Non-Verbal Communications

Cite this article as:"Non-Verbal Communications," in The Business Professor, updated September 28, 2019, last accessed December 4, 2020,

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Categories of Nonverbal Communications

Meta communication – This takes place when messages are not expressed through words but are rather co-existent with a verbal message. This generally comprises of an implicating statement or a statement that invariably leads to an inference. For instance, if one states ‘don’t eat junk food’ it implies that the person in question is in the habit of eating junk foods.

Kinesic Message – A Kinesic message includes communication that is conducted without the use of words. The visual forms mainly include behaviors, movements, clothing, etc. while the vocal may include various accent, pronunciations, sound, change in the tonal quality of the voice, voice modulation, etc.

Understanding Non Verbal Messages

One can hardly turn a blind eye to the use of non-verbal messages. They are intrinsic in our day-to-day communication and how we process and analyze as well as share certain information.

The non-verbal messages may have different connotation for different people with different mindsets and it may also vary according to one’s culture. Sometimes, such messages may be used with some predefined motive and sometimes, they may be used unintentionally.

If there is no synergy between the verbal and non-verbal message, it can have a negative impact on the communication process. It may also affect the way an individual perceives such messages with their belief and value system.

Non-verbal messages are often more importance than verbal messages and may do more to demonstrate the sender’s motives, values, or belief system.

Non-verbal messages may be useful or dangerous based on the circumstances in which they are communicated.

Principles of Nonverbal Communication

Fluid – Nonverbal communication involves the entire body, the space it occupies and dominates, the time it interacts, and not only what is not said, but how it is not said. Nonverbal communication is always in motion, as long as we are, and is never the same twice. Nonverbal communication is irreversible. In a speech, nonverbal communication is continuous in the sense that it is always occurring, and because it is so fluid, it can be hard to determine where one nonverbal message starts and another stops.

Add to or Replace Verbal Communication – Intentional nonverbal communication can complement, repeat, replace, mask, or contradict what we say.

  • “Regulators” are nonverbal messages which control, maintain or discourage interaction.
  • “Affect displays” are nonverbal communication that express emotions or feelings.
  • “Adaptors” are displays of nonverbal communication that help you adapt to your environment and each context, helping you feel comfortable and secure. Adapters are of two types: Self-adapter and object-adapter. A self-adaptor involves you meeting your need for security, by playing with your hair for example, by adapting something about yourself in way for which it was not designed or for no apparent purpose. An object-adaptor involves the use of an object in a way for which it was not designed.

Universal – Every culture communicates with non-verbal methods.

Confusing and Contextual – Nonverbal messages that conflict with verbal communication can confuse the listener. As such, the non-verbal communication will vary based upon the context of the verbal communication.

Intentional or Unintentional – These types of communications can be conscious or unconscious. Shaking one’s head is an intentional signal. Crying can be unintentional.

Communicate Feelings and Attitudes – A smile indicate happiness; blushing shows embarrassment; crying shows sadness, pain, or fear.

Confidence – We believe nonverbal communication more than verbal communications. According to Miron Zuckerman, Bella DePaulo, and Robert Rosenthal, there are several behaviors people often display when they are being deceptive:

  • Reduction in eye contact while engaged in a conversation
  • Awkward pauses in conversation
  • Higher pitch in voice
  • Deliberate pronunciation and articulation of words
  • Increased delay in response time to a question
  • Increased body movements like changes in posture
  • Decreased smiling
  • Decreased rate of speech

Types of Nonverbal Communication

Space – We mean the space between objects and people. People from diverse cultures may have different normative space expectations.
proxemics, or the study of the human use of space and distance in communication. In The Hidden Dimension, he indicated there are two main aspects of space: territory and personal space. Hall drew on anthropology to address the concepts of dominance and submission, and noted that the more powerful person often claims more space. Territory is related to control – mark their space Territory means the space you claim as your own, are responsible for, or are willing to defend. personal space, or the “bubble” of space surrounding each individual. 4 Categories of space include:

  • Intimate,
  • Personal,
  • Social, and
  • Public Space

Time – Time varies by culture and normative expectations of adherence (or ignorance) of time. cIn social contexts, it often reveals social status and power. Chronemics is the study of how we refer to and perceive time. Tom Bruneau at Radford University has spent a lifetime investigating how time interacts in communication and culture. The expectations vary by context, and we often grow frustrated in a time-sensitive culture when the delivery does not match our expectations.

Physical Characteristics – Taller people get paid more. People prefer symmetrical faces (where both sides are equal) over asymmetrical faces (with unequal sides; like a crooked nose or having one eye or ear slightly higher than the other). We often make judgments about a person’s personality or behavior based on physical characteristics, and researchers are quick to note that those judgments are often inaccurate.

Body Movements – The study of body movements, called kinesics, is key to understanding nonverbal communication. Body movements that complement, repeat, regulate, or replace your verbal messages. Body movements can complement the verbal message by reinforcing the main idea. Your verbal and nonverbal messages reinforce each other.Body movements can also regulate conversations. Nodding your head to indicate that you are listening may encourage the customer to continue asking questions. Body movements also substitute or replace verbal messages. Ekman and Friesen found that facial features communicate to others our feelings, but our body movements often reveal how intensely we experience those feelings.

Touch – Touch in communication interaction is called haptics, William Seiler and MelissBeall identify five distinct types of touch:

  • Impersonal to Intimate,
  • Functional – Professional
  • Social-Polite
  • Friendship- Warmth
  • Love-Intimacy
  • Sexual-Arousal

Paralanguage – Paralanguage is the exception to the definition of nonverbal communication. Paralanguage involves verbal and nonverbal aspects of speech that influence meaning, including tone, intensity, pausing, and even silence. Pregnant pause, a silence between verbal messages that is full of meaning.

Artifacts – Artifacts are forms of decorative ornamentation that are chosen to represent self-concept. From tattoos, clothes to cars, watches, briefcases, purses, and even eyeglasses, what we choose to surround ourselves with communicates something about our sense of self. They may project gender, role or position, class or status, personality, and group membership or affiliation.

Environment – Environment involves the physical and psychological aspects of the communication context. The perception of one’s environment influences one’s reaction to it.

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