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Non-Verbal Communication

Does “communicate” only mean talking and having verbal conversations? Won’t anything beyond that be considered as a form of communication?

non-verbal communication

Do we remember the historic legendary mimes? Charlie Chaplin, Marcel Marceau, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton are all the same. Incomparable.

They are regarded for their peerless style of pantomime, moving audiences without uttering a single word. They are the kings of silent movies and were known to the world as “the master of silence.”

They create and perform original that incorporate their nonverbal communication skills such as facial expressions, hand gestures and body movements, etc.

They do not stop at the conceptual stuffing, but rather provoke the emotional thinking of the viewers. Thus, the best communication is the art of expressing one’s thoughts without restraint and staying tuned.

Additionally, Humans are highly sensitive beings and are constantly looking for novel sensory experiences to communicate more than anything. We use our senses to perceive and understand the world around us.

Highlights of Non-Verbal Communication

  • More accurate than what verbal information can contribute.
  • Every minute gesture and body movement matters.
  • Using different gestures can alone express our thoughts and emotions. Eg– When someone scrunches their forehead, it could mean that either they are thinking hard or fuming with anger.

What does non-verbal communication comprise?

The usage of non-verbal cues initiates from an early age. Babies use this medium of communication to express their emotions and needs due to their lack of language skills. By paying attention to subtle gestures, one can gain a lot of insight into the minds of others.

People constantly communicate through their bodily cues, a plethora of messages that they might hesitate to share verbally. Non-verbal cues have the power to expose the intention behind the spoken words. What may seem like a subtle gesture may have a deep-seated, well-thought-out purpose.

Role of non-verbal communication during conversations

1. Deep understanding: Non-verbal cues have the power to guide us in understanding a person, their needs, emotions, thoughts and feelings at a deeper level. When words and actions seem to contradict, their demeanor and bodily gestures can be confidently relied upon.

Although Peter assured him that things were fine, Zayn knew that every time Peter was stressed or anxious, he would fidget his fingers.

2. Reinforces a message: We tend to use heightened body movements and gestures when we prefer to stress a point or emphasize something.

For example, angry people, usually express themselves more non-verbally than through words.

3. Complements words: Sometimes when words can’t do justice to the emotions experienced, non-verbal communication can do its part. When people are engulfed in certain emotions, they may not muster words to express their feelings. In such instances, body language can be of immense help.

For example, it is easy to identify that someone is in deep remorse when they put their head down and cast down their eyes.

4. To discover the underlying truth: Mouth lies, the body doesn’t. Understanding the nuances of non-verbal communication can serve in identifying whether a person is truthful or not. This hack is especially used by crime agencies where officials have the strenuous task of sieving criminals out of innocent ones.

For example, a person who lies is more likely to avoid eye contact and have a stressed body posture when lying.

types of non-verbal communication

Types of non-verbal communication

1. Facial expressions: It make up most of our non-verbal communication. What one may hesitate to express verbally, could be exposed through expressions of the face. Facial expressions include a wink of the eye, dilation of the pupils, a smile, etc. This is a universally known way to identify the emotions and thoughts of people. Just by observing the face, it is easy to ascertain whether a person is happy, sad, angry, scared etc.

2. Body posture: The way a person holds their body can say a lot about their intentions. The sitting or standing posture, the subtle body movements, the hand positions and leg positions etc. are very defining during a conversation.

For example, when someone has a closed body posture that includes folding their legs or hands in front of their chest or crossing their legs over when sitting on a chair, this can indicate that the person is nervous or experiences social anxiety.

3. Gestures: It refers to the conscious or unconscious body movements during communication which can have an inner meaning. One of the most commonly used body gestures during any conversation is hand movements. People move their hands excessively when communicating. The nature of the movement would determine the hidden emotional meaning behind it. People usually move their hands when talking to emphasize a point. Sometimes people take their hands to their faces, and it could have a plethora of meanings.

A nervous person usually takes their hand unconsciously to their face as if they’re wiping something off the face or they touch their forehead and gently scratch it.

4. Vocal intonations: Extent of power that intonation holds is more than that of the words used during communication. Intonation refers to the vocal modulations when speaking. Each voice intonation communicates different emotions and intentions. The emphasis placed on some words over others can give a whole new meaning to the sentence.

For example, the sentence “I didn’t give him the pen” although seems to have only one meaning, based on the intonation, can give many different meanings to the sentence. “I didn’t give him the pen” and I didn’t give him the pen”.

The tone and the volume of the speech also play a key role during conversations. The volume of speech is always kept on a moderate pitch during general conversations. However, as emotions fluctuate, the volume of the speech has the propensity to go higher or lower.

For example, Shawn was watching two people conversing with each other. What seemed like a friendly interaction earlier was suddenly escalating as both the parties started raising their voices. Here, Shawn could predict the change like the conversation based on the tone and the volume of the people.

5. Proxemics: It refers to the physical closeness of a person. The amount of space a person prefers during a conversation also has a meaning to it. However, there are a few cultural factors in this concept that must be taken into consideration. In cultures such as Latin America and Arabia, physical proximity is considered normal, and they prefer to be physically close during interactions. However, the same behavior might deliver a different message in other cultures such as Asia.

For example, in a country like India, people wish each other by pressing both their hands together in front of their chest with a subtle bow. This is a sign of respect and reverence for the people they interact with. Generally, in many cultures, physical closeness would be perceived as either aggression or sexual interest.

On the other hand, too much of a distance would mean disinterest and hostility. However, a healthy amount of closeness from a known person or a seemingly harmless stranger can mean warmth and acceptance from them.

6. Silence: One of the loudest forms of communication could come in the form of silence. Silence can disclose a thousand words although it isn’t necessarily dependent on words. Stephen Robbins, in his book “Fundamentals of Organizational Behavior” beautifully gives the example of a Sherlock Holmes episode where Holmes solves a mystery with just the silence of a dog at night. This imparts how not just presence, but absence of things is also capable of conveying substantial messages.

During therapy sessions, silence can be favorable for the therapists to encourage disclosure from the clients. During interactions, silence can mean many things. It can mean agreement, or a subtle disagreement and it could also mean that the other person is contemplating, depending on the context and other cues.

7. Signals and signs: Every culture gives a home to a different set of signs and the cultural exclusivity of each sign is what segregates one culture from another. That may mean in one culture may not mean the same elsewhere.

signals and signs in communication

Although this picture seems like a man doing a harmless hand gesture, in a country like Peru this gesture is considered highly offensive and could be an indicator of the start of a fight.

non verbal communication signals and signs

Another interesting example is this picture of a person trying to cover his eyes. Normally, this would be perceived as a relatively casual gesture. However, in the Iranian culture, this gesture would mean showing the middle finger. What seems like a rather innocent gesture can get one in trouble depending upon the location.

8. Oculesics: It is the study of the communicative role of the eyes in non-verbal communication. This deals with four important aspects such as eye movements, gaze, eye contact and pupil dilation. People adopt different eye behaviors based on their moods, emotions and feelings.

For example, Rachel feared her school teacher. So, every time she met the teacher, she would avoid eye contact and her pupils would dilate every time her teacher comes forward to talk to her.

9. Chronemics: It is the study of the use of time in the context of communication. This deals with how people respond to time and how that communicates certain messages about them. Time can say a lot about someone, their status, level of patience, lifestyle, punctuality and also their interactions. Time can be an important determinant in understanding the nature of a relationship.

For example, when Martin invited Sam to watch a baseball match together, Sam put it down because he preferred spending more time with Regan as he valued his relationship with Regan more and wanted to nurture it. People do not mind spending more time, waiting for them, neglecting other priorities despite time constraints and many such instances when it comes to close ones.

10. Paralanguage: It refers to the associated parts of verbal communication such as tone, intonations, volume, pitch, manners of speaking etc. In many situations, words necessarily do not hold as much meaning as the tone in which it is said.

For example, Joseph can easily identify if his mom is angry with him or not just by the tone in which his mom addresses his name. When she’s calm, she calls him with softness in her voice and if she’s angry, the pitch of her tone raises.

11. Olfactics: This refers to the study of smell and its role in non-verbal communication. This involves scent, body odor, the usage of perfume and things like that. Of all species, humans are the most scented and they try to hide their scent the most because it is considered unpleasant. Sometimes the smell of a person can reveal a person’s status, power and profession etc.

Mark strongly believed that smelling good was important for him to feel confident and that it created a good impression about him in front of other fellow professionals. So, he always made sure he took a shower and wore his best perfume before his presentations.

12. Haptics: It refers to the use of touch during communication. Researcher Knapp proposes that touch is the most primitive form of communication. Many studies reveal the essence of touch in human growth; it shows that children who experienced more physical contact with parents and guardians grew healthier and with fewer deficits compared to their no-contact counterparts. Haptics varies concerning different cultures, age, sex and other variables.

There are contact cultures and non-contact that prefer and avoid touch during conversations. Western cultures prefer more contact and touch when interacting compared to Asian cultures where any form of touch during social interactions and in public places is frowned upon.

Observing such non-verbal cues during interactions can help us understand the thoughts and emotions of individuals. However, it isn’t fitting to say that just the mere observation of these cues will give us the whole insight into the minds of other people. Although they should be observed, high emphasis shouldn’t be placed on one or two signs as the reason behind those cues could be many other factors. Therefore, the contextual factors, psychological factors and the environment etc. must be contemplated and taken into consideration.

Non-verbal communication tools in daily life

Non-verbal communication means employing audio signs or visual signs to communicate a message without use of words.

Audio Signals as Communication Tools

Audio signals communicate messages. In the olden days, the entire community will retire for the day when the curfew tolls. The curfew is a signal given by the ringing of a bell that signaled the approach of the night.

Prayer time is communicated by the ringing of the bell in temples and churches. During the World war in major cities, dome-shaped bunkers were built. The blaring of a siren called the ARP (Air Raid Precaution) is a warning signal about an air raid or bombardment. It would convey the message to the people to take shelter in the bunkers.

The telephone bell, the calling bell, buzzers, alarms, and beating of drums are all audio signals that convey messages.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Audio Signal

They are easy to operate, quick to communicate and can reach a large section of the audience, scattered over a large area. But audio signs as non-verbal tools of communication have only a limited scope.

One signal only can be employed at a time. Supposing the closing bell of the school is rung by error earlier, there can be no corrective step. The children would have run home!

Visual Signs in Communication

Visual signs are employed as a substitute for verbal communication. Posters, drawings, and cartoons are all employed as substitutes for verbal communication since they arrest the attention. They carry a universally accepted meaning cut across linguistic barriers.

  • A picture of a burning cigarette with a red cross over it says no smoking.
  • A picture of a car/bike in a circle is stroked out and says no parking. Though no words are used, a simple signboard can easily convey messages.
  • An umbrella marked over a carton indicates that it should be kept in a dry place and not to be wet.
  • The visual sign of a wheelchair outside a toilet indicates that it is meant for physically disadvantaged people.
  • The traffic lights on roads and railway tracks, zebra crossing (pedestrian) and direction boards are some forms of visual signs conveying messages.

What kind of body language should be adopted during an interview?

During an interview, recruiters are intensely scrutinizing the candidates to assess if they precisely fit the role that they offer. Even before uttering a word, they’ve already made a certain assumption about the candidate. So what are the most important things to be remembered when attending an interview?

  • Always wear pastel-colored clothes as that reveals professionalism and neutrality.
  • Have a pleasant smile and use subtle hand gestures when you talk.
  • Do not cross your legs; instead, keep your legs straight and slightly apart.
  • Making eye contact is the most crucial part of interviews as that indicates confidence and boldness. Irrespective of the number of interviewers, it is important to meet every one of them in the eye.
  • Having a straight body posture and relaxed shoulders can give the idea that you’re in control.
  • Using the appropriate number of pauses is essential as nervous people tend to speak faster.

How do people make their impressions best via non-verbal communication?

Artefacts and appearance: Another most important way to create an impression is based on our appearance. People make quick assumptions about someone based on the way they appear. For example, a beggar doesn’t proclaim himself to be a beggar. But we may still identify one very easily. This is because of the way the beggar carries himself; be it his clothes, his unkempt hair or the other subtle yet significant details.

In non-verbal communication, artefacts include the clothes, jewelry, the kind of hairstyle one has, and personal adornments that people wear. This signifies a person’s status; this is especially true during interviews where interviewers make their first impression about a candidate based on how they carry themselves. Although words aren’t used to communicate the nature of a person, appearance clearly can.


Using non-verbal gestures can be a great way for various reasons like emphasizing your point, putting across a strong argument, complementing your verbal message, appearing confident and collected and so. But during some instances, this smart hack also has the potential to go wrong. The non-verbal cues we send across might convey the wrong meaning sometimes. Slouchy body posture, fidgeting and overuse of hand gestures might be perceived as rude, distant or offensive due to some of the negative cues we give out.

So next time may it be a personal or professional meeting, make sure you use the above mentioned hacks to appear confident and establish good rapport. Good luck!!

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Rik August 18, 2011, 2:11 am

    Although your model is correct for non verbal communications as a whole it does not take into consideration the merging of auditory and visual communication from a non visual perspective. In other words if a person is not able to see the person they are communicating with they are not necessary at a disadvantage. They can still use their minds eye to create a visual image of the body language for the other person. Think about the gesturing you do when you are speaking on the telephone. This is clearly heard in ones voice.

  • Kimora Santucci February 3, 2012, 4:13 pm

    Im thankful for the post.Really thank you! Cool.

  • Alyssa Friel February 7, 2012, 1:39 pm

    This is one awesome blog post.Thanks Again. Keep writing.

  • Bridget chiedza maponga April 11, 2013, 12:01 pm

    Thanx for the points.they helped a lot on ma assignment.

  • Joceline servina August 7, 2022, 3:51 pm

    Taking course of communication

  • Joceline servina August 7, 2022, 3:53 pm

    Communication topic very interesting to improve myself in everyday activities in nursing care.

  • Joceline servina August 7, 2022, 3:55 pm

    Will continue to the level best to make very good in communication topic

  • Joceline servina August 7, 2022, 3:57 pm

    Thank you. This will be good for me in every aspect of learning field.

  • Preston Crim August 22, 2022, 9:51 pm

    I never realized how much tone and/or body language influences a conversation. I enjoyed reading this and look forward to learning more about communication.

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