Language is one component of communication, but we also communicate through body language, behavior, even silence. Often, those non-verbal cues are more revealing than words because they are involuntary manifestations of our unconscious. So when we think we are not “saying” anything, we are, in fact, communicating. “One cannot not communicate,” Watzlawick et al. postulated in their book, Pragmatics of Human Communication (1967).
The potential for misunderstandings, missteps, and mayhem in interpersonal communication is enormous. In a cross-cultural setting, the perils are greater still. We make assumptions based on our own cultural background and unwittingly cause offense. In some cultures, the content-driven message is far more important than the context in which it is received. In others, relationships trump content. If every gesture, glance, or inflection is steeped in meaning that varies across cultures, how are we going to communicate effectively with each other?
I am a marriage and family therapist. Listening to families, couples, adolescents and children express their discontent, their rage, their pain in session has led me to the realization that most presenting problems have to do with communication, which can be both the source of the problem and the path to its resolution.
What is therapy if not communication?