The Power of Nonverbal Communication
Nonverbal communication is a unique form of engagement with another individual or group of people. It is often connected with body language, as how a person presents and responds to situations, words, or other people’s behaviors may be used as a communication tool. It can convey meaning or information without the use of words, but instead uses eye contact, facial expressions, posture, behavioral mannerisms, and gestures to respond to information.
In some cases, nonverbal communication can be muscle memory as facial expressions are a quick way to react to new information. For example, a close friend is sharing their excitement about getting accepted into a university, and you might communicate the shared excitement through widening eyes, eye contact, and a smile. On the other hand, someone angrily expresses how they failed a test, and you furrow your eyebrows, have a downward tilted lip, and lower energy to express sympathy or worry. Nonverbal communication often corresponds to social cues, or what is a socially acceptable way to respond to received information such as a failing grade or being admitted to a university. In addition, nonverbal communication is an effective and commonly used way to communicate through actions and gestures, in comparison to verbal communication where people often find it difficult to express their feelings, beliefs, and attitudes towards information given.
Moreover, nonverbal communication is happening constantly. We respond to hundreds of nonverbal cues and behaviors in every exchange we have with humans and animals. These cues not only refer to typical behavior mannerisms such as eye contact and facial expression, but also physical appearance such as hairstyles and clothing, personal space or proximity to others, and tone of voice.
Eight Types of Nonverbal Communication
There are eight types of nonverbal communication: facial expressions, gestures, paralinguistics, body language, proxemics or personal space, eye gaze or touch, appearance, and artifacts (objects and images). Each category is unique in nonverbal communication, but they are often used simultaneously to respond to situations.
Facial expressions are the most commonly known nonverbal communication and one of the most effective. Emotions are displayed on the face, sometimes before one can verbally express them. This is often picked up by the receiving party rather quickly, and in turn, may evoke their facial expression or nonverbal communication. One may deduce a lot of information from a frown and a smile. Emotions such as anger, sadness, happiness, fear, surprise, and disgust can be displayed in seconds, whether the person using the facial expression is aware of it.
Gestures can range from arm and hand movements such as giving a “thumbs up”, waving, pointing, opening palms, reaching for the sky, and so on. This nonverbal communication is not limited to limbs as eye gestures (e.g., eye rolling) are just as effective. Gestures can vary from culture to culture, so it is important to remember that some hand gestures or not universal.
Paralinguistics refers to the nonverbal aspect of verbal communication such as tone and volume of the words. For example, tone and volume can signal enthusiasm, sorrow, or sarcasm. Similarly, if there is a pause or hesitation in their words this could show disproval, thoughtfulness, or uncertainty.
Body language and posture are great forms of nonverbal communication. A forward-leaning body towards the speaker can show interest and engagement, while someone who is sitting hunched or displays a “closed” posture can show guarded and defensive. Crossed arms and legs slouched or straight posture, titled head, hand over mouth, and more evoke different meanings effectively communicating different emotions to their audience.
Similar to body language, proxemics, or personal space, is important in nonverbal communication. Close proximity may show interest while further proximity might show disinterest or discomfort. This nonverbal communication can be different across social norms, cultural expectations, situations, personalities, and relationships.
The eye gaze plays a part in nonverbal communication much like facial expressions. Not only does this refer to eye contact (or lack thereof) but glances, locking eyes, and blinking are just as crucial for communication. The eyes hold emotions of love, anger, confusion, and fear in them as they are a powerful tool of nonverbal communication.
Haptics, or touch, is another common form of nonverbal communication, and it is commonly used in closer relationships. Hugs, back rubs, hand holding, and a brush on the arm can be a sign of comfort while providing a reminder of physical, emotional, and psychological support. However, a fast, tight grab of the arm or hand may also evoke power, fear, or dominance over another person. Much like gestures and proxemics, touch may have various meanings depending on culture, societal norms, and relationships.
One’s appearance such as clothing, hair, and other physical factors can be used for communication. For example, dressing appropriately for a job interview would suggest professionalism and eagerness to join the workforce team; whereas dressing up for a party may exemplify one is ready to have fun. Multiple cultures use appearance to demonstrate wealth, better health, and socioeconomic status.
Lastly, artifacts (objects and images) are used for nonverbal communication. The most common examples are reaction images or memes in the digital world. Those images respond to presented information with humor and/or sincerity. Symbols or objects related to a concept can evoke emotion, such as a hospital cross symbol or a hazard sign evoking concern and caution respectively.
Nonverbal communication is an important part of communication. It’s used consciously and subconsciously with thousands of occurrences daily. The more one is aware of their own nonverbal cues, it’ll build your repertoire of recognizing other’s cues, effectively providing insight that is not verbally communicated.
Author: Maerie Morales