Why is our nonverbal communication so important?

Studies show that when we communicate with each other, approximately 65% of the message is used through nonverbal communication and only 35% using verbal communication. The 35% verbal communication comprises of the accent we use, verbal quality, emphasis, voice projection, pace, expression, pitch and volume but only a small portion is the actual words we speak.

The nonverbal, and the more significant part of our communication is from our body language, the part that helps others identify our emotions, attitude, status and maybe even our lifestyle.

This is often referred to as us using our ‘gut feeling’.


The way we look, listen, move and react can tell the other person many things:

  • If you are telling the truth
  • If you care about them or not
  • How well you are listening
  • If they can trust you. If your words disagree with the tone of voice and nonverbal behaviour, people tend to believe the tonality and nonverbal behaviour rather than the words spoken. This can cause mistrust, tension and confusion about your message. On the other hand, if your nonverbal signals match your words, this helps to increase trust, clarity and further develop rapport.


What are some of the nonverbal types of communication?


Facial Expressions- the more common forms of facial expressions are happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust and these are very similar across cultures. Our facial expressions can convey any of these emotions and more, without even say a single word.


Gestures- we use gestures in almost every type of communication and we do not always realise we are doing this. Some gestures include pointing, shrugging, nodding, waving and many other hand movements. We do need to be careful as many gestures are not universal across cultures, where in one culture, it may be acceptable to use a particular gesture, in another culture it could be rude or offensive.

Eye Contact- the expression we show in our eyes is very powerful. Whether this is anger, interest, affection, disappointment, hostility or attraction, our eyes can communicate these feelings without saying a word and sometimes without even meaning to show them to others.

Touch- a simple touch on the arm, a warm long hug, a controlling grip on the arm, a weak or firm handshake or a patronising pat on the head are all ways that messages can be shared.

Body Movement & Posture- we perceive people in different ways just by the way they walk, hold their head, sit or stand.

Voice- this is not about what you say but rather how you say things. How loud or soft you speak, the pauses in between words and most certainly the tone of your voice. Your tone can communicate anger, confidence, excitement, sarcasm or affection.

Physical Space- different people have a different tolerance of their personal space being violated. These differences can depend on culture, the current situation, past events in a person’s life and the closeness of the relationship. Often people use physical space to communicate particular nonverbal messages such as anger, dominance and intimacy.


People’s Nonverbal communication can play any one or more of these five roles:

  1. Accentuate- the nonverbal communication can put more emphasis on the verbal message. Pointing or thumping the table can show the importance of the message
  2. Complement- it can certainly complement or ‘add to’ to the message being told. A touch on the arm can complement the words of support
  3. Contradict-if what you are saying and what your body language is ‘saying’ then it contradicts the message and often the listener may get the feeling that you are not telling the truth.
  4. Strengthen or repeat- having the words and the body language ‘saying’ the same message, it strengthens the validity of the message.
  5. Substitute- a body gesture or facial expression can substitute the verbal communication and often conveys a far more vivid message


Why is nonverbal communication so important when we are networking and when doing business?

Given the importance of body language and nonverbal communication, it is important to be attentive to your actions in networking situations.


  • Allow at least 40 or 50 cm of personal space around every person with whom you speak. Some people are very sensitive to this, especially with people from the country or ones who like space.
  • Be careful who you cuddle and kiss in a networking and work environment. Some, in fact quite a few people, are challenged with this unless they have a close relationship with someone. Some people feel that they can be closer but may not take into account how the other person feels about this. Many people do not wish to be touched by people they do not really know. Take care in this area.
  • Don’t slouch but rather try to keep standing up straight giving an image of confidence.
  • Smile and do this especially when you are speaking on the phone and want to give a friendly impression or make a sale. A smile puts energy, enthusiasm and a sense of purpose into the voice.
  • Keep good eye contact without staring
  • Don’t cross your arms (difficult sometimes when it is cold)- this is an unfriendly signal especially when sitting listening to speakers and in a groups situation where we may be more likely to do this.
  • Observe the reactions of others to notice how others are reacting with you. You may be showing conflicting, confusing or negative nonverbal signals and you may not even realise this. If this happens, there may be a lack of connection and trust in a relationship moving forward.

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