One communication researcher did a study on people’s ability to identify another’s emotional moods from facial expression, body posture, and tone of voice. Not surprisingly, these non-verbal forms of communication actually do communicate. People can accurately identify emotional moods without words at a higher rate than chance would explain. Further, some people are better at reading emotions than others. Women did a better job than men in this particular study.
But one interesting fact from the study confirms the wisdom of Solomon: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Proverbs 27:5, ESV).
The researcher divided the moods into four categories: pleasurable or distressing, active or passive. The easiest emotions for his test subjects to spot were the active/distressing ones such as fear, anger, and disgust. Test subjects almost always identified them correctly. But when the moods were passive/pleasurable, such as feelings of love, admiration, and satisfaction, the test subject often missed them. The subjects either confused these emotions with one another, or half the time, labeled them as boredom or dislike. The researcher notes:
The implications are obvious: if two people like each other but never give voice to their affection, there’s good change at least one of them will miss it. Yet if one party is temporarily upset by the other, it will come through loud and clear, even without a word spoken. Remedy: if you feel positive toward someone — say it.*
We communicate even when we are not saying a word, but effective communication of the good feelings we have towards others needs the added touch of the spoken word.
*Em Griffen, Making Friends (& Making Them Count), pp. 88-89.