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Verbal Cues in Communication: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Verbal Cues
  • 1:24 Direct & Indirect Cues
  • 2:57 Assistive Verbal Cues
  • 3:48 Efficacy of Verbal Cues
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
We all use verbal cues everyday, but how well do we recognize them as listeners? Through this lesson, you'll learn what defines a verbal cue and explore some examples of different types and their purposes.

Verbal Cues

How often do you think about the ways you communicate with others? We communicate with people every day in various ways; yet for something that's so instinctual and basic, communication is actually a very complicated process with a lot of nuances. For instance, how do you know when to laugh when someone tells a joke? Usually it's because he or she has given you some kind of cue indicating that the punch line has been delivered, and you are expected to laugh.

When it comes to communication, cues are prompts that people use to indicate that they expect a response or reaction. Speakers use non-verbal cues all the time through body language or tone, but they might also deliver cues verbally. A verbal cue is a prompt that is conveyed in spoken language from one person to another or a group of people. For example, if you were listening to a lecture, the instructor might say something like, 'Does anyone know why this happened?' In this case, the instructor is obviously looking for one or more people to respond to the question with an answer.

Verbal cues are common when teaching children and, like the one in the previous example, are usually pretty easy to spot because they are clearly articulated, such as, 'Does anyone know…?' This, however, doesn't mean they're always so apparent or direct. In fact, verbal cues can come in many different forms, and a strong communicator knows how to recognize them all.

Direct & Indirect Cues

Broadly speaking, there are two main types of verbal cues under which other sub-types fall. The first, direct verbal cues, are clearly articulated statements of instructions. These are probably very familiar to parents, who often have to repeatedly give children directions like, 'Go clean your room' and 'Go brush your teeth.' Direct verbal cues are used to make very clear that the listener is expected to do or say something in response.

The second of these types, indirect verbal cues, are prompts that tend to be less obvious about what is expected and might come in the form of a question. For instance, the earlier example of being in a lecture illustrates the use of an indirect prompt. In that case, the instructor has indicated that he or she is looking for a response, but is not specific about what he or she wants to hear.

Direct verbal cues leave little doubt about what is expected because it is the responsibility of the speaker to clearly state what he or she wants from the listener. Indirect verbal cues, on the other hand, place considerable responsibility on the listener, who is to deliver the desired response based on the prompt. That might sound complicated, but consider this: if the aforementioned child cleans his or her room as requested, the parents might follow that by saying, 'Alright, then what else were you supposed to do?' This is an indirect verbal cue because it implies that they expected something else, like 'Brush your teeth,' requiring the child to think back over the other parts of the conversation to remember that other expectation.

Assistive Verbal Cues

Direct and indirect verbal cues are both ways of indicating that you expect your listener to respond in some way. If he or she reacts to the cue with the desired response, then you have been successful, and you can move on. There are times, however, where the listener might need a clue as to how he or she is supposed to respond. We can turn again to the example of parents and children, where this is probably a familiar experience.

One type of verbal cue that includes hints about the expectation is known as a phonetic prompt, meaning that the speaker helps the listener by giving him or her a part of the response. For example, if a child has cleaned his or her room but still can't remember the other thing that he or she was asked to do, the parent might say, 'You were also supposed to bruuuu…,' indicating that the child was also expected to brush his or her teeth.

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