Non Verbal Communication

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Body language and tonality may be more accurate indicators of meaning and emotions than the words themselves.

What does this “7% Rule” really mean? (By Philip Yaffe) 

  • In the 1960s Professor Albert Mehrabian and colleagues at the University of California, conducted studies into human communication patterns. Hence, the myth that communication is only 7 percent verbal and 93 percent non-verbal was born.
  • The fact is Professor Mehrabian’s research had nothing to do with giving speeches, because it was based on the information that could be conveyed in a single word.
  • Professor Mehrabian combined the statistical results of the studies and came up with the now famous—and famously misused—rule that communication is only 7 percent verbal and 93 percent non-verbal. The non-verbal component was made up of body language (55 percent) and tone of voice (38 percent).
  • Professor Mehrabian’s conclusion was that for inconsistent or contradictory communications, body language and tonality may be more accurate indicators of meaning and emotions than the words themselves.

What is body language?

Body language is the use of physical behavior, expressions, and mannerisms to communicate nonverbally, often done instinctively rather than consciously.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, when you interact with others, you’re continuously giving and receiving wordless signals. All of your nonverbal behaviors—the gestures you make, your posture, your tone of voice, how much eye contact you make—send strong messages. These messages don’t stop when you stop speaking either. Even when you’re silent, you’re still communicating nonverbally.

In some instances, what comes out of your mouth and what you communicate through your body language may be two totally different things. If you say one thing, but your body language says something else, your listener will likely feel that you’re being dishonest.

Nonverbal communication can play five roles

  • Repetition: It repeats and often strengthens the message you’re making verbally.
  • Contradiction: It can contradict the message you’re trying to convey, thus indicating to your listener that you may not be telling the truth.
  • Substitution: It can substitute for a verbal message. For example, your facial expression often conveys a far more vivid message than words ever can.
  • Complementing: It may add to or complement your verbal message. As a boss, if you pat an employee on the back in addition to giving praise, it can increase the impact of your message.
  • Accenting: It may accent or underline a verbal message. Pounding the table, for example, can underline the importance of your message.

Examples of Nonverbal Communication in the Workplace (by Dustin Smith)

“Imagine your co-worker storms into her office after lunch. She’s red-faced, tight-lipped and speaks to no one. She throws her briefcase on the desk, plops down in her chair and glares out the window. You ask, ‘Are you all right?’ She snaps back in an angry tone, ‘I’m fine!’ Which message do you believe: Her nonverbal signals (behavior and voice tone), or her verbal one (words alone)? Most likely, you believe the nonverbal message,” says Darlene Price. Studies show that when messages are mismatched, most recipients will believe the nonverbal message over the spoken words. That’s why being aware of nonverbal cues, especially in the workplace, is so important to effectively communicate with your colleagues, partners and clients. You need to be able to pick up on certain nonverbal cues and mannerisms in the workplace for effective communication.

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    Facial Expressions (By kendra cherry)

    Facial expressions are responsible for a huge proportion of nonverbal communication. Consider how much information can be conveyed with a smile or a frown. The look on a person’s face is often the first thing we see, even before we hear what they have to say.

    While nonverbal communication and behavior can vary dramatically between cultures, the facial expressions for happiness, sadness, anger, and fear are similar throughout the world.

    • Gestures: Deliberate movements and signals are an important way to communicate meaning without words. Common gestures include waving, pointing, and using fingers to indicate numeric amounts.
    • Paralinguistics: Consider the powerful effect that tone of voice can have on the meaning of a sentence. When said in a strong tone of voice, listeners might interpret approval and enthusiasm.
    • Body Language and Posture:  Posture and movement can also convey a great deal of information. Research on body language has grown significantly since the 1970s, but popular media have focused on the over-interpretation of defensive postures, arm-crossing, and leg-crossing, especially after publishing Julius Fast’s book Body Language.
    • Proxemics: The amount of distance we need and the amount of space we perceive as belonging to us is influenced by a number of factors including social norms, cultural expectations, situational factors, personality characteristics, and level of familiarity.
    • Eye Gaze: The eyes play an important role in nonverbal communication and such things as looking, staring and blinking are important nonverbal behaviors. When people encounter people or things that they like, the rate of blinking increases and pupils dilate.
    • Haptics: Communicating through touch is another important nonverbal behavior. There has been a substantial amount of research on the importance of touch in infancy and early childhood. Women tend to use touch to convey care, concern, and nurturance. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to use touch to assert power or control over others.
    • Appearance: Our choice of color, clothing, hairstyles, and other factors affecting appearance are also considered a means of nonverbal communication.
    • Artifacts: Objects and images are also tools that can be used to communicate nonverbally. On an online forum, for example, you might select an avatar to represent your identity online and to communicate information about who you are and the things you like.

    Nonverbal Communication: How Body Language & Nonverbal Cues Are Key (By Dustin Smith)

    Vocal Tone

    Speaking style, pitch, rate and volume all contribute to understanding the speaker. Changes in vocal tone during a conversation are also a noticeable nonverbal cue that contributes to your understanding of the person speaking.


    Are you shaking your knee, biting your nails or playing with your pen very noticeably as someone else talks in a meeting? This may express to the speaker you are bored or nervous or are disinterested.  According to Jim Blythe, fidgeting is a displacement behavior and external release for whatever you are feeling within.

    Head movements

    Head movements are especially rich conveyors of communication and one of the easiest nonverbal cues to understand. Certain head movements tend to be culture-specific, such as nodding in agreement for within western cultures. Conversely, if meeting participants are actively nodding their heads in a “yes” manner, it is a good indication they are engaged and understand what you’re trying to communicate.

    Hand gestures

    Hand gestures punctuate the spoken word and can offer useful context about both the speaker and what they are saying. Sometimes hand gestures give clues to the speaker’s emotional state. Trembling hands could mean the person is anxious or lying. Animated, grand hand gestures could indicate the person is excited or passionate about what she is discussing.  Other times hand gestures give literal meaning to the spoken words. Your boss may give you very detailed verbal instructions about a task with added hand gestures to reinforce his spoken words.

    Body posture

    Body posture can be used to determine a participant’s degree of attention or involvement during a conversation.  Bad posture, like slouching, may indicate the listener is bored or uninterested in the conversation. In contrast, if the person you’re speaking to is standing or sitting still, upright and leaning forward, they are signaling that they are focused, attentive and engaged in the conversation. Body posture can also give hints about personality characteristics, such as whether a person is confident, happy, friendly or submissive.

    Physical distance

    Physical distance between people can set the tone for the conversation. An employee who comes extremely close to speak with you while you’re seated at your desk may indicate they have something confidential to say. Other times, getting extremely close or touching someone as you speak could be considered intrusive or even hostile. However, physical distance can be misleading since different cultures require different amounts of physical distance for communicating in the workplace.

    Using Non-Verbal Communication 

    Non-verbal communication helps 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.
    • Convey information about their emotional state: Your facial expression, your tone of voice, and your body language can often tell people exactly how you feel.
    • Define or reinforce the relationship between people: If you have ever watched a couple sitting talking, you may have noticed that they tend hold their hands in similar positions, they smile at the same time, and they turn to face each other more fully. These movements reinforce their relationship.
    • Provide feedback to the other person: Smiles and nods tell someone that you are listening and that you agree with what they are saying.

    6 Tips to Perfect Your Nonverbal Communication for Video Calls (By Dustin Smith)

    • Remember you’re being watched: When on a video call, it’s easy to forget that someone else is on the other end seeing everything from your camera. Without realizing it, your nonverbal communication is amplified on screen to everyone in the meeting room.
    • Be mindful of your body language: Being present and engaged during video conference calls allows you to notice subconscious body language like leaning, slouching or stretching. Even if you are not the presenter during the video call, it’s important to be aware of your body language and what it is saying to the speaker and meeting participants.
    • Put your phone down: During a video call make sure your cell phone and other distracting devices are silenced and away from your line of sight. Even a single notification can draw your eyes away from the business at hand, making you appear to be distracted and uninterested.
    • Look into the camera: Maintain eye contact during the conference call by looking directly at the camera, not at your computer or TV screen, when you’re speaking.
    • Avoid excessive movements and dramatic hand gestures: During a conference call try to keep your body movements calm and relaxed. Avoid fidgeting with your pen, excessively shaking your legs or doing anything else that conveys nervousness or boredom. When speaking you can use your hands to gesture, but avoid being overly animated.
    • Be aware of your facial expressions: Unlike other forms of subtle nonverbal cues, the emotions shared through facial expressions are universal and are often the strongest nonverbal communicator during a conference call. In long meetings, especially if you are not presenting, it’s easy to let your face frown or look bored without realizing it.

    Nonverbal Communication and Body Language – Help Guide

    Learning the Language:

    • Many popular books on non-verbal communication present the topic as if it were a language that can be learned, the implication being that if the meaning of every nod, eye movement, and gesture were known, the real feelings and intentions of a person would be understood.
    • Unfortunately interpreting non-verbal communication is not that simple. Non-verbal communication is not a language with a fixed meaning. It is influenced and driven by the context in which it occurs. This includes both the place and the people concerned, as well as the culture.
    • Interpersonal communication is further complicated because it is usually not possible to interpret a gesture or expression accurately on its own. Non-verbal communication consists of a complete package of expressions, hand and eye movements, postures, and gestures which should be interpreted along with speech.

    The Cultural Context

    • The good news is that most of us learn to interpret non-verbal communication as we grow up and develop. This can make it harder to interpret consciously. However, if you stop thinking about it, you will probably find that you have a very good idea of what someone meant. The bad news is that non-verbal communication can be very culture-specific.

    Examples of culture-specific non-verbal communication:

    • The popular stereotype of Italians, involving big gestures, lots of hand-waving, and plenty of loud and excited shouting, may be a stereotype, but it exists for a reason. In the Italian culture, excitement is shown a lot more obviously than in the UK, for example. Non-verbal communication tends to be a lot more obvious.
    • The thumbs-up gesture, which generally signals approval in English-speaking countries, is considered offensive in other countries, including apparently Greece, Italy and some parts of the Middle East.

    Can nonverbal communication be faked?

    • There are many books and websites that offer advice on how to use body language to your advantage. For example, they may instruct you on how to sit a certain way, steeple your fingers, or shake hands in order to appear confident or assert dominance. But the truth is that such tricks aren’t likely to work. That’s because you can’t control all of the signals you’re constantly sending about what you’re really thinking and feeling.
    • However, that doesn’t mean that you have no control over your nonverbal cues. For example, if you disagree with or dislike what someone’s saying, you may use negative body language to rebuff the person’s message, such as crossing your arms, avoiding eye contact, or tapping your feet.

    How to improve nonverbal communication

    • Learn to manage stress in the moment: Stress compromises your ability to communicate. When you’re stressed out, you’re more likely to misread other people, send confusing or off-putting nonverbal signals, and lapse into unhealthy knee-jerk patterns of behavior. And remember: emotions are contagious. If you are upset, it is very likely to make others upset, thus making a bad situation worse.
    • Develop your emotional awareness: In order to send accurate nonverbal cues, you need to be aware of your emotions and how they influence you. You also need to be able to recognize the emotions of others and the true feelings behind the cues they are sending. This is where emotional awareness comes in.

    How to read body language

    • Pay attention to inconsistencies.Nonverbal communication should reinforce what is being said. Is the person saying one thing, but their body language conveying something else? For example, are they telling you “yes” while shaking their head no?
    • Look at nonverbal communication signals as a group.Don’t read too much into a single gesture or nonverbal cue. Consider all of the nonverbal signals you are receiving, from eye contact to tone of voice and body language. Taken together, are their nonverbal cues consistent—or inconsistent—with what their words are saying?
    • Trust your instincts.Don’t dismiss your gut feelings. If you get the sense that someone isn’t being honest or that something isn’t adding up, you may be picking up on a mismatch between verbal and nonverbal cues.

    Evaluating nonverbal signals

    • Eye contact– Is the person making eye contact? If so, is it overly intense or just right?
    • Facial expression– What is their face showing? Is it masklike and unexpressive, or filled with interest?
    • Tone of voice– Does the person’s voice project warmth, confidence, and interest, or is it strained and blocked?
    • Posture and gesture– Is their body relaxed or stiff and immobile? Are their shoulders tense and raised, or relaxed?
    • Touch– Is there any physical contact? Does it make you feel uncomfortable?
    • Intensity– Does the person seem flat, cool, and disinterested, or over-the-top and melodramatic?
    • Timing and place– Is there an easy flow of information back and forth?
    • Sounds– Do you hear sounds that indicate interest from the person?


    • Nonverbal Communication: How Body Language & Nonverbal Cues Are Key – Dustin Smith
    • The 7% Rule: Fact, Fiction, or Misunderstanding – Philip Yaffe
    • Non-Verbal CommunicationSkill You Need
    • Nonverbal Communication and Body Language – Help Guide
    • Types of Nonverbal Communicationkendra cherry

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