Nonverbal Communication

Background

According to VeryWell Mind, a substantial portion of our communication is nonverbal. Credible researchers have proven that every day we respond to thousands of non-verbal cues and behaviors from the people around us such as posture, facial expression, gestures, and tone of voice. From our handshakes to our hairstyles, nonverbal details reveal our interests, personality, and impact how we relate to other people.

Understanding Nonverbal Communication

Why Are They Important?

Nonverbal communication refers to gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, eye contact (or lack thereof), body language, posture, and other ways people can communicate without using language. The way you present yourself will either make or break first impressions. Your nonverbal communication skills can create a positive (or a negative) impression from the person you just met. Crossed arms can seem defensive. Poor posture may appear unprofessional. A downward gaze or avoiding eye contact can detract from you being seen as confident and articulate.

If you want to become a better communicator and get along with your peers, it is vital to be able to become more sensitive and aware of the different types of nonverbal communication displayed by the people around you in conversations. Being aware of your own nonverbal communication will also place more room for improvement. When your nonverbal signals match up with the words you’re saying, they increase trust, clarity, and rapport. When they don’t, they can generate tension, mistrust, and confusion.

Nonverbal Communication Can Play Five Roles:

Repetition: It repeats and often strengthens the message you’re making verbally.

Contradiction: It can contradict the message you’re trying to convey, thus indicating to your listener that you may not be telling the truth.

Substitution: It can substitute for a verbal message. For example, your facial expression often conveys a far more vivid message than words ever can.

Complementing: It may add to or complement your verbal message. As a boss, if you pat an employee on the back in addition to giving praise, it can increase the impact of your message.

Accenting: It may accent or underline a verbal message. Pounding the table, for example, can underline the importance of your message.

Active Listening

Types of Nonverbal Communication

Facial Expressions

Facial expressions are responsible for a huge proportion of nonverbal communication. The look on a person’s face is often the first thing we see, even before we hear what they have to say. Their facial expression expresses the emotion they want to convey, and oftentimes their face can say much more than words. While nonverbal communication and behavior can vary dramatically between cultures, the facial expressions for happiness, sadness, anger, and fear are similar throughout the world.

Gestures

Deliberate movements and signals are an important way to communicate meaning without words. Common gestures include waving, pointing, and using fingers to indicate numeric amounts. In courtroom settings, lawyers have been known to utilize different nonverbal signals to attempt to sway juror opinions such as using their hands to appeal to the jury or rolling their eyes to express their opposition to their opponent’s case. These nonverbal signals are seen as being so powerful and influential that some judges even place limits on what type of nonverbal behaviors are allowed in the courtroom.

Paralinguistics

Paralinguistics refers to vocal communication that is separate from actual language. This includes factors such as tone of voice, loudness, inflection, and pitch. Consider the powerful effect that tone of voice can have on the meaning of a sentence. When said in a strong tone of voice, listeners might interpret approval and enthusiasm. Recognize also all the different ways that simply changing your tone of voice might change the meaning of a sentence. A cold tone of voice or a somber tone of voice can reveal how you feel about a certain topic and will be the key to easier communication with your peers.

Body Language and Posture

Posture and movement can also convey a great deal of information. While these nonverbal behaviors can indicate feelings and attitudes, body language is far more subtle and less definitive than previously believed.

Appearance

Our choice of color, clothing, hairstyles, and other factors affecting appearance are also considered a means of nonverbal communication. Appearance can also alter the physiological reactions, judgments, and interpretations of different people. Just think of all the subtle judgments you quickly make about someone based on his or her appearance. These first impressions are important, which is why experts suggest that job seekers dress appropriately for interviews with potential employers. Beauty isn’t skin deep. But to ensure that you make a palatable first impression with your colleagues you have to look the part.

Review this list of nonverbal skills and work on any areas where you think you could improve.

  • Avoid slouching. Sit with your back straight up against the chair or lean slightly forward to convey engagement. 
  • Display some animation with your hands and facial expressions to project a dynamic presence. (But avoid talking with your hands excessively, which can appear unprofessional and unpolished.) 
  • Eliminate fidgeting and shaking of limbs.
  • Establish frequent but not continuous or piercing eye contact 
  • Focus on the conversation.
  • Introduce yourself with a smile and a firm handshake. Be sure that your palms are dry.
  • Listen carefully, and do not interrupt.
  • Maintain open arms—folded arms can convey defensiveness.
  • Modulate your vocal tone to express excitement and punctuate key points.
  • Nod to demonstrate understanding.
  • Avoid looking at the clock, your phone, or displaying any other signs of disinterest.
  • Respect the amount of personal space preferred by your communication partners.
  • Wait until the person is done talking to respond.

References:

Melinda. (n.d.). Nonverbal Communication and Body Language. Retrieved December 30, 2020, from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/nonverbal-communication.htm

Doyle, A. (n.d.). Nonverbal Communication Skills List and Examples. Retrieved December 30, 2020, from https://www.thebalancecareers.com/nonverbal-communication-skills-2059693

Cherry, K. (2020, July 27). What Are the 9 Types of Nonverbal Communication You Might Be Missing? Retrieved December 30, 2020, from https://www.verywellmind.com/types-of-nonverbal-communication-2795397

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