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Actions Speak Louder Than Words: The Different Types of Nonverbal Communication

We all believe in a saying that action speaks louder than words. / Photo by: IgorZD via Shutterstock

 

“Sometimes nonverbal messages contradict the verbal; often they express true feelings more accurately than the spoken or written language,” Herta Murphy and Herbert Hildebrandt write in their book Effective Business Communication.

Most people would agree that actions say a lot more than spoken words. From the way a person smiles, to the way that they stand, to how they wave their hand, down to they way they dress, there is already a message being conveyed even though they have not said anything yet.

A large component of people’s communication is comprised of nonverbal cues. In fact, Lifesize states that 93% of all communication is nonverbal. According to Dr. Mehrabian’s study published in the Journal of Consulting Psychology, it was discovered that the deciphering of another person’s message was seven percent verbal, 38% vocal and 55% visual.

Since Charles Darwin’s study The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals was published in 1872, there has been a myriad of researches conducted on unspoken communication and behavior. These studies expounded on their effects, types and expressions, Verywell Mind states.

 

What is Nonverbal Communication?

Nonverbal Communication (NVC) is defined by Conflict Resolution Education as “communication without words”. This includes behaviors such as eye contact, facial expressions, touching and an individual’s tone of voice. The way a person dresses, their posture and the spatial distance between them and other people are also part of nonverbal communication.
 

Elements of Nonverbal Communication

 

Inc states that Nonverbal Communication has three main elements. It is composed of an individual’s appearance, body language, and the sounds that they make.

Appearance

The physical appearance of a person and their surroundings is a vital part of communicating a message. When speaking to another person or talking to a group people in a meeting, an individual’s personal appearance, as well as the overall look of their surroundings send nonverbal stimuli that influence people’s emotions and attitudes towards the words that they say.

To cite an example, people may create the impressions of a person’s career and socioeconomic status based on the clothes that they wear, their makeup and hairstyle and their neatness. Even the details of the environment like for instance the room’s decorations, lighting, and size can influence the attitude of the audience to a speaker’s presentation.

Body Language

Facial expressions, hand movements, and silence are one of the factors of body language. / Photo by: STUDIO GRAND OUEST via Shutterstock

 

Facial expressions, gestures, and other messages expressed with their body help in giving other people essential information and clues which may not be found in spoken communication.

A person’s facial expressions may reveal emotions that may oppose their verbal statements.

Gestures may aid an individual in emphasizing important points of a conversation and also help a listener’s comprehension of the message. However, these should be rarely use as too many gestures can cause a listener to be distracted. The excess use of gesture may also make the speaker appear nervous.

Sounds

A speaker’s volume, tone and rate of voice can send different messages to their listeners. Other vocal sounds such as laughing or humming may also have various interpretations. The way that they smell and the physical contact that they have with their audience can add to the kind of impressions made by the listener.

A person’s silence can have different meanings too. Silence may sometimes be interpreted as not being able to understand what the other person is talking about or having conflicted feelings about their conversation.

 

Major Types of Nonverbal Communication

One of the major types of nonverbal communication is silence. / Photo by: WAYHOME studio via Shutterstock

 

According to Profolus, there are are eight major types of communication. These are:

1. Kinesics

This is commonly known as body language. It is the motion or the movement of any part of an individual’s body to support their verbal communication or to send a message without having to speak. Some examples are facial expressions, gestures and posture.

2. Paralanguage

This also known as vocalics. This is a part of meta-communication that can either alter or emphasize the message behind a person’s oral communication.This may be done consciously or unconsciously.

There are three kinds of this: vocal characterizer, vocal qualifiers and vocal segregates.

An example of a vocal characterizer would be laughing. Tone would would be a demonstration of a vocal qualifier. Examples of vocal segregates would be gasping and sighing.

3. Proxemics

This involves how a person makes use of their space or keeps their distance. The two categories of these are Interpersonal space and territorial organization of space. Under interpersonal space are personal space, social space, intimate space and public space. On the other hand, territorial organization of space is further classified into home territory, public territory, interactional territory and body territory.

4. Haptics

This is when a person uses touch as a form of communication. In haptics, people interpret, message or send messages through touching each other. The touch can be either casual or intimate. Shaking hands is an example of a casual touch, while kissing is an example of intimate touching. This is also categorized as sexual or platonic.

5. Olfactics

This is a kind of nonverbal communication that uses smell to convey messages. It is mentioned that olfactics is the study of smell, its different kinds and people respond to these smells.

Using a perfume may mean that a person wants to have a good impression on others. Conversely, if a person smells bad, they tend to have a bad impression of others which would make those people try to avoid them. Certain cultures use scents to strengthen customs and traditions.

6. Chronemics

This involves how time is utilized in interactions. This includes how an individual perceives and values their time, how they structure their time and how they respond time frames. All of these indicate the context of the communication.

An example of time perception would be punctuality. For time structure an example would be a manager trying to control a timeframe to show their dominance.

7. Silence

This is described as the lack of verbal and nonverbal communication. Silence can also be used to convey various messages. For instance, in a family or romantic setting, silence can be interpreted as having distress and conflict between the speaker and the listener. This can also be used to express respect or dismay.

8. Clothing and Physical Appearance

A person’s manner of dressing as well as their presentation of themselves shows that they want to communicate verbally and that they want to express themselves. This is displayed in their hairstyle, their way of grooming and wearing makeup.

It is stated that in a group setting, an individual’s clothing and physical appearance shows their identity such as their nationality, beliefs and cultural background.

 

Importance of Nonverbal Communication

It has been established that what a person says and what their body shows can be contradictory to each other. Helpguide.org states that when a listener is confronted with a speaker’s mixed signals they may have a hard time deciding whether they should believe their verbal or nonverbal communication. Usually, they will opt to believe the nonverbal one since it  is natural and unconscious and it exposes a person’s real feelings and intentions.

A person’s manner of listening, eye contact and body movements can be indicators of  their truthfulness, concern and interest and if they have good listening skills. Nonverbal cues that complement an individual’s spoken words can make it easier for the listener to understand, make them more credible and build rapport between them. On the other hand, when the verbal and nonverbal communication do not match, it can cause tension between the participants, make them mistrust each other and make them both confused. To enhance one’s communication skills, an individual must be conscious about their own nonverbal cues and body language instead of merely noticing others.

It is important to note that nonverbal communication cannot be faked. Although they may be told to act or sit a certain way to project confidence, if they are not actually feeling confident, their gestures and posture may eventually show what they are really feeling and thinking internally. The harder a person attempts to project this, the more unnatural their signals will appear.

An individual’s mode of nonverbal communication can influence other’s perception of them, whether they will be respected and be liked and whether they think that they are trustworthy. However, there are instances when people can convey negative messages through their body language and nonverbal cues unintentionally. They may not mean to but because of this, their connections and trust can be broken.

 

How to Enhance Nonverbal Communication

Engaging in nonverbal communication means that a person is participating in a quick back and forth process. In this process, they need to be able to concentrate on the moment-to-moment experience. If they are distracted by thinking about how they should respond, daydreaming or thinking about other things not related to the conversation, they may not be able to notice the nonverbal cues being shown and understand the context of the message being conveyed.

In order to enhance one’s nonverbal communication, one must deal with their stress. Stress can lead a person to misinterpret other people and it also make them more inclined to convey confusing or negative nonverbal cues. Their emotional awareness or ability to identify their emotions and how they influence them can help them become better at nonverbal communication. It is also a requirement that they are able to determine other people’s emotions and feelings behind the signals that they send.

Emotional awareness can help them correctly interpret other people’s emotions and the unspoken messages they desire to convey. It can also create trust in their relationships when their words match their actions and body language. In addition, it enables a person to react in a manner that shows that they understand and care about the listener. Lastly, it can also help the individual identify if the relationship is providing their emotional needs. As a result, it helps them decide if they want to fix the relationship or move on from it.

If a person keeps focusing on the kind of nonverbal cues that they send and receive, their communication skills will continue to improve.

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