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Effective Communication Skills: Nonverbal Communication

Updated on October 14, 2012

What Is Non Verbal Communication?

Non verbal communication is all the gestures and facial movements, conscious or unconscious, that a person uses. Raised eyebrows, eye shifts to one side or another, crossed arms, and head nodding are all examples of nonverbal communication.

Nonverbal communication is often an unconscious expression. Even when you understand body language and facial gestures, it is difficult to fake what you are really thinking and feeling.

You read other people's body language all the time, even if you are not aware of it. It's how you know when a person is saying one thing but meaning another altogether. It's how you can sit in a waiting room or airport or mall and get an idea for people's personalities based on how they dress, move, or how close they are to one another.


Body Language Expert Jan Hargrave

Body Language for a Job Interview

Importance of Nonverbal Communication

Have you ever had an occasion where sending a message by email, instant message or text message just didn't feel sufficient? This may be due to the inability of those media to relate the nuances of personal messages because they lack what non verbal communication adds to a conversation.

Using those media, the speaker is also unable to see the listener, meaning the speaker can't always tell how his message was received -- again because nonverbal communication factors are absent.

Chances are you've written at least one text message or post in social media that you meant as harmless humor, but because no one can read the inflection in your voice or see you facial expression, the message was received as snarky. This likely wouldn't have happened if you were talking to someone in person.

A telephone call is a little better. Both parties can hear vocal clues to both the messages and the receipt of those messages.

But it's hard to beat face-to-face or audio-video communication to get the complete communication experience. Language experts estimate that 65 to 90 percent of communication is via non verbal communication.

How Good Are You at Reading Body Language?

Types of Non Verbal Communication

There are six major elements that comprise the total of nonverbal communication: Voice, eye contact, facial expression, touch, gestures and space.

Voice The inflection of your voice, its tone, volume -- even how fast or slow you speak -- all factor into how your message is received.

Eye Contact Are you glaring at the other person, casting your eyes downward as you speak, or looking at the other person with interest as the two of you interact?

Facial Expression Remember the seven basic emotions understood through facial expressions -- and consider how many other emotions can be read in someone's face.

Touch Touch isn't always involved in conversations, but when it's present, you can tell a lot from the type of touch and its delivery. If a friend greets you warmly with what she says, but hugs you like you're a wet fish, it might give you reason to doubt her sincerity. And we've all shaken hands with someone with a limp grip and felt a bit disconcerted afterwards.

Gestures Do you talk with your hands? Point at someone across the aisle? Show size with two fingers? Some gestures are conscious efforts on our part and others happen unconsciously; they all add to the "flavor" of our messages.

Space You can tell a lot about the relationship between two people by the amount of space between them. Good friends are closer in proximity to each other than are adversaries or strangers who are talking. Be careful not to invade the other person's personal space when communicating or you may send the wrong message.

Dr. David Matsumoto

Universal Nonverbal Communication

David Matsumoto, Ph.D., who, among other things is a professor of psychology at San Francisco State University and director of Humintell, has performed extensive research to determine what nonverbal cues are recognized universally.

What he and other experts in the field of interpersonal communications have found is that there are seven basic emotions that are shown by facial expression that are recognized the world over: anger, joy, sadness, disgust, fear, contempt and surprise.*

Matsumoto suggests that all humans are born with the knowledge of how to express these basic emotions. He has studied people who have been blind from birth, unable to learn the facial expressions by visualizing them, and has noted the use of the same facial expressions of these emotions as sighted individuals.

Almost all other nonverbal communication is unique to each culture. Consider the hand shake, the Western world's universal sign of introduction and greeting. In some Eastern cultures, such a gesture might be considered offensive because a bow from the waist is used in greeting there.

*http://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2011/05/facial-expressions.aspx

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    • missolive profile image

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      6 years ago from Texas

      Loved this topic! 'Reading' my students is something I have always made a point to do. I try to discern their body language, speech and writing. It has really come in handy when assessing their engagement, mood and understanding. There are many fascinating elements in this hub and it was certainly useful and thought provoking for me. Thanks so much and I'm glad I was able to stop by. Keep em' coming!

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      b.Malin, appreciate you stopping by. I didn't know that about nose rubbing. I was aware that people who touched their face or hair are self-conscious and/or unsure about themselves, so I can see where it would follow that touching your face/nose could indicate dishonesty.

      Thank you for SHARING.

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 

      6 years ago

      Body Language tells a lot about a person. Rubbing your nose after making a Comment has been proven to be a Lie or half truth...

      Wonderful Hub L.L. lots of useful Information. Thanks for sharing.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Alocsin, I agree with you that as we grow older we do take notice of more details, things such as body language and gestures to help us sort out lots of things, such as who to trust.

      Thanks for SHARING.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 

      6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      All this non-verbal stuff used to be a mystery to me until I got older and was able to associate certain actions with intentions. Voting this Up and Useful. SHARING.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      KrystalD, I appreciate your read and comment. I agree with you; so much communication today happens on the keyboard that people's ability to effectively communicate with one another in person.

      Thanks for SHARING.

    • KrystalD profile image

      Krystal 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles

      This is excellent! Non verbal communication is just as important as verbal communication. In today's society, I think we risk losing the skills to read and understand this kind of communication. Thank for sharing!

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      b.Malin, I appreciate the read and the comments. It is amazing how much there is to learn about nearly anything and everything, isn't it?

      Thanks for SHARING.

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 

      6 years ago

      Body Language is so Under rated. A very Educational, as well as Enjoyable read LLWoodard...Something for Everyone and Every Situation...and in the End the Eyes say it all. Thanks for Sharing.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Thanks, Biancaalice. You sound like you'd be a great person to have as a friend.

    • biancaalice profile image

      biancaalice 

      6 years ago from Southern California

      Personally I rarely feel awkward, I enjoy testing the limits and going beyond what we're taught the mind is limited to do. It was an enjoyable experiment and still tend to do it for fun. Make some people smile when you act unexpectedly.

      I share what I enjoy reading. Great work.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Biancaalice, I've heard of soc and psych classes doing these types of experiments. Did you feel at all awkward by breaking the norm?

      I appreciate your read and comment.

      Thank you for SHARING.

    • biancaalice profile image

      biancaalice 

      6 years ago from Southern California

      Oh this is so interesting. I totally agree with it too. People say so much with gestures. It reminds of when I took a psychology class and the main project was we had to breech a norm- a normal gesture we do, but are not taught (such as walking into an elevator then turning around to face forward). So to breech the norm I walked into the elevator and I never turned around, I just faced everyone. It was so funny the looks, even reactions I got when I did this several times. People love their personal space and don't like to be stared at.

      Voted up, intersting & shared.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Brett, I imagine you could write a great hub that would also be useful about acceptable customs in your neck of the woods.

      Thanks for SHARING.

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Tesol 

      6 years ago from Asia

      Sooo true, just look at the success of Mr Bean! lol. I also agree with the part about cultures, but is often overlooked by many when they travel. A simple thing like calling someone over, can be like summoning a dog in other cultures :-s.

      Thanks for SHARING.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      LadyLyell, body language is really intriguing. If you're looking for more information on the subject, check out David Matsumoto's site. He is an expert on the micro nuances of body language. It is fascinating.

      Thank you for the read and your comment.

    • LadyLyell profile image

      LadyLyell 

      6 years ago from George, South Africa

      I have always been interested in body language so your information further educated me on the subject.

      The eye's I've found are always the biggest give away to a persons inner thoughts.

      Very good research!

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