What Is Meta-Communication, and One Example of It?

Meta-communication is nonverbal communication that either complements or contradicts what is being said. For instance, if a person asks another, “Who is crying?” or “What’s wrong?” and that person responds, “Nothing’s wrong,” it is evident that the message being transmitted does not match the spoken response. Typically, crying indicates that something is amiss.

There are numerous purposes for meta-communication. One individual may not feel comfortable telling the truth or providing the complete narrative to the other. Occasionally, social convention mandates that people say something very different from how they truly feel.

When meta-communication happens, the uttered words are often formal and devoid of significance. Gregory Bateson coined the term “meta-communication” in the 1970s. According to Bateson’s concept of meta-communication, certain body language and mannerisms merge with people’s speech to produce codes. To communicate effectively in this manner, all parties must know and comprehend each other’s codes.

Bateson felt that every communication is basically a communication within a communication, which means that there are frequently multiple conversations occurring simultaneously. There is the real conversation — what is said — and the meta-communication dialogue — what is communicated.

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