M. Hinchcliff-Pelias

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (UNITED STATES)
To be understood and to understand are simple and basic human needs; however, they are made complex when cultural differences are part of the equation. In our increasingly interdependent and global world, people cannot afford to be ineffectual intercultural communicators. Across educational, work, familial, civic, and social interpersonal interactions, opportunities for culturally diverse/intercultural encounters abound. Those who are competent in their intercultural interactions benefit immensely. While some communication competencies may seem innate, most must and can be learned. Competencies requisite for intercultural effectiveness are such. Theoretical assumptions and pedagogical practices informing Nonverbal Communication Competence (NVC) and Visual Literacy (VL) appear to be conceptually consistent with desired outcomes of effective, meaningful intercultural interactions. Both consider cognitive and behavioral abilities tempered by affective/emotional drives essential elements of competency.

Visual Literacy (VL) assumes competencies in understanding/interpreting visual information as well as creating/using visual codes. This is to say, using traditional literacy nomenclature, persons who are visually literate have the abilities to “read” (decode/interpret) visual information and “write” (encode/create) visual messages with sufficient accuracy for shared meanings. Additionally, VL understands visually literate persons to be capable of visual thinking. VL skills are presumed to be teachable, learnable, and have the capacity for improvement.

Nonverbal Communication Competence (NVC) is understood as a function of knowledge, skill, and motivation. NVC assumes cognitive and behavioral abilities for message “decoding” (comprehension/interpretation) and “encoding” (creation/transmission), as well as affective/emotive drives to share information. Nonverbally competent persons must understand the rules and codes of human communication as well as possess the skills to receive, produce, and share meaningful messages, and they must be willing to do so. NVC, like VL, is presumed to be teachable, learnable, and have the capacity for improvement.

Cultural understandings are important for evaluating message creation and interpretation competencies for both VL and NVC. Both position their respective competencies within specific rule-governed contexts. Additionally, comprehending the complexities of the intentionality of human messages is a key concept shared by Visual Literacy and Nonverbal Communication Competence. VL and NVC have points of common understandings and points of divergence regarding human communication. Whether obvious or nuanced, these points are worth noting and are explored in this essay.

The overriding aim for this essay is to explore theoretical and applied intersections of Visual Literacy (VL) and Nonverbal Communication Competence (NVC) across communication contexts, with particular attention given to intercultural competencies. The possible outcome of reaching a better understanding of how and why humans create meanings and relationships in a culturally diverse world seems a worthwhile endeavor.