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What is meta-communication?

“Good communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity.” Communication is an important key that aids in delivering our messages, thoughts, and feelings to others. Effective communication helps understand the emotions and intentions behind verbal sayings and is beyond just exchanging information.

Meta-communication is concerned with a much broader definition of communication. Here, the prefix ‘meta’ means ‘with,’ which signifies something beyond everyday communication. According to some philosophers, meta-communication refers to “communication about communication.” Meta communications can be considered as secondary communication that aids in modifying the meaning of primary communication. For example, if you went to buy a new smartphone from an offline store, apart from handling it over the phone, all the additional information about packaging, warranty, and others provided by the store owner can be considered under meta communication. All the extra information apart from the smartphone comprises meta-communication.

Unpacking Meta Communication: The Messages Behind the Messages

The three concepts that closely relate to one another include Communication, Meta communication, and meta-metacommunication. In simple words, meta-communication is “talking about communication.” It comprises reviewing or product or giving positive or negative comments on anything, while meta-metacommunication is “talking about ‘talking about communication.'” It includes studying the comments or reviews someone provides on a product, service, or anything else.

This blog has been designed to bring about the importance and significance of meta-communication.

Significance of meta-communication

Like a normal conversation, meta-communication can also be verbal and non-verbal. For example, you can show your care and concern to someone through spoken words like ‘I care for you,’ while non-verbal communication patterns include your gestures, just as giving your shawl or coat to them. In most cases, meta-communication is designed to support the original communication, but sometimes a sense of disparity arises between the original communication and the intentions behind it. Sarcasm, satire, metaphors, and puns utilize these meta-communication skills to convey messages.

There are varied types of meta-communication depending on the relationship between a sender and receiver based on human communication.

Relationship level meta-communication

The phrase called relational definition describes our relationship with others. An expression that can be easily conveyed to a friend can make strangers uncomfortable, though with the same meaning and intention. When we interact or converse with someone, the first meeting with them can be introverted, but the relational definition does emerge over time. Trying to establish a friendly relational definition with a stranger has always been a bad idea. In due course of time, the meta-communicative signals help reinforce a relational definition, establishing a meta-communicative context for subsequent interactions.

Episodic level meta-communication

As relationship-level meta-communication is based on the relational definition that grows after several interactions over a certain period, episodic-level meta-communication lacks any relational description. It mainly involves one-time communication and occurs at the level of individual episodes.

Episodic level meta-communication

As you sow, so you reap is an age-old proverb that has implications even in meta-communication. Episodic level meta-communication is the tiny seeds that grow into a relational definition over time.

Seeing signals as signals

It indicates that we perceive or sense meta-communication, interpret the signals, and frame an idea about the sender’s intention. Apart from human beings, meta-communication has also been observed in other social primates. Gregory Bateson coined the term after watching the monkeys playing in the zoo. Observing the signals while communicating and keenly noticing the intentions of others reduces the risk of deception and enables keeping a track record of foes and friends.

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According to philosophers and philanthropists, meta-communication generally includes all the non-verbal elements while conversing with someone. A message given through meta-communication has a powerful impact on others. The expressions through your eyes, face, tone of voice, and gestures, while verbal communication forms a part of meta-communication and shows the intentions behind your words. Professor Emeritus Albert Mehrabian from the University of California claims that emotions and attitudes are conveyed to others more through body language and tone of voice than the words you speak, which form only about 7% of the total message communicated to others.


Meta-messages and meta-communication consist of the words or verbal commands and the intentions and emotions behind those messages. Therefore an improved skill of controlling and interpreting body language, facial and eye expressions, and the tone of your voice forms an integral part of your communication skill which should be improved consistently to enhance your personality.