Non-verbal Communication

“Few realize how loud their expressions really are. Be kind with what you wordlessly say.” 
― Richelle E. Goodrich
Making Wishes: Quotes, Thoughts, & a Little Poetry for Every Day of the Year

People express and interact with actions more than words. According to a research by Albert Mehrabian, words (what we say) constitutes of only 7% of our communication whereas 38% communication happens by para-verbal communication (how we say it i.e tone of voice, modulation, pauses, rhythm, etc.) and 55% is communicated by non-verbal ways (expressions, actions, body movements, etc.) Though, people place more importance on words they speak, how people speak tells more about it and is a key aspect in communication.

a-child-showing-thumbsup-as-a-sign-of-okay, Non-verbal-Communication

What is non-verbal communication?

Nonverbal communication is stimuli produced by speaker and use of environment without the use of words or verbal codes. The speaker might be consciously or unconsciously doing it and accompanies all communication mostly in face to face communication. Smiles or handshakes, clothes or hairstyles, hand and eye movements and many other signs communicate and we responds to such communications mostly unconsciously.

Both verbal and non-verbal communication are sent side by side on two levels or simultaneously. Non-verbal communication is used to express emotions, feelings and thoughts. It can be used to steer conversation to a particular direction as it generates powerful reactions. Everybody responds to thousands of non-verbal cues every day. A group of cues can be sent at the same time. Non-verbal communication is known as unspoken communication in lay language. Wordless signals do not have fixed meaning and are contextual.

Touch, eye contact, glance, vocal intonation, proximity, volume, gestures, facial expression, posture, smell, dress, sounds, silence, etc. are some forms of non-verbal communication. They play a vital part in setting the meaning and intention of message as communication is much more than meaning of words. It not only includes explicit meaning of words but also implicit meanings through non-verbal signs.

Cultural context of non-verbal communication tells that people learn to decipher non-verbal cues as they grow up from other people and by trial and error method. It is a learnt behavior which is passed on through culture. So, non-verbal communication is cultural specific and can be different from one culture to another.

Examples of non-verbal communication

“Fie, fie upon her!
There's language in her eye, her cheek, her lip,
Nay, her foot speaks; her wanton spirits look out
At every joint and motive of her body.”
- William Shakespeare

Expressions and actions says more about a person which includes smile, appearance, hands, etc. Dances like opera, ballet or salsa are used to express. Silent movies are other examples which show that non-verbal communications are better at communicating than movies with dialogs. Films like The Artist (2011), The Kid (1921), City Lights (1931), and Battleship Potemkin (1925) produce more emotions than movies that have dialogs and words.

Signs and symbols used in games and military are also some examples of non-verbal communication.

Saying “I am alright” with sad expression had different implications than saying it with a smile. The first one contradicts what the person is saying in words while the second communication compliments it. Non-verbal communication is mostly true while verbal communication can be false.

Expressions-showing-different-things, Non-verbal-Communication

Types of non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication can be basically divided into two types:

  • Message produced by body
  • Message produced by setting (environment)

Similarly, another set of types of non-verbal communication are:

  • Kinesics (body movements)
  • Proxemics (personal space, distance, closeness)
  • Posture
  • Eye contact
  • Para-language
  • Facial expressions
  • Paralinguistic (Vocal intonations)
  • Body movements
  • Gestures
  • Touch or haptic
  • Silence
  • Object Communication (First impression or appearance)
  • Symbols and signs
  • Adapters
  • Sign language and codes (Morse)
  • Dance and acting

Importance of non-verbal communication

Action always speaks louder than words as nonverbal communication constitutes about two-thirds of communication. Non-verbal communication is what people communicate through actions. Non-verbal cues are important in communication, sometimes more important than verbal as it can have impact and influence on the people who listens. Communication is only effective when non-verbal communication compliments verbal communication and accentuates it. It is more important as people do not have control over their nonverbal in contrast to their verbal communication as non-verbal communication is more natural. Lack of body language shows speaking false and give wrong meaning to any message.

Non-verbal communication reinforces meaning or modifies meaning of any message. It shows the emotional state of a person and relationship between people interacting (personal space). It also defines relationship between people like a couple kissing might show that they are in a relationship. Non-verbal cues provide instant feedback of message given by somebody else.

[Related Reading: Why Non-verbal Communication is Important?]

Functions of Non-verbal Communication

  • Repetition
  • Contradiction
  • Substitution
  • Complementing
  • Accenting

Principles of Non-verbal Communication

  • Supplements or replaces verbal communication
  • Regulates interaction
  • Establish relationship level meanings (responsiveness, liking, power)
  • Reflects and expresses cultural values

Kid-hi-fives -a-dog, Non-verbal-Communication

Research findings on non-verbal communication

Body language have been studied by many researchers as kinesics, pupillometrics, paralanguage, proxemics, haptics, chronemics, silence, appearance, etc. Researchers have been doing it since 1872 with the publication of Charles Darwin’s book “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” which was about the way humans and animals communicate through facial expressions.

Nonverbal communication was later researched by Adam Kendon, Albert Scheflen, and Ray Birdwhistell in 1955 with context analysis which found that human beings recognize and make roughly about 250,000 facial expressions. Later, many researchers conducted studies like Argyle and Dean (eye contact and conversation distance), Ralph V. Exline, Eckhard Hess, Robert Sommer, etc. found many things which showed the importance of non-verbal communication. Many books such as Body Language (Fast, 1970), How to Read a Person like a Book (Nierenberg & Calero, 1971), etc. have been written on non-verbal communication.