What We Say (When We Aren’t Speaking)


Part of what makes watching people so much fun is that they communicate so much, even when they aren’t speaking. Take Ben, here, for example.

An obvious way that people communicate non-verbally is through facial expressions. Ben’s amiable smile, as well as his raised eyebrows, express that he is either enjoying his work or at least enjoying his moment of fame.

Another, perhaps less obvious, way people communicate is through clothing and accessories. Ben is wearing all black, a baseball cap, and gloves. Simply by what he is wearing, he demonstrates that he is part of the food service team (and the food service team wears black to communicate something as well-such as a level of professionalism).

While these things I mentioned are probably fairly accurate, there are other aspects of this picture that communicate something about Ben, but are harder to confidently translate. For example, Ben chose brown, thick-framed glasses over contacts (at least we’re assuming he had this choice). Why? This communicates something about him, but it’s hard to make an accurate guess without knowing more than this picture has to offer.

People are always saying something even when they aren’t literally saying something. Our subconscious minds are always translating these details and forming some sort of judgement (judgement not being a negative thing here) about the person. Stopping to consciously consider what we are thinking about a person based on appearance is beneficial now and again to remind us that, while we can learn a great deal from a person’s appearance, there is also a great deal we can’t assume without asking them personally.

Can you think of some things you communicate by your clothing, accessories, or possessions? What are you communicating right now by the shirt you have on? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

4 thoughts on “What We Say (When We Aren’t Speaking)

  1. Really interesting article. I appreciate the development of your thought process. It is easy to read and allows for deeper reflections. Will be looking for more, good job.


  2. Does everything we wear have to mean something? The sweater I am wearing right now I like because it is warm. Do I wear it for other reasons, that I am not aware of, that gives it the appeal I find in it? Or do I just like it because it is warm? I look forward to your answer.


    1. Hi CoraLynn, when I say that people are communicating something through their clothing choices, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there are hidden reasons that someone is wearing something. When you wear your beloved sweater, it communicates that you were cold. The color of it can communicate your preferences, the brand can communicate how much you’re willing to pay for a sweater (and, to a vaguer extent, how you spend money), the style can communicate how you feel about yourself and what kind of flare you like to demonstrate.
      But at the same time, while aspects like clothing certainly do communicate something, what it communicates is hard to read. Reading people based on their clothing, then, is dangerous business. The best way to look at it is to appreciate the fact that clothing communicates a great deal, without going into specifics and trying to figure out exactly what it communicates.


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