What is Non Verbal Communication?

Posted by: Rose Tol, R&I Life Coaching, March 14, 2013;Non Verbal Communication in Relationships

Good communication is the foundation for any successful and healthy relationship, be it personal or professional. Most of us put the emphasis and focus on the words we speak or hear. We tend to forget that the 'unspoken', non verbal communication, speak often louder than the spoken words. According to various researchers, body language is thought to account for between 50 to 70 percent of all communication.

We communicate non verbally all of the time, even when we are silent. It is therefor important to be aware of how you do this and sharpen your ability to read others so you can hear and understand all of the communications spoken and unspoken. Understanding non verbal behaviors is an important part of our set of communication skills.

What is Non Verbal Communication

Non verbal communication is the process of communication through sending and receiving wordless (mostly visual) cues between people. These type of communications include body posture, body language, facial expressions, eye gaze and tone of voice.

Sometimes we give these cues in such a subtle way that it is hard to notice. Other times these cues and our body language speak louder than words. The more awareness you have about identifying the different types of non verbal communication the more adept you will become at connecting with other people and expressing what you really mean and understanding what is been spoken. It can avoid misunderstandings and safe time, as you pick up the 'real' communication that is going on.

Understanding Non Verbal Communication

Non verbal communication is going on all of the time. Especially when we interact with others, we send and receive non verbal messages and cues all of the time. Sometime what we say out of our mouths is something completely opposite as how we share our body language. In most cases, what is communicated in body language is uncensored and reflect the true feelings on the subject matter. So when you receive a mixed message, you will most likely trust the non verbal part of the communication.

People can tell from the way we speak, listen, move, look and react whether we speak the truth or not, whether we listen, whether we understand and if we care.

If the verbal and non verbal communication match up then your communication instills trust, clarity, connection and respect. When they do not match up they generate mistrust, confusion and tension.

Non Verbal Communication and it's Roles

Dr. Edward G. Wertheim, Ph.D. points out that non verbal communication can play 5 roles.

  • Repetition: they can repeat the message the person is making verbally.
  • Contradiction: they can contradict a message the individual is trying to convey.
  • Substitution: they can substitute for a verbal message. For example, a person's eyes can often convey a far more vivid message than words do.
  • Complementing: they may add to or complement a verbal message. A boss who pats a person on the back in addition to giving praise can increase the impact of the message.
  • Accenting: they may accent or underline a verbal message. Pounding the table, for example, can underline a message.

Understanding the different roles non verbal cues play can help sharpen your communication skills.

Types of Non Verbal Communication

Research has identified several different types of nonverbal communication. Sometimes we combine several types together. For example, we might combine a frown with crossed arms and unblinking eye gaze to indicate disapproval.

  1. Facial expressions: The human face is extremely expressive, able to express countless emotions without saying a word. And unlike some forms of nonverbal communication, facial expressions are universal. The facial expressions for happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust are the same across cultures. I personally have learned a lot about this subject by watching the TV Series: Lie to me. It is a great series to watch and learn about the power to read facial expressions.
  2. Your Voice: It is not about what you say, but how you say it. It is the space in between words, the loudness with which you speak, your tone and inflection that can communicate so much. The same sentence, because of the tone of voice can convey anger, sarcasm or affection and confidence.
  3. Gestures: Gestures are woven into the fabric of our daily lives. We wave, point, beckon, and use our hands when we’re arguing or speaking animatedly—expressing ourselves with gestures often without thinking. However, the meaning of gestures can be very different across cultures and regions, so it’s important to be careful to avoid misinterpretation.
  4. Body Language and Posture: The way you walk, you carry yourself and hold yourself communicates a wealth of information to the world around you. Imagine someone talking to you while they are staring at the ground or directly in your eyes. The difference in body language communicates a world of difference. Standing with  hands on the hips can be an indication that a person is ready and in control, or it can also possibly be a sign of aggressiveness. Crossed legs can indicate that a person is feeling closed off or in need of privacy.
  5. Eye Gaze: The eyes are the window to the soul. They can speak novels. Most people rely very much on their visual sense to determine what is going on. Eyes can speak. They can convey love, affection, trust, and also hostility or confusion. Emotions change the pupil size and the frequency of the blinking.
  6. Touch: Communicating through touch is another important nonverbal behavior.We communicate through touch in many different ways. We can communicate affection with a warm hug, a soft touch or a reassuring slap on the shoulder. We communicate insecurity with a weak handshake and control by holding someone with a firm grip on their arm.
  7. Personal Space: People often refer to their need for "personal space," which is also an important type of nonverbal communication. The amount of distance we need and the amount of space we perceive as belonging to us is influenced by a number of factors including social norms, situational factors, personality characteristics and level of familiarity. You can use physical space to communicate many different nonverbal messages, including signals of intimacy and affection, aggression or dominance.
  8. Appearance: The way we dress, style our hair, the colors we choose and other factors affecting appearance are also considered a means of nonverbal communication.There is nothing as a "good first impression" that says it all. Our appearance can create a space that is open for communication or a mind that is closed due to the judgments.

Tips for Effective Non Verbal Communication Skills

  1. Let Go of Any Self Absorption. The more we focus on ourselves, the less we are present with the other person and miss all the cues that are going on regarding non verbal communication. We get self absorbed when we want to deliver a communication perfect, we are getting triggered, we want to please somebody, get their attention, build a case or are defending ourselves. These are just a few examples where we are busy with our own agenda and are not present in the conversation. When we are not present, we miss most of the non verbal behaviors that are going on. 
  2. When Emotional You Need to Calm. If you have strong emotions or feelings coming up inside of you it might be wise to stop the conversation and resume on another time. When we are full of feelings we can get self absorbed and miss any non verbal cues around us. The more control and understanding you have of your own emotions the better you will be at sending accurate non verbal cues. This leads all to attaining emotional health.
  3. Become Self Aware. Ask your friends around you how they read you and perceive your body language most of the time. Ask them: How do I look like, act like when I am angry? embarrassed? I care? I lie? feel insecure? etc. etc. This can be a fun thing to do and you will learn so much from friends that are willing to share this with you. Also remember that verbal and nonverbal communication work together to convey a message. You can improve your spoken communication by using body language that reinforces and supports what you are saying. This can be especially useful when making presentations or when speaking to a large group of people.
  4. Dress as your True Self. It matters greatly what you wear and how you look like. Colors can greatly effect your mood and the mood of people staring at it. Have you ever noticed that when you wake up and you feel down, you grab clothes from your closet that match you feeling down and flat? When you feel alive and inspiring you grab something more colorful and alive and maybe even a bit sexy? Well your True Self is alive, passionate, loving, beautiful, open, colorful, caring, wild, sensual etc etc etc. So dress like it, appropriate for the occasion.
  5. Ask Questions. Whenever you notice that someone's words do not match their nonverbal behaviors, you should pay careful attention. Research has shown that when words fail to match up with nonverbal signals, people tend to ignore what has been said and focus instead on unspoken expressions of moods, thoughts, and emotions. This also is an excellent opportunity to ask for clarification. Share what you see and hear and ask for the person to elaborate. You can also repeat and ask like: "So what you are saying is that..."
  6. Eye Contact. Become aware of looking into people's eyes when you talk. Too little eye contact can be perceived as you are evading something or hiding and even possibly lying. Too much eye contact can be perceived as intimidating and confrontational. How can you tell how much eye contact is correct? Some communication experts recommend intervals of eye contact lasting four to five seconds.
  7. Consider context. When you are communicating with others, always consider the situation and the context in which the communication occurs. Some situations require more formal behaviors that might be interpreted very differently in any other setting.Different social groups and cultures have different values and non verbal behavioral cues.

Mastering your skills in non verbal communication is an overall important part of attaining emotional health and becoming a great communicator.


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