Through understanding aspects of achieving effective nonverbal communication we can complete and clarify the information that we give to others and we can better capture and maintain the listener’s attention.
Nonverbal communication is a way of expressing ourselves through interacting with another person without using words, thus bolstering verbal communication. Even subconsciously, we use gestures, postures, movements, distance, smiles, sighs, yawns, etc. as well as more subtle aspects like linguistic errors, pauses and intonation to better express feelings and nuances.
Nonverbal language is partly innate, partly imitative and partly learned. Generally, different areas of the body work together to send the same message, though it is sometimes possible that these messages contradict each other.
The different types of universal nonverbal behaviours exhibited by human beings are evolutionarily parallel to other animal species—dominating stances and submission in face-to-face encounters between human beings are similar to ritual exhibitions of aggression and appeasement that establish and maintain hierarchies between other primates.
Nonverbal communication provides more than 65% of the information in a face-to-face conversation.
Albert Mehrabian’s research reveals that in a face-to-face conversation, nonverbal communication provides more than 65% of the information, while verbal language barely reaches 35%. Knowing the true meaning of the messages transmitted through body language is key to successful communication. Gestures can accentuate, substitute or contradict what is being expressed with words.
This is very important to keep in mind especially in the professional world. For example, we can use this during interviews or negotiation processes as it is a factor that can lead to success or failure.
The Role of Nonverbal Messages
Nonverbal messages have various uses:
- To emphasise the verbal message (consciously or subconsciously).
- To repeat the verbal message. For example, waving the hand after saying goodbye.
- To substitute the verbal message. For example, waving the hand to say goodbye.
- To demonstrate the recipient’s basic attitudes and regulate communication. For example, we can use nonverbal signals to demonstrate interest or irritation, to help us change the topic, to reinforce what is being said and to contradict or distort the verbal message. When this occurs, we are helping the interlocutor by adding to the nonverbal message.
General Characteristics of Nonverbal Communication:
- Generally, nonverbal communication has an interdependent relationship with verbal interaction.
- Frequently, nonverbal messages have more meaning than verbal messages.
- In any communicative situation, nonverbal communication is inevitable.
- In nonverbal messages, the expressive or emotive function predominates.
- Different cultures have different nonverbal systems.
Types of Nonverbal Communication
There are three types of nonverbal communication:
- Paralanguage is the group of nonverbal elements related to the voice. In other words, it refers to the way we say something as opposed to what we say. The inherent attributes of the human voice that make it unique are: tone, pitch and intensity. The nuances in the tone and pitch of the voice (gentleness, volume, nasal quality…) give clear information about the mood and the intention of the speaker. Thus, we know that the tone of voice reflects the emotional state. This can be observed in the way that excitement drowns the voice and makes the tone higher pitched.
- Proxemics refers to the way that two or more people use space in the communication process. In other words, this is the physical space or distance that the people involved maintain with those around them.
- Kinesics studies the meaning of body movements and the gestures used in communication. It is important to note that movements can be either intentional or not and that eye movement also falls under the kinesics category.
Keys for Effective Nonverbal Communication
1. Turn the smile into part of your regular repertoire.
In the beginning of a communicative relationship as well as in tense situations, the smile is a widely used tool. This is largely because when we smile, we produce a “mirror effect” in the other person. Thanks to this cause and effect, positive feelings emerge in both parties involved.
2. Show expression without overacting.
This involves holding the fingers together while gesturing, keeping the hands below chin-level and not crossing the arms or legs.
3. Using open gestures.
For example, exposing the hands, stretching out the arms and legs, opening the shoulders, not having objects like tables, folders or books between the people involved in the conversation and ensuring that the face is visible.
4. Use gestures to accompany discourse and facilitate comprehension.
For example, use gestures to indicate a measurement or distance, to signal directions or to describe rhythm. Count with the fingers to indicate the two ideas that will be presented.
5. Avoid nervous tics.
Avoid playing with pens, rings, hair, glasses, etc.
6. Support the conversation with head movements.
Use gestures of assent while speaking and tilt the head while listening. Keep the chin up.
7. Control eye contact.
Use eye contact when appropriate. Avoid it when it comes off as aggressive or makes the other person uncomfortable. Those who make eye contact seem more credible than those who do not.
8. Control posture during conversations while seated at a table.
It is not advisable to lean back or sink into the chair. Lean forward when listening and remain upright when speaking. Keep the arms on the table. Avoid clenching the fists and crossing the arms or legs.
9. Standing position.
Do not stay totally still, move naturally and change positions every once in a while. Never turn your back to the audience. Even if you are writing, do so laterally so that the audience is not looking at your back.
10. Control the distance from the speaker.
Approach the person if the situation is comfortable. If the other person steps back, do not move forward again.
11. Use the mirroring technique.
Subtly imitate the body language of the other person (facial expressions, gestures, posture, tone of voice, etc).
We hope that reading this post has made it easier to detect and apply the necessary keys for making nonverbal language a more powerful tool to help complete and enhance discourse. We encourage you to let us know what you think.