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.
Efficacy of Verbal Cues
Given that verbal cues are spoken, sometimes in the form of direct instructions, it might seem logical to conclude that verbal cues are more effective than non-verbal cues. Yet studies have found that when compared to physical or non-verbal cues, verbal cues are less effective and more easily misinterpreted. Moreover, people tend to have strong memories of their own verbal cues but are much less certain about the verbal cues of others.
There are several reasons why verbal cues are less effective, but one of them is related to the environment in which communication occurs. In a classroom, for example, the audience is surrounded by distracting stimuli including cell phones, computers, other students, and even the clock. Non-verbal and visual cues, on the other hand, require a less involved cognitive process. Interpreting non-verbal cues involves a process known as behavioral decoding, which is basically the interpretation of things like tone, body language, and inflection. Based on those cues, listeners are much better able to get an impression of what type of response is expected or appropriate.
Verbal cues are prompts delivered through spoken language that indicate the speaker is expecting a response or reaction. Broadly speaking, these are divided into two categories: direct cues like 'Go clean your room' and indirect cues like, 'Can someone tell me what that means?' In some cases, particularly with younger children, speakers might use phonetic prompts to help listeners understand what is expected.
Because they are spoken and can be very direct, it is easy to assume that verbal cues are more effective than visual or non-verbal cues. However, studies have found that visual and non-verbal cues are easier to remember and respond to because behavioral decoding provides a better impression of what is expected.