Communication involves not only the message being conveyed in the explicit meaning of the words, but it also refers to the non-verbal behaviours or implicit messages. These implicit messages may or may not always be intentional but often make up a major part in the message being conveyed.
These non-verbal communications may include gestures displayed through body language, facial expressions, the pitch, and tone of one’s voice, or even the physical distance between people talking.
All these non-verbal gestures are often more powerful and give a greater meaning than the words spoken, our verbal communication.
Non-verbal messages allow people to:
- Reinforce or modify what is said in words. For example, people may nod their heads vigorously when saying “Yes” to emphasise that they agree with the other person, but a shrug of the shoulders and a sad expression when saying “I’m fine thanks,” may imply that things are not really fine at all!
- Convey information about others emotional state.
- Define or reinforce the relationship between people.
- Provide feedback to the other person.
- Regulate the flow of communication, for example by signalling to others that they have finished speaking or wish to say something.
Here are some of the different ways we convey non-verbal communication:
Our Body Language
Our bodies speak volumes. In conversation, we are always sending signals to others via our body, whether we like it or not.
Displaying good eye contact is one very strong indicator that we are confident and telling the truth. On the other hand, if someone continually avoids making eye contact, it may be an indicator that he or she is not telling the truth or has something to hide.
How we raise our eyebrows or frown can show emotions and reactions without even speaking a single word. Holding our mouth in particular ways when we are speaking or listening is another nonverbal signal that can convey a message, maybe without us even realising we are doing this.
A smile is a great example of non-verbal communication. Generally, people who smile are happier than those who do not. You can appear happy even when you aren’t, simply by smiling and studies have shown that if you smile at someone, the other person is more likely to smile back, even if they did not initially intend to do so. You will discover that when you smile it not only communicates with others, but it also communicates with your own brain and over time can make you happier.
People who have studied the art of communication, often use extensive eye contact in presentations to carry their message to each person in the audience to help build trust.
Many people use their hands when they speak, some more than others. This can be a cultural characteristic handed down through the generations or people can learn to use their hands when communicating with others.
They may use it, either deliberately or by habit to:
- Emphasise the hugeness of something
- Make a point
- Court to emphasise the number of things
- Emphasise length and width
A firm handshake is usually interpreted as a sign of confidence and a soft handshake as being less confident. When someone’s handshake is too strong, it may indicate one person trying to be dominate over another.
Signs of non-verbal emotional responses
Being able to pick up non-verbal signals from other people is an important skill to have. A person may be feeling uncomfortable about the conversation or who he or she is talking to. Some of these signs might be:
- Clammy hands
- A sweaty brow
- Agitated body movement
Learn to watch for signs of tension and then adjust your approach if possible. Sometimes just taking one step back or ceasing a conversation about a particular topic may be all that it takes to ease a situation, make the other person feel more comfortable and for you to be a more effective communicator.
Some people use non-verbal signals to show sincerity and concern. Your body posture affects your emotions and how you feel determines your posture. If you are confident, happy and ready, your body will show it. On the other hand, your body will show your sadness, lack of confidence and insecurity, if you are feeling these emotions.
It is important to be aware that some physical touch can be misinterpreted. For example, a lingering touch on the shoulder, might be seen as invasive of personal space instead of the intended care and concern.
By regularly observing others when in conversation, we can use these non-verbal signals to manage what we say and how we react to others. This could be in a sales conversation, chit chat when in casual conversation or even in formal interviews.