Paul Watzlawick was an Austrian-born psychotherapist, psychoanalytic, sociologist and philosopher. He was best recognized for his venture in schizophrenia, as well as his communication theory regarding the five axioms. (Sack, Herald) His first axiom – “one cannot not communicate” – states that no matter how much a person tries not to communicate, there will some forms of communication going on. (Blanford, Roxanne) Watzlawick believed that every little behavior sends a message, regardless whether it’s intentional or otherwise.
Therefore, all behavior has communicative value. When I first read about his theory, I honestly thought that it was unreasonable. Personally, I thought that sometimes unintentional actions do not mean that one is sending any form of communication. However, according to Kit Welchlin, a well-known public speaker, he states that “no matter what you say, or don’t say, people apply a meaning to it”. He gave an example of his observation on how the value of a co-worker from a marble factory was recognized by the messages that the manager sent through his actions.
In addition, Eric Myers, founder and C. E. O. of Myers Business Diagnostics and Solutions LLC, said that people can make “judgment calls” to the non-verbal actions that the other is showing. “Words is only 7% of communication, body language 55%, and tone 38%”, Myers’ said at one of his talks. Another person who agreed to the theory is Dr. Amy Gaffney, an assistant professor from University of Kentucky. She believes that many people don’t always realize that anything that they do could “potentially be perceived as a form of communication”.
She gave a simple example of how a student who’s nervously presenting in front would react to her “funny face” that she made because of the other noisy students behind her class. Besides the three influential speakers/researchers that I’ve mentioned above, there were also many other researchers whom have agreed at some point towards Watzlawick’s theory. So, I decided to conduct a personal experiment, with my brother as the subject of matter. I purposely picked him up late from his work place one day, and I observed his actions and behavior – which includes expressions, as he walked towards my car.
I found out that although he did not mention that he was a bit irritated by my lateness, but his little fidgets and frowning of the eyebrows gave away. The findings of this experiment, combined with some additional researches, changed my perception towards Watzlawick’s theory. In short – I agree to Watzlawick’s First Axiom of “One Cannot Not Communicate”. Since every of our behavior may be perceived as a form of communication, there will be times where our behavior doesn’t actually convey the message that we want to convey. These are called “unintentional communication”.
One very good example is when someone is deep in thought, and so happen the person’s eyes are facing your direction. You would start to wonder why the person is looking at you, but in actual fact, the person isn’t. A man who’s wearing a suit and drives a luxurious car doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s rich. But to the eyes of others, that person might be misperceived as rich. In a nutshell, Watzlawick’s theory of “One Cannot Not Communicate” is true, but to a certain extent, because not all behavior actually conveys the message that the person wants to convey.