Themes: emotions and feelings, non-verbal communication
Emotions and feelings
Emotions and feelings are central to communication. The social psychologist Arlie Hochschild (1983) argues that for some professions, using feelings is actually part of the job which they are paid to do. So an ever-increasing number of workers, from flight attendants to social workers, are paid to smile, while at the same time disguising any feelings they may have of, for example, irritability or tiredness. Hochschild calls this 'emotional labour'. She makes a strong plea for naming our feelings; for getting in touch with the emotions and feelings which we suppress in our working lives, and listening to the cues in our bodies about how we are feeling. Only then will we be able to function authentically in our dealings with others.
In western societies, concepts of emotional self have commonly been gendered. So women are routinely expected to feel and express emotions more than men; men are seen as more cool, more logical and perhaps even stunted in their emotional lives. These are, of course, stereotypes of which we should be aware. They also, however, can lead us to behave in certain ways; women are 'allowed' to be 'more in touch with their feelings'.
People from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds may also express their emotions in different ways. So we might expect an Italian person to be demonstrative and flamboyant; likewise someone who has grown up in mainland China or rural Scotland may be expected to present themselves in a much more cautious, reserved way. But again, these stereotypes can be misleading, and it is important to keep as open a mind as we can on what facial expressions and body movements may be telling us.
To unpack what someone's facial expressions and body movements are telling us, we turn to the subject of non-verbal communication. Koprowska (2005) points that differences in non-verbal communication may be:
- Common to most people
- Culturally determined
- Related to impairment or mental state
- Specific to this particular person and their frame of mind now
- A consequence of interaction with us
It is important that in situations of unequal power relationships (such as in practice and in education), we need to think about what might be going on. Yet we are often not very good at taking notice of non-verbal cues.
Non-verbal cues are likely to include the following:
- Facial expression: does Jean look interested, bored, tired?
- Eye contact: what happens when Nazra is in difficulty in the meeting?
- Posture and movement: who fidgets and who sits still?
- Clothing and artefacts: what does style of dress tell us?
- Orientation: who is turned away, and when?
- Proximity and the use of touch: how close are they sitting? When might touch be appropriate?