Nonverbal communication is so much more than body language, however. In this Article we focuses on the importance of non-verbal communication in our everyday lives, starting with a brief definition of nonverbal communication (and how it differs from verbal communication), The impact of nonverbal communication on our messages, How nonverbal and verbal messages interact, and the role nonverbal plays in interpersonal relationships To define nonverbal, it first makes sense to differentiate it from verbal communication. “Verbal” communication means communication with words. Those words could be spoken or written.
Nonverbal communication means everything but the words, including the tone of voice if you are using verbal communication. A more academic definition is “The exchange of information through non-linguistic means.” “Linguistic” means words. Therefore, nonverbal communication is communication without words. Think about it this way: The words that I am using are verbal communication, while everything else –my tone of voice, my eye contact, gestures, may appearance—are nonverbal communication.
If you were to see my notes (need a picture of my notes), they would be made up of both verbal communication (the words that are written-down) and nonverbal communication (my handwriting, any doodles I have). If when texting, you use emoticons either instead of words or as an embellishment to what you wrote, you are using nonverbal communication. Even what you are looking at on the screen–the colors, the font type of the text, the visual image of an orangutan scratching his head in frustration trying to figure all this out—all are examples of nonverbal communication.
Another quick example. Let’s say you were driving through Morocco, a country in North Africa. Unless you can read Arabic or French—which can’t—the words on these two freeway signs don’t make any sense. However, the images alone—the nonverbal communication—are sufficient to communicate the messages of don’t litter and don’t drive while sleepy. In 1967, Dr. Albert Mehrabian and his colleagues published a study claiming that only 7% of a message’s meaning is communicated by the words in the message—verbal communication—with the remaining 93% of the meaning coming from nonverbal communication: 38% from voice and 55% from what he called, “general body language.” Now this study has been questioned many times: Can we really say that, if you are relying solely on words, that you are missing 93%of the message? Other scholars suggest other percentages, ranging from 60% to 90% nonverbal.
Regardless, it’s undeniable that non-verbal communication has a huge impact on whether someone actually “gets” what we are communicating. To better understand this, let’s turn to how verbal and nonverbal messages interact with each other to provide meaning.
First—and this definitely supports the stronger impact of nonverbal communication—nonverbal messages can contradict verbal messages.
Secondly, nonverbal messages can substitute for verbal messages. Anyone who has ever received a single-digit salute from a driver knows that you don’t have to hear any words to know exactly what message is being communicated. When you can understand the meaning without the word—especially with a gesture like this—it’s called an “emblem.
Finally, nonverbal communication can regulate verbal communication—or the flow of conversation. It allows turn-taking. When your voice rises to ask a question, it communicates that it’s the other person’s turn to talk. Or we raise our palms to extend our “turn” and prevent someone else from speaking. A slightly different take on this, combining all of these concepts: If you were to go to a job interview and you wanted the interviewer to know that you were competent and knowledgeable, you could say it with your words, but if your non-verbal doesn’t support those words—you sound unsure, you’re not dressed professionally, and so on—the interviewer is likely to believe the contradictory nonverbal message. Or, you might not have to communicate it with your words if your nonverbal says it for you—your voice is confident, you have strong eye contact—in other words, you appear competent and knowledgeable. You could also use your nonverbal to support your verbal explanations. And, based upon your nonverbal messages, your interviewer could ask more questions… or cut the interview short.
Role Of Non-verbal Communication Interpersonal Relationships
Why are we concerned about the role non-verbal communication plays in interpersonal relationships? There are three main reasons:
First, we respond to and adapt to others through nonverbal messages. If your partner shows displeasure by raising his voice, you will likely respond nonverbally by, perhaps, raising your voice or, alternatively, withdrawing into yourself. If you smile at someone, you are likely to get a smile in return. And, nonverbal messages are usually more believable than verbal messages. When the verbal and the nonverbal messages contradict each other, we are more likely to believe the nonverbal message. You’ve probably heard that “Actions speak louder than words.” Why? There are a variety of reasons, one being that we think people have less control over their nonverbal communication. We think we can catch someone in a lie by paying more attention to their nonverbal communication than their verbal communication.
Secondly, there is a lack of instruction in non-verbal communication, meaning we don’t practice it as much. Think about the classes we take in school: We are required to take lots of language classes all the way through primary and secondary school, as well as in our colleges and universities. However, there is very little, if any, formal instruction available in nonverbal communication and, if there are any classes available, they are optional. So, we are taught to inform, persuade, and–to some degree–deceive with words, but we are not taught to do the same with our nonverbals.
A third reason is that nonverbal communication is the primary way we communicate feelings and attitudes. While we can omit any reference to our feelings in our word choice, it’s difficult to strip out the emotional dimension in our nonverbals. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say—and perhaps even you—“it’s not what he said, but how he said it.” It’s the nonverbals, then, that cause you to draw a particular interpretation: “I think he feels superior” or “Maybe he likes me.” Other reasons for paying attention to non-verbal communication relate to some of the challenges involved: Nonverbal messages are often ambiguous: they can be easily misinterpreted. If my father is crossing his arms across his chest, does that mean he’s close-minded, disapproving, or perhaps just cold? They are also culturally bound. That means one thing in one culture can mean something entirely different in another. For example, in the United States., we tend to nod our heads up and down to signify agreement, or “yes.” However, in both Bulgaria and Turkey, this same head nod actually means the opposite, “No.” Nonverbal cues are also continuous. When you speak a word, it’s over and done with. However, a glare can last a long time and the enticing aroma of perfume can linger.
Finally, remember that nonverbal message interpretation is learned—directly or indirectly, from others, and from the media. Remember that extended middle finger gesture talked about earlier? Many children inadvertently use their middle fingers to point something out—until they learn the meaning of that nonverbal gesture. Processing time! How would you define nonverbal communication? What is the impact of nonverbal communication on a message? Do you agree with Mehrabian’s findings of7% verbal, 38% vocalists, and 55% other body languages? If the verbal and the nonverbal message contradict each other, which would you believe and why? Management consultant Peter F. Druckard summed up the importance of nonverbal communication when he said, “People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude.” So, pay attention to the attitude you project with your nonverbal communication.