productive Work Units.

Step 6: Triggering Action.

Coming Face-to-Face with the Real Issues.

Enabling the Parties to Build Momentum.

Dealing With Derailments.

Encouraging Physical Movement to Change Mental Positions.

Step 7: Bringing Closure.

Helping Parties Make Productive Decisions.

Presenting the Offer in a Compelling Way.

Guarding Against Buyer's Remorse.

Guiding the Parties To Craft the Final Agreement Jointly.

Helping Parties Leave the Conflict Behind.


Appendix A: Taking Your Own Communication Inventory.

Appendix B: System Expressions.



About the Author.


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First Chapter

Essential Definitions--Terms and Tools

As someone who deals constantly with conflict resolution you realize just how much preparation is necessary before you walk through any mediation door. A similar level of preparation is necessary before you use nonverbal communication strategies in mediation. This chapter introduces the ideas and applications of nonverbal communication and gives you a language for thinking about them and discussing them. Once you get comfortable with these ideas and terms, you will be ready to start learning about patterns and techniques. The first term in this language that needs to be defined is nonverbal communication itself. Nonverbal communication is a process in which people transmit and receive messages without using words. Research documents that from 65 percent to 93 percent of all our face-to-face communication is sent through nonverbal means. Even though nonverbal messages do not have words, they may contain sounds. A nonverbal-vocal communication is a message that has vocalizations but no words. Examples are hooting at a football game and of course all the ah's and er's and um's that we utter in ordinary conversation. A nonverbal-nonvocal communication contains neither words nor vocalizations. Examples are waving and shaking hands.

Some of the following terms may seem familiar; some may sound foreign. I suggest you read all the definitions with care and awareness. Expressions that you may have heard in other environments may carry a different meaning in the world of nonverbal communication. Other words and phrases that are standards in the field of nonverbal communication may be new to you. Some are terms that I have developed over the years because there was no other language available to explain to clients, students, or lawyers what was happening and what they could do about it.

The definitions are clustered in ten conceptual categories and explain ideas relating to our systems of understanding, the communication cues we exchange, our use of verbal language, our use of paralanguage, our levels of awareness, our sense about physical space, our beliefs about touch, our understanding of time, our use of objects, and our use of physical symbols. This approach allows you to learn related ideas together, and that will assist you in applying them appropriately later.


Many things affect the way we receive and store information from our senses. To begin with, it's essential for mediators to be aware that this receiving and storing process is automatic and systematic. More than one system is available, and different people may prefer different systems.

Representational Systems

A representational system is the process through which we understand information collected through our senses. It affects our subsequent behavior and communication. The process happens in stages. First, information is gathered by an individual through his five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Then this initial information is automatically organized and represented to the brain in the way the individual understands most easily. Finally, the person behaves or communicates according to the information he has received.

The brain may organize information through one of three systems.

It may utilize a visual representational system, or visual system, in which it has a heightened awareness of sight-related information. It may use an auditory representational system, or auditory system, in which it has a strong responsiveness to sound-related information. It may use a kinesthetic representational system, or kinesthetic system or kinesthesia, in which it has an enhanced cognizance of touch, taste, smell, and feelings. For example, at a debate, the visual representational system would discern the appearance of the debaters, the auditory representational system would hear the sound quality, and the kinesthetic representational system would sense the hardness of a chair.

A representational system file, or system file, is a theoretical storage area in the mind. You might think of it as a mental file folder in which a person saves a piece of information acquired through one of the representational systems. For example, a person seeing a Christmas tree might store the memory of that tree in a visual system file. Accessing is the process by which the brain retrieves the information that has been stored in a system file. Transderivational search, or cross-filing, describes the process of accessing a series of related files. People receive a piece of information through one of their senses. The information is sent to the brain to create a system file. Once the file is created, the brain can search to see if there is another file with a piece of information related in any way to the information that just arrived. If there is no more information, the process stops. If there is a related file, the brain goes to it. This linking process can continue over and over. A remembered image of a Christmas tree might cross-file to an auditory system file that contains the sound of tinkling bells. That bell sound might then cross-file to trigger a kinesthetic system file holding the smell of fir needles and eggnog.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or NLP, is a process that examines a person's experiences and then looks at how that person perceives those experiences. Communication about those experiences takes place when the person retrieves information from representational system files and then expresses his thoughts. For example, if a traveler visits a beach, NLP might explore whether he talks about seeing waves, hearing fog horns, or feeling sand underfoot. Many nonverbal communication terms, like representational systems, have their origins in NLP.

Preferred Representational Systems

A person's preferred representational system, or preferred system, is the system that person uses most frequently to send and receive information. It is also called the primary representational system, or primary system. It may be a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic system. The person prefers it because she finds she can make the most distinctions about her respective world through it. For example, people who prefer a visual representational system might be given verbal (that is, auditory) driving instructions but then imagine a mental map (that is, imagine visual instructions) to understand better. People who prefer a kinesthetic system might be given those same verbal instructions and might then trace a map (that is, make kinesthetic instructions) to get their bearings. People are often aware of their preference and will ask to receive information through their primary system. For example, people with a kinesthetic primary system may want to touch a sample to evaluate a fabric, whereas people with a visual primary system may ask to see the swatch colors.

A secondary representational system, or secondary system, is an alternative to a person's primary communication process. People do not depend as heavily on this process as they do on their primary process. Moreover, usually they are not as aware of their reliance on this system. A tertiary representational system, or tertiary system, is a person's third communication process. Most people rarely use their third system consciously, although they do use it without knowing they do.

When information is coming into all three systems but the person is not alert to the information coming into one of them, that person is said to have a blocked system. People's behavior is often highly influenced by the information other-than-consciously received by blocked systems. For example, a person with a blocked kinesthetic system may react with fear to the tone in which certain words are uttered. Yet he may believe he is reacting to the words themselves because he is consciously attending to the words. He is not consciously aware of the tone that triggers the blocked kinesthetic system; nevertheless he reacts to it.

System jamming is a related term used to describe the interruption of communication flow. This disruption often happens when communicators fail to use the message receiver's primary or secondary systems.


A cue is a signal that one person sends to another person. It may be verbal or nonverbal. It may be detected through sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell. A cue provides information about the communicator. For example, if a person perspires, it may signal that she is hot or that she is stressed.

Let's look first at some general characteristics of cues (their direction, their number, and the significance of cue sequence) and then at specific cues a mediator will see in individuals (system cues, eye cues, physical cues, fear cues, and breathing cues).

Afferent and Efferent Cues

The terms afferent and efferent distinguish incoming and outgoing cues. A cue is afferent, or inbound, when it carries information inward to the receiver's central nervous system. An example is the feeling of a hot stove. A cue is efferent, or outbound, when it carries information outward from the sender's central nervous system. An example is sweat or tears.

Multiple Cues

Multiple cues are signals that happen consecutively or simultaneously. Their order or association may create a meaning different from the meanings carried by these same cues considered individually. A pattern loop is a type of multiple cue. People displaying a pattern loop move consistently back and forth among two or three representational systems. For example, a person who signals with a visual cue, then a kinesthetic cue, then a visual cue, then a kinesthetic cue, and so on, is using a visual-kinesthetic pattern loop. Once pattern loops are identified they can be used as predictors. Once a mediator identifies a subject's pattern loop, he can forecast from the current part of the pattern loop the part of the pattern the subject will enact next, and he can prepare for it.

Congruent and Incongruent Cues

Congruent cues are two or more signals that occur simultaneously and match. The related action is a congruity. For example, people who say they are hungry as they wolf down a meal are sending congruent cues. When two or more cues do not match, they are called incongruent cues, and the action is an incongruity. An example of incongruity is perspiring people saying they are cool during a heat wave. A kinesic slip is a specific kind of incongruity, a verbal message that conflicts with a nonverbal message. An example of a kinesic slip is a frowning teacher telling a student how happy she is about the student's grade. Gregory Bateson and a group of his associates created the term double bind to describe another specific type of incongruity. Double binds occur especially in interpersonal relationships. One person sends contradictory messages that cause confusion and leave another person with no appropriate way to respond. The double bind can be seen in the example of a work-at-home parent who tells children "the door is always open" (that is, sends the signal come here), glowers when the children start to enter (that is, go away), and then asks the children, as they are retreating from the room, why they do not speak (that is, come here), confusing the children by making their behavior seem wrong no matter what they do.

System Cues

A system cue, or representational system cue, is a signal that indicates to the receiver the representational system preferred by, or at least in current use by, the sender. A system cue can relate to the visual, auditory, or kinesthetic representational systems. These cues often take the form of eye, language, and paralanguage cues.

Eye Cues

An eye cue is a signal sent by a person's eye movements. It may offer information about the communicator's preferred representational system. It may also indicate whether the communicator is remembering something or imagining, or constructing, something. In this context, the words imagining and constructing are used as synonyms, and there is no positive or negative presumption attached to the eye position that suggests such imagining. It may indicate that a party is pulling together information from different system files so she can create a comprehensible response. Information being gathered can in fact be remembered or imagined. The party may be imagining how it all would fit together to create the final response. When a party's eyes go to the position that suggests imagining or constructing something, mediators must be especially prudent about their assumptions.

An eye cue can indicate emotion. It can reflect social position. Observers interpreting eye cues need to be alert to cultural differences in their significance. For example, when communicators in some cultures cast their eyes downward, it is appropriate for observers to interpret that cue as a sign of respect. In other cultures, the same eye cue is appropriately taken as exhibiting shame. Oculesics is the term used to describe the study of eye movements during communication.

More specifically, an ocular accessing cue, or eye accessing cue, is one of several neurological patterns of eye movements that involve moving the eyes to specific positions. People are usually unaware they are sending these signals. They make these eye movements when they are remembering or constructing information (that is, accessing it in some way). For example, when a person's eyes constantly look to the side, that person is likely remembering or imagining sound-related information.

In addition, people will typically look consistently to one side when remembering sight-related and sound-related information and will look consistently to the other side when imagining, or constructing, sight-related and sound-related information. Most commonly, they look to their left when remembering sights and sounds and look to their right when imagining sights and sounds. The left side tends to be the nominally dominant hemisphere of the brain. The nominally dominant hemisphere of the brain contains the language center and is not necessarily neurologically dominant.

A person sends a cross-wiring cue, or exhibits cross-dominance, when his eyes move in patterns that seem inconsistent. For example, he might exhibit a typical pattern for remembering something visual, looking up and to his left, but might look sideways and to his right when remembering auditory information. Cross-wiring cues often create confusion for observers who expect consistent patterns. In this case, they would ordinarily expect the person to look to his right side when imagining sounds and to his left when remembering sounds.

Physical Cues

People send physical cues through gestures, facial expressions, and other movements and through their physical appearance. An example of sending a physical cue is pointing a finger to a spot where someone is to sit; another example is clapping hands at a political rally. Kinesics is the study of body, head, and face movements as communication.

Fear Cues

Fear is an emotion. It affects people mentally and physically. People may experience internal fear cues, indicators of their fear that provide information to them about themselves. For example, a person who is afraid may notice such indicators as a dry mouth or upset stomach. People may also transmit external fear cues about their fear to other people. For example, people who are trembling or breathing shallowly may be demonstrating fear cues.

The fight-or-flight response is an automatic arousal mechanism that is activated involuntarily when people perceive a threat. It puts the body on alert and is produced by the interaction of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. These are the two major divisions of the autonomic nervous system, which balances and regulates body processes. The fight-or-flight response stimulates the body to protect itself by moving toward the threat through fighting or by moving away from the danger through fleeing. This response can be communicated to other people in different ways. For example, the fight response might be seen in belligerence and the flight response in refusal to talk.

Breathing Cues

A breathing cue is a signal sent by a person's breath patterns. For example, different rates of breathing and whether breathing is deep or shallow can indicate a person's preferred representational system. Some breathing cues suggest the person is feeling fear.


That verbal language is just one of ten communication categories in this discussion is telling all by itself. I focus here on ideas about how we determine the meanings of words and the role of verbal communication in identifying a person's preferred representational system.

Verbal Communication

Verbal communication is a process in which people send and receive messages containing words that are either spoken or written. These messages are discerned through sight and sound (and in the case of Braille, touch). A verbal-vocal communication is a message that contains words and sound. An example of this is a face-to-face discussion about settlement at the end of a mediation. A verbal-nonvocal communication is a message that contains words but no sound. An example of this is a letter or an e-mail.

When you are using and listening to verbal communication, it's important to remain aware that a word by itself does not convey a precise meaning. It needs to be attached to a context or it lacks a definite message. The container fallacy is the term used by William Haney to describe the misconception that words in isolation carry exact meanings. Words communicate specific meanings in relationship to the environment in which they are placed. For example, taping refers to capturing sound and pictures on video-tape in a television studio but means sealing packages in a shipping room. Text is a linguistic term describing a unit that contains words; a one-word traffic sign is a text and so is a novel. Texts, too, need contexts to be fully understood. Referent is the linguistic term that describes a word in its capacity as a linguistic representation of an agreed-upon concept or object. For example, the term the president has no specific meaning unless people agree that it references George W. Bush, Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy, and so forth.

In some instances, context supersedes the text. Contexting is a communication process first described by Edward T. Hall. When communicators use contexting, they imply a message rather than say it outright. The unspoken message is considered to have a deeper meaning than the message that is articulated. In high-context communication people use many words or phrases. They send implicit messages by talking all around a subject; they avoid being direct or abrupt with listeners. In low-context communication people use few words or phrases. They send explicit messages by being direct or frank with listeners. For example, when considering a job offer, high-context communicators talk about job benefits but do not actually say yes or no. Low-context communicators simply say yes or no.

System Words

When people use language that reveals how they are understanding information, they are using system words. System words are terms that relate to the three representational systems: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Examples of the system words that people commonly use are see, hear, and feel. In communication studies, a predicate is a statement or expression used by a person that indicates how that person is making sense of an experience. System words are predicates. They send signals to listeners about the specific systems people are using as their method of understanding information. "Sight for sore eyes" suggests a visual frame of reference, for example; "You don't say?" suggests an auditory frame; and "leaves a bad taste" suggests a kinesthetic frame.

Translation is the process by which messages presented in one language are changed into another. This change takes place so the original message can be understood in the second language. Speakers inadvertently force listeners to translate their messages when they send those messages in one representational system to listeners who prefer another system. Shorthanding, in contrast, is the process in which speakers consistently use words from listeners' preferred systems. By using a preferred system, speakers make it much more likely that their messages will be understood instantly by listeners. Leading is the process of using language that forces a listener to respond in terms of a system the listener would not spontaneously use. As a result the original speaker cannot accurately gauge the respondent's preferred system. Additionally, those who are led in this way enter a mental state in which they are less consciously critical and can be influenced significantly. Contamination occurs when communicators purposely or inadvertently influence listeners by nodding their heads in a pattern that indicates yes or by shaking their heads in a no pattern. This nonverbal communication accompanying the verbal communication can influence listeners' answers. Then again the original speakers often do not receive the respondents' true response. Instead they receive a reflection of their own signal. The result of such contamination is sometimes "buyer's remorse," as people later regret their response.

Nonsystem Words

When people use words that are not aligned with any representational system, they are using nonsystem words. These words are in effect neutral, which makes them a valuable communication tool. When speakers use nonsystem words, listeners usually respond spontaneously, using system words that indicate their preferred system. This response tells speakers how to send messages most effectively and facilitates communication flow. Moreover, listeners are not fatigued by being forced to translate messages into their own preferred systems to understand them. Examples of neutral expressions are "let me know" and "understand."


Butting refers to sending contradictory verbal messages. People are butting when they use words that erase or negate the message that just preceded them. Examples of butting words are "except," "however," and of course "but."

Language Structures

Some terms from linguistics are helpful to mediators for discussing and understanding verbal patterns. A language matrix is a pattern of the way words fit together. These patterns form language models. Language models vary from person to person.

Messages can have both a surface structure and a deep structure. Surface structure is the literal meaning or text of the message. Surface structure is what a person actually says. Deep structure lies beneath the surface of the literal message. It reflects behavioral and language patterns. Deep structure carries the more abstract part of the message. Through deep structure, communicators let listeners know how they see the world.


Paralanguage refers to voice quality and vocalizations. Paralanguage may occur in the context of words or by itself. It sends its own message in either case. When coupled with words, the paralanguage message might be carried in a person's tone or pitch. Occurring by itself, paralanguage could be a grunt. Paralanguage may be congruent or incongruent with the words with which it is combined. When language and paralanguage are incongruent, it is the paralanguage, rather than the words, that delivers the credible message. For example, the message sent by "thanks for the help" said in a grateful tone of voice is clearly different from the message sent by the same phrase said in an ungrateful tone.

Voice Quality

Voice is the sound produced by the vibration of the vocal cords in the larynx. Voice quality is the character of that sound. There are a number of components that make up voice quality. Pitch refers to the high or low sound of the voice. Pitch changes as the frequency of vocal cord vibration varies. The higher the frequency, the higher the pitch of a person's voice. Articulation is the process in which vocal organs, such as the tongue, change position in relation to other parts of the mouth. These changes modify the air flow that produces speech sounds. The quality of the articulation affects the quality of spoken consonants and vowels. Timbre refers to the overtones or resonance in a sound. The timbre of a sound depends on the shape producing the sound, the frequency of overtones, and whether the sound is at the beginning, middle, or end of its production. The timbre of vowels depends on how open or constricted the resonating areas of the head and chest are. Cadence refers to the balance and rhythmic flow of vocal sounds. Sometimes cadence also refers to the sound of the voice falling at the end of a sentence. Tempo indicates the speed at which the voice produces sound.


Vocalization is the name given to the sound created when air passes through a person's respiratory system and up into the vocal folds and tract. At that point vocal sounds are formed and uttered. Examples of vocalizations are growling and snorting.

Vocal Segregates

Vocal segregates are vocalized hesitations, pauses, exclamations, and other fillers that are not standard words. Examples of vocal segregates are "ooo," "um," and "uh." Silence Silence is also a component of paralanguage. Like sound from a person, lack of sound from a person conveys a message. Sometimes these messages are very clear. For example, silence conveys an obvious message during a wedding ceremony when the minister requests that people "object now or forever hold your peace." However, silence can also be easily misinterpreted.

Levels of Awareness

Sensory information is the raw data people take in, consciously or not, to the nervous system. This information, as its name indicates, is collected by the senses--sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, or more formally, the visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory, and olfactory senses. Perception starts when sensory receptors are stimulated. The stimulation triggers a chain of events that eventually translates information about the stimulus into a signal for the nervous system. That coded information is then forwarded to brain areas that make sense of the information. At that point, people can distinguish individual pieces or quantities of information and understand what the sensory information means. For example, if coffee is brewing, a person's olfactory sense might detect information that is translated into a coffee aroma. At the same time, the person's auditory sense might take in information that is translated into the sound of water percolating.

However, as I discussed in the Introduction, one communication reality is that we are able to consciously deal with a limited number of items of information at any one time. In discussing representational systems earlier in this chapter, moreover, I pointed out that people can experience a blocked system when they are not conscious of the information flowing into that system. A knowledge of levels of awareness, then, is critical to effective communication.

Conscious Awareness

Conscious awareness, or consciousness, describes a state of alertness. When people experience conscious awareness, they are cognizant of information they are receiving through their senses. People are usually conscious of approximately seven, plus or minus two, pieces of information simultaneously. Even when people's conscious awareness is fully occupied by those seven pieces of information, however, they are still receiving and making sense of other information. As I will discuss in a moment, this additional inbound information is absorbed, even though people are not aware of it. This information remains outside conscious awareness until people need to focus on a piece of it. When people make this shift in focus, a piece of information currently in conscious awareness is automatically dropped outside of conscious awareness in order to, in effect, make space for the new information. For example, people may enter a room and notice the cold temperature, room light, coat hooks, desk, chairs, flip chart, overhead projector, and screen until they hear a noise outside the room. At that point the cold temperature or the furniture that at first seemed so noteworthy may drop outside of their conscious awareness as the noise enters and takes the place of that other information.

An altered state of consciousness, or altered state, is a change in conscious awareness. When people experience this shift of consciousness, observers usually see it. Often people in altered states seem to be distracted or asleep with their eyes open. When people are in this state, they tend to be less consciously critical about the information they receive.

Other-Than-Conscious Awareness

The term other-than-conscious awareness, or other-than-consciousness, describes a state of alertness. It functions simultaneously with conscious awareness. It has sometimes been called the unconscious. In this state, people send and receive information all the time even though they are not cognizant that this is happening. The information resides in their other-than-consciousness. Other-than-conscious communication is purposeful rather than rational. It has the most profound influence on how people interpret information. For example, audiences may be consciously aware of rational messages in commercials that talk about thriftiness. If the spokesperson, however, is dressed in haute couture clothing and leaning against a foreign sports car, the contradictory message would be retained distinctly in other-than-conscious awareness, and this message rather than the overt message would tend to form the basis for consumer action.

Other-than-conscious communication, then, describes the sending and receiving of verbal and nonverbal messages of which people are not consciously aware. People find other-than-conscious information the most credible part of any communication. For example, if a disorganized and flustered-looking lawyer tells clients with a visual preference that he is well prepared, the other-than-conscious visual communication contradicts his conscious verbal message. The clients believe the other-than-conscious communication.

We might think of other-than-conscious communication as no-fault communication, in an acknowledgment that people transmit and receive messages automatically. This blame-free view recognizes that people communicate instinctively in the way they prefer because they believe other people understand messages the same way they do. They are not aware of other people's communication preferences. Nevertheless, this lack of awareness often causes misunderstanding and confusion. Consider for example how frustrated a person with a visual preference would feel if the manufacturer of an object she had to assemble enclosed only written instructions and no diagrams or pictures.

Acknowledgment is the process of recognizing and responding to communications that exist outside a person's conscious awareness. For example, a person identifies one element of another person's other-than-conscious communication, and then he reproduces that behavior. In doing this, he is responding on a level outside the person's conscious awareness. He might, for example, lift an eyebrow after noticing another person's raised eyebrow. Like saying "hello," this acknowledgment need be done only once.

Distraction is an act that draws people's attention away from what they are doing or from something on which they are focused. It is executed on a conscious level to change the direction of people's conscious awareness. People tend to stop thinking about what was in their conscious awareness at the time the distraction occurred. Redirection is an act that is also done on a conscious level and that also diverts people's conscious attention from something. However, it then goes on to point their attention toward a new thing or idea. That is, it causes people to lose awareness of their original focus and to become aware of the new thing.


When people automatically receive, screen, and sift information into core beliefs, core values, and attitudes they are engaged in filtering. The information is received on an other-than-conscious level, and the mechanisms that do the work, the filters, do so intuitively. The ways the filters organize this information are both influenced by and lead to people's specific understanding, opinions, and convictions.

A meta-program is one kind of internal filter that processes and sorts information. During this process, some incoming sensory information is selectively deleted. Such deletion is necessary to avoid overloading the senses. Some information is distorted or shifted. This is done so the sensory information fits people's perceptions of the world. It also allows people to be creative and plan. Some information is generalized. That way people can draw general conclusions based on a few experiences.

Norms are filters that cultures create. They are the perceived set of rules or behaviors of a culture. People regard these filters as standards for evaluating behavior. They are assumed to define the typical and the normal. Ethnocentrism is a filter that causes a person to presuppose that people from all cultures act and communicate in the same ways she does. Beliefs are filters, especially when they are core, or central, beliefs. A belief is a conviction or acceptance of the truth of something. People have many beliefs. They organize these beliefs into structures, or belief systems. These systems provide a set of assumptions and presuppositions that people use as compasses to navigate in their social, ethical, moral, and religious worlds. Core values are filters. They are the mechanisms that people use to gauge whether an act is right or wrong, useful or worthless, good or bad. Core values are set after people have an established belief system that tells them how to function in the world. Attitude is a frame of mind that reflects a feeling toward something or someone. This mental position occurs as a result of people's belief systems and core values. Figure 1.1 summarizes the levels of awareness.


Proxemics is the study of how people use personal space. Proxemics tells us that people's perceptions about space vary and that people's use of space is a form of nonverbal communication.

General Area Requirement

A person's general area requirement is the perception he has about his need for space. This requirement will vary depending on the situation. People need the least amount of space in an intimate environment. They feel the need for more area in a personal situation. They need even more in a social gathering. People require the greatest amount of space in a public environment. The distance zone is the space that people need between themselves and others to be comfortable.

Unique Meeting Distance

A person's unique meeting distance identifies the exact spot at which that person automatically stops when meeting another person. The unique meeting distance varies from person to person. When two people approach each other and one stops, the distance between them is the unique meeting distance for the person who stopped first.


Haptics studies how people use touch to communicate. Touch, the tactile sense, is a source of sensory information when a person's body comes into contact with someone or something. It can also include sensations of pressure, weight, vibration, and temperature. The nonverbal message touch communicates varies from person to person and culture to culture.

Cultures may be high contact or low contact. People in high-contact cultures consider physical contact an important part of communication. The more frequent and the more protracted the touch, the more positive the communicator's message is felt to be. People in low-contact cultures refrain from touching when they communicate. They tend to find touch unnecessary and often see it as intrusive.


Chronemics is the examination of time. Study has shown that perceptions of time vary from person to person and culture to culture. How people deal with time sends nonverbal messages.

Monochronic and Polychronic Concepts of Time

A person's concept of time may be monochronic or polychronic. People with a monochronic model of time tend to deal with one thing at a time. They regard time as linear. Tasks are separate and follow one after another. Some cultures tend to be monochronic. People with a polychronic model of time tend to deal with many things at the same time. They regard time as multidimensional and non-directional. Some cultures tend to be polychronic.

Perceiving Events in Time

A time line is a chronological concept. It is used to illustrate the manner in which people store past memories and imagine future events. To create a time line, people imagine a line that represents the flow of time. They then imagine events placed along this imaginary line, associating the time of the events with the time represented by the line.

Some people perceive events in time from an off-line position. That is, they imagine themselves standing off the time line. When they then look at the time line, they see it running from left to right or from top to bottom in front of their eyes. Others perceive time from a midline position. That is, they look at events as if the events were running along the time line, and they imagine themselves standing in the middle of that line. As a result, some events seem to have happened behind them and some happen in front of them.

When people remember events in time, they are engaging in time accessing. For some people, this process is random access. These people can locate any memory immediately. For other people, remembering requires sequential access. These people must start in the present and go backward through each event, in consecutive order, to remember a specific event. Discovering one's own time line is a useful exercise that can help people understand how they store past memories and imagine future events.


Objectics is the study of the ways people use material articles and artifacts to communicate information nonverbally. This information could be about a person's likes, beliefs, or occupation, for example. Instances of such articles and artifacts are conservative clothing and nose rings.


Symbolism is a passive form of nonverbal communication. It is the practice of using one object to represent something else. Some symbols are code symbols. People generally agree on their meaning, so they send the same information to everyone. For example, a flashing red traffic light at an intersection is understood by all drivers to mean that cars must stop. Some symbols, however, have different meanings to each observer. Their meanings depend on context and situation. For example, the color orange may symbolize one thing to a primary school child painting a picture and another thing to someone living in Ireland.

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