Every time we verbally give a message to someone, we also impact a non-verbal message. Besides words in oral or written form, message can be transmitted without using words which includes body movements, posture and gestures. Body movements are strong indicators of how you feel. Leaning forward usually conveys a positive attitude towards the other person, while leaning backwards could be interpreted negatively. Posture also communicates a great deal of information about you. The way you sit, stand, slump or slouch provides information about your sex, status, self-image, attitudes and emotional state. Slouching or sitting with your head in your hands often indicates that you are feeling low, whereas sitting with your feet on the desk may be interpreted by others as a sign of your feeling of superiority. Gestures are movements of hands, legs, arms and feet. People vary in the amount of gesturing they use. Hand gestures are commonly used to describe or emphasize a verbal description or to communicate attitudes. For example, in a conversation, crossing your arms generally conveys a less aggressive attitude than putting your hands on your hips. We lift one eyebrow for disbelief. We rub our noses for puzzlement. We clasp our arms to isolate ourselves or to protect ourselves. We shrug our shoulders for indifference, wink one eye for intimacy, tap our fingers for impatience, and slap our forehead for forgetfulness.
Characteristics/Features of Non-verbal Communication
Non-verbal Communication is instinctive in nature, that is, it indicates the attitude, instincts and feelings of the speaker.
Nonverbal communication is continuous, because one is constantly communicating through nonverbal behaviors.
Nonverbal communication is multi-channeled, since we use a variety of cues to make an interpretation. We perceive meaning from a combination of nonverbal behaviours including, posture, gestures, facial expressions, vocal pitch and rate and appearance.
4. Less conscious
Words are spoken after due thinking and with conscious effort. Depending on the situation we have to make conscious effort in our choice of words. The non-verbal part of communication, on the other hand, is less deliberate and conscious as most expressions and gestures are mostly unconsciously expressed, for the speaker too may not be aware of these signs.
Spoken and written words are obvious and easy to see, listen and understand, whereas, non-verbal communication is subtle, and needs skills to be understood and expressed.
6. Complimentary to verbal communication
Non-verbal communication does not stand alone on its own and neither does it completely substitute communication with words; rather it complements verbal communication and makes it more effective. As an example, when we watch a movie, dialogues are made more impressive by the way they are delivered, with the modulations in the voice, other gestures and signals.
7. Primary means of expression
We interpret how other feel based almost entirely on their non-verbal message. We are easily able to detect emotion like anger, frustration, sadness, or anxiety without people telling it because nonverbal cues are so powerful. Almost all our feeling can be expressed through our nonverbal behavior.
If you are in presence of someone else, your nonverbal messages are communicating. For example if someone yaws and stares off into the distance during a class or meeting, other might interpret this nonverbal message as a sign of boredom, another might see it as a sign of fatigue, yet another may view it as a message of disrespect.
A nonverbal message can be interpreted differently by different people based on culture, sex, gender and even context of situation. For example direct eye contact might be understood as disrespectful in some cultures while it might be disrespectful in some other culture.
Types of Non-verbal Communication
We use various types of non-verbal messages to communicate. These include the use of:
1. Use of body (kinesics)
2. Voice (vocalics/paralanguage)
3. Space (proxemics)
4. Time (chronemics)
Kinesics communication is the message conveyed through non-verbal acts in the form of body movements such as gestures, winking, smiling, posture, or style of dressing and grooming, which send out a message that supports or contradicts the verbal message.
Kinesics communication is also known as body language or body talk. It includes the entire non-verbal behaviour of the communicator. A non-verbal act is often subconscious. It trans-mits unstated feelings and attitudes and hidden intentions. Non-verbal signs offer clues to the receiver, and help the receiver understand and correctly perceive the total meaning of the message. It includes the following:
a) Facial expressions
b) Eye contact
d) Body shape and posture
Also known as vocalics is the voiced part of a spoken message that goes beyond the actual words. The study of paralanguage is known as paralinguistic, and was invented by George L. Trager. Six characteristics of paralanguage are :
f) Vocalized pauses
For example is someone angry or sad? Is someone asking a question or making a statement? This most basic understanding of what’s said to you can most often be provided by a person’s use of intonation, or the pitch and volume of spoken words. For instance, if the volume of your friend’s speech is decidedly low, then there’s a good chance he’s sad over something.
3. Space (proxemics)
Proxemics is the study of people’s use of interper¬sonal space. Personal space is a zone of space surrounding a person that is felt to “belong” to that person. Personal space is like an invisible bubble you carry around with you in your social interactions. The size of this mobile zone is related to your cultural background, social status, personality, age, and gender.
4. Time (chronemics)
Chronemics can be defined as “the interrelated observations and theories of man’s use of time” the way in which one perceives and values time, structures time, and reacts to time frames communication. Time perception plays a large role in the nonverbal communication process. Time perceptions include punctuality, willingness to wait, and interactions. The use of time can affect lifestyle, daily agendas, speed of speech, movements, and how long people are willing to listen. The way we use and structure time, can send intentional and unintentional messages about what we value and whom we consider to be important.
Time can be used as an indicator of status. For example, in most companies the boss can interrupt progress to hold an impromptu meeting in the middle of the work day, yet the average worker would have to make an appointment to see the boss. The way in which different cultures perceive time can influence communication as well.
Appearance is how we look to others and is one of the first things others notice and judge. Today, more than ever, people use clothing choices, body art, and other personal grooming to communicate who they are and what they stand for. For example when we meet someone, we are likely to for our first impression of them based on how they are dressed and groomed. Thus we can influence how others are likely to perceive us by our clothing and grooming choices.
Advantages of Non-verbal Communication
Non-verbal cues complement a verbal message by adding to its meaning. You can pat someone you offended at the back as you say sorry to him or her.
Non-verbal message may alternative for spoken message especially if it is obstructed by disturbance, disturbance, long-distance etc. for example gestures-finger to mouth to indicate the need for quite, face expressions- a nod instead of a yes.
3. Help to handicapped people
Non-verbal cues of communication greatly help in handicapped people especially to deaf people. Deaf people exchange message through the movements of hands, fingers, eyeball etc.
4. Less wastage of time
The message of non-verbal communication reached the receiver very fast. For this reason it reduces the wastage of valuable time of the communicator.
Often used to accent a verbal message. Verbal tone indicates the actual meaning of the specific words.
Disadvantages of Non-verbal Communication
1. Vague and imprecise
Non-verbal communication is quite vague and imprecise. Since in this communication, there is no use of words or language which expresses clear meaning to the receiver. Their meaning varies not only by culture and context but by the degree of intention.
2. Problem in Feedback
Nonverbal communication can produce different feedback if the receiver does not understand the message or misinterprets the meaning of the message. The situation may be further complicated if the sender and the receiver are from different culture.
3. Lack of Flexibility
Lack of flexibility is another important drawback of nonverbal communication. There is no scope of changing the meaning of message sent by nonverbal cues because here in most of the cases non-verbal cues disappear as soon as communication ends.
It is possible to stop talking in verbal communication, but it is generally not possible to stop nonverbal cues. Also, spoken language has a structure that makes it easier to tell when a subject has changed, for instance, or to analyze its grammar. Nonverbal does not lend itself to this kind of analysis.
5. Encoding and Decoding problem
Communication produces best result if the sender encodes the message considering the receiver and receiver decodes the message exactly as sent by the sender. But in nonverbal communication encoding and decoding may not be perfect if both the parties differ from cultural orientation and from cultural symbolism.
6. Absence of Permanent Record
Nonverbal communication lacks in permanent record of document if it is not recorded. Since it is not a word-based communication method, it does not produce any written message that can be kept as document. It is done instantly and inherently but not permanently.
7. Lack of formality
Non-verbal communication does not follow any rules, formality or structure like other communication. Most of the cases people unconsciously and habitually engaged in non-verbal communication by moving the various parts of the body.
8. Distortion of information
Since it uses gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, touch, sign, sound, paralanguage etc. for communicating with others, there is a great possibility in distortion of information in non-verbal communication.
Albert Mehrabian’s work on verbal and non-verbal communication in the 1960’s and early 1970’s is still considered a valid model today. He posed that the non-verbal aspects of communication such as tone of voice and non-verbal gestures communicate a great deal more than the words that are spoken. He also found that people are more likely to believe your non-verbal communication than your verbal communication if the two are contradictory. In other words, you are most believable and most effectively communicating when all three elements of the face-to-face communication are aligned with each other.