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Nonverbal Communication

Communication is the act or process of sending or receiving a message verbally or nonverbally. There are two types of communication, namely, verbal communication and nonverbal communication. Possessing good verbal and nonverbal communication skills is essential in all facets of life. Verbal communication consists of spoken and written words, while nonverbal communication consists of eye contact, appearance, space, facial expressions, body language, kinetics, and touch (Earley and Ang 174). Regardless of the intention, a message is always sent. The ability to read nonverbal communication and understand the meaning can help detect more than just the linguistic words that are being spoken.

Social Scientists believe that 93 percent of a message consists of nonverbal communication; and that only 7 percent consist of verbal communication. Other sources may argue that the percentage is less. Regardless of the exact percentage, the main point remains: nonverbal communication is the most used type of communication. Adler and Proctor explain this concept well in the book Looking Out, Looking In (Adler and Proctor 199-201).

Some nonverbal communication takes place through facial expressions. Regardless of culture, some facial expressions such as happiness, fear, anger, disgust, surprise, and sadness are universal (Ekman 213-220). Cultural differences can lead to misinterpretation of nonverbal communication such as the interpretations of hand gestures, body movements, appearance, touch, public display of affection, and eye contact (Ekman 256-261). In the book “The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work,” Carol Goman identifies this behavior. An example of this misinterpretation of nonverbal signals is how individuals in the United States, believe that direct eye contact is desirable, whereas in Japan or South Korea it is viewed as rude and intimidating (Goman 155).

Communication occurs continuously, even when no form of verbal communication takes place. Nonverbal communication can be more profound than verbal communication; but also much more misinterpreted. Consider the example of a Victoria’s Secret employee, who smiles as customers enter the store. One individual may take it as an employee doing her/his job, but another might take it as a sexual come-on.

One cliché phrase that seems to be repeated is “Actions speak louder than words.” While it may just seem cliché, it’s truly not. If a child’s reaction is antagonistic, pulls away and runs from an individual that he or she otherwise was friendly with just a few weeks ago; his or her actions would indicate that something must have gone wrong. Even if no words accompanied the shown actions, communication has taken place. Actions are not always intentional, but they can replace verbal communication and provide the viewer with additional information (Goman 155).

Body language is also known as kinetics. These movements such as adjusting, orientation, and gestures are key factors for detecting how one may feel at a particular moment or about a particular situation (Earley and Ang 174). Posture plays an important role in nonverbal communication. For example a person sitting in a meeting with their shoulders drawn forward may represent boredom or lack of interest.  Gestures are a way of life, regardless of culture (Ekman 259).

Gestures can be performed through movements of the hands, arms, and fingers. Crossing of the arms may be comfortable, but it would not be the best way to communicate. An elderly person might find crossing of the arms disrespectful and rude. This small gesture might make the difference between failure and success, especially in a serious conversation (Goman 161). Emblems are gestures such as a high-five, which they are deliberate nonverbal behavior. ‘High fiving’ at a game is acceptable, but if done at the office, it does not look very professional. Emphasis also has a huge part in gestures (Earley and Ang 174-175). You lightly and quickly hug someone out of respect, but tightly hug a good friend, a tight and long hug emphasizes that you are much more attached to the person you hugged.

Touching is one of the most significant and required nonverbal communication behaviors (Earley and Ang 238). Researchers have found that touch is significant for human survival, especially for children and the elderly. It helps with the development of IQ and social skills. Without any physical touch, children waste away emotionally and intellectually. Without touch, elderly individuals withdraw from social interaction and become less active affecting their overall health. Choosing the appropriate touch is essential. As stated in Navarro and Poynter’s “Louder Than Words: Take Your Career From Average to Exceptional With the Hidden Power of Nonverbal Intelligence,” the importance of distinguishing different levels of touching as a task of nonverbal intelligence, is to recognize and respect individual’s need for contact and distance (Navarro and Poynter 63).

Facial expressions are much more difficult to control and hide. Excitement shows almost immediately, as does disappointment. Facial expressions are not as easy to read or understand, as one may think. Facial expressions are displayed whether they were intended to be shown or not (Adler and Proctor 223). When you meet someone for the first time, the way you shake their hand and look them in the eye, says a lot about you and how you feel about meeting them. Simply saying the words “I love you” can make an individual feel special, but if a disappointed expression is displayed, it might say otherwise.  In the American culture, people are often taught to be polite and friendly but nice words are often associated with negative facial expressions or negative body language.

Proxemics is the study of space. Space does not seem to fit in with nonverbal communication, but space given during a conversation has five known meanings. Distance makes a big impact in relationships (Earley and Ang 176). In the book “Looking Out, Looking In,” Adler and Russell defined four distances that most Americans use on a daily basis (Adler and Russell 227). They mention that choosing the appropriate distance with the appropriate person at the appropriate time is very vital. If intimate distance was chosen for a work meeting, it would not look professional or appropriate. Distinguishing between intimate distance, personal distance, social distance, and the public distance is significant.

Appearance is also an important factor in nonverbal communication. Within the first ten seconds or so, an impression is formed based on overall appearance.  Either the recipient or the sender is perceived as liked or disliked (Ekman 259). An individual that is dressed up for a meeting make himself/herself appear as a successful, confident, and competent individual to do what is needed. On the other hand, wearing a wrinkled shirt or clothes that are not fitting for a meeting communicates incompetence and/or unfitting nature of the individual in that field. Many people have been able to negotiate contracts and/or sign deals because their appearance looked successful. An individual’s appearance can directly affect how they are perceived because it is a way of communicating nonverbally (Ekman 259).

Good nonverbal communication skills can have a big professional advantage in everyday life and at the workplace. Understanding and defining nonverbal communication can mean the difference between average and exceptional! The good thing about nonverbal communication is that it can be taught by observation and to the desire to understand this profound way of communication through expressions, body language, touching, space, appearance, and touch.