Spoken language is not the only way people communicate. Some of the most meaningful acts of communication occur soundlessly. By using facial expressions, gestures, posture, and movement, we make a wide variety of communications. Kisses, a smile, a wave, “say” something in body language.
There are ten different forms of nonverbal communication using body language:
Body contact. Some forms of body contact are aggressive, some are not. Aggressive behaviors include hitting, shoving, and pushing. People differ greatly in what is acceptable as nonaggressive body contact but it is most often experienced in greetings and farewells. Getting along with other people requires an understanding and appreciation of body contact behaviors.
Proximity. How close people stand to one another is easy to spot but not easy to interpret. People tend to stand closer to individuals they like and farther away from those they dislike if only by a few inches. Generally speaking, maladjusted individuals stand farther from others than do well-adjusted people.
Orientation. The angle at which people stand or sit in relation to others is another aspect of nonverbal communication. If people want to engage one another they tend to stand opposite each other. The friendliest and most cooperative encounters tend to occur in side-by-side positions.
Appearance. Clothes, grooming, and other aspects of appearance communicate information about social status, occupation, social group and so forth. Gender and age have extraordinary impact on the power of appearance to communicate.
Posture. The different ways in which people sit, stand, or recline may communicate friendly or hostile, or superior, or inferior messages. People may more easily control their facial expressions but posture can’t be rigidly controlled under ordinary circumstances, at least not for very long.
Head Nods. Head nods serve many functions. By nodding each time another person uses a specific word or gesture it become possible to get the person to increase the frequency of that word or gesture, for example. A head nod during a conversation may indicate when each person can speak. Rapid head nods signals that the “nodder” wants to speak.
Facial Expressions. Human facial expressions are similar across cultures and apparently are not learned. The eyebrow flash, when the eyebrows are raised very rapidly and kept maximally raised for about a sixth of a second, is a sign of greeting, recognition, and welcome. People tend to be able to control their expressions quite well and accompany their spoken words with appropriate expressions. Pupil size in eyes is not under people’s control and often provides clues to the impact of verbal communication.
Gestures. Gestures are very helpful in communicating. Hands, head, feet can be used expressively. Some gestures indicate general emotional arousal, whereas others convey more specific messages. Closely allied with speech, gestures may either emphasize a point or replace speech altogether.
Eye Contact. People look at each other about 25 to 75 percent of the time during conversation. Eye contact, when both people look at each other’s eyes, occurs less often than does looking at the other person’s face without meeting his or her eyes. Looking at another person indicates interest in what is being said, and people end to look at other people they like.
Nonverbal aspects of speech. Inflection and pitch are on the borderline between verbal and nonverbal communication. The way we say something, such as our tone of voice, and how loudly we speak, can alter the meaning of words. For example, take the words, “well done”, and think about what they can mean – spoken sincerely they indicate approval; spoken sarcastically, they indicate quite a different response. How we say something indicates whether we like or dislike the person we are speaking to.
Nonverbal communication may sound very complicated, and to an extent it is. Yet each one of us engages in it rather naturally. Perhaps if we agree to think about it and learn more about ourselves as nonverbal “speakers” we will communicate more accurately with each other.
Dr. Margaret Rappaport