Nonverbal communication is

Nonverbal communication: what it is, examples, types, meaning

For most people, the main means of everyday communication is a speech. However, each of us is well aware that to understand a person when talking to him on the phone, sometimes it is more difficult than in a normal conversation. The reason is the lack of non-verbal interaction, because gestures and facial expressions are very important for understanding, but in a telephone conversation we do not see them. Today we will analyze in detail what nonverbal communication is, what forms it takes, what value it has, and how to learn to use it as effectively as possible.

What is nonverbal communication?

Non-verbal communication is the transfer of information through any channels of communication other than verbal (i.e. verbal). It can be gestures, facial expressions, changes in posture, intonation and manner of speech, the timbre of the voice or certain demonstrative actions. Depending on the topic of conversation, the ratio between the verbal and nonverbal components of communication can vary widely.

In general, during communication we convey information in two ways: verbal and nonverbal. For example, when one person says to another: “That’s the kind of fish I caught!”, he engages both channels. In words (verbal) he tells that he has caught a fish, and with his hands (non-verbal) he shows its size, that is, he supplements the information with important facts.

The term “verbal” is formed from the Latin word verbalis, which is translated as “verbal. It refers to information conveyed directly through spoken or written language. Accordingly, the term “non-verbal” is the antonym of the word and means the information transmitted in other ways.

Some researchers believe that in normal conversation, only 7% of information is communicated directly in words and sentences. Another 38% comes from intonation and tone of voice, and the remaining 55% comes from facial expressions and gestures. Of course, these values cannot be considered universal, because everything depends on the type of information. For example, a shopping list can be sent as a text message – it won’t become less informative. But returning from a vacation, to share impressions want only in a live dialogue and nothing else.

Ways of non-verbal communication

There are quite a few channels for nonverbal communication. And the more a person is involved in the conversation, the more he uses them. Most often such channels are used as:

  1. Facial expressions. Facial expressions are the most informative channel of nonverbal interaction, which allows us to convey many emotions, to express admiration or indignation, to show consent or rejection. We can demonstrate with one look that we are not satisfied with the person’s behavior, or we can wink, showing that we are at one with him.
  2. Gestures. As children we tend to use gestures to communicate as well as speech and facial expressions. Some are natural and look the same all over the world. Others are culturally dependent, but we get used to them and use them without thinking about their meaning. However, in different cultures, the same gestures can have opposite meanings. So when traveling to another country, it is a good idea to read up on cultural specifics. It is quite possible that a gesture that seems harmless and friendly to you will turn out to be vulgar, rude, or even hostile there.
  3. Gaze. Eye contact and gaze direction is one of the key channels of nonverbal communication. Subtle eye movements, wide-open eyelids, dilated pupils, or a raised eyebrow are signals that we pick up instantly, without even thinking about it. Sight can sometimes convey thoughts that are simply impossible to put into words.
  4. Posture. This channel conveys quite a lot of information which the person did not intend to communicate to the interlocutor. By his posture, his movements and the way he holds his head you can say a lot about his mood and self-esteem. A person’s posture always shows how comfortable and confident they are in the given situation.
  5. Touch. Social interaction between people involves some touching of the other person. Depending on the nature of the relationship it can be a handshake, a touch on the elbow, a pat on the shoulder or back, a friendly or close hug.
  6. Space. The distance to the interlocutor greatly affects the comfort of communication. Some people use proximity as a nonverbal signal, showing sympathy, affection, sexual interest, desire for dominance, or aggression.
  7. Voice. During communication we “play” with our voice, changing intonation and timbre, making meaningful pauses, speeding up or slowing down the rhythm of speech. Some of these things we do arbitrarily, and some of them escape our attention, but much tells the interlocutor about our experiences and even about our thoughts.

Many of these channels are skillfully used by members of the gop culture. These people have a good understanding of non-verbal communication and how it can be used. In addition, they have a naturally developed empathy. They can easily identify an insecure person by his slumped posture and slumped shoulders. Stopping him under an innocent pretext, they try to get closer, put their arm around his shoulder to show “friendly” intentions. With this gesture, they deliberately cause discomfort to the person, so that he quickly complied with their demands.

The importance of nonverbal communication

Non-verbal communication is an important addition to the main communication, allowing you to convey much more information to the interlocutor, increase mutual understanding and make any conversation more constructive. Psychologists name 5 main functions of nonverbal signals:

  • Duplication. Gesture, facial expressions or intonation of a person may repeat the main message, confirming it, making it more understandable and unambiguous.
  • Contradiction. Consciously or unconsciously, a person may show that he or she meant the opposite. For example, when talking about his or her intentions, he or she may conspiratorially wink.
  • Substitution of meaning. With eyes and facial expressions it is possible not only to supplement the meaning, but also to change it completely or show that a phrase is said in figurative meaning.
  • Addition to what is being said. Certain gestures can convey additional messages. For example, a person may say that he or she does not want to do something, and facial expressions to show that he or she is tired of it.
  • Reinforcement of meaning. Kind words can be emphasized by a benevolent smile, and an emotional statement can be emphasized by a punch on the table.

Mistakes in non-verbal communication

It is not necessary to know what nonverbal communication is to notice unconscious signals in the behavior of the interlocutor. But it is much more difficult to control yourself by avoiding unwanted gestures and facial expressions. Therefore, it is desirable to remember the basic mistakes and regularly remind yourself that they should not be repeated. Most often we are talking about such non-verbal signals as:

  1. Hidden palms. If a person hides his palms, it gives the impression that he is afraid of something or speaks insincerely. No, you don’t have to defiantly turn your palms toward the person you’re talking to. Just keep your hands visible, do not clench them into fists and do not hide them in pockets.
  2. Averted gaze. When the speaker averts his/her gaze, it gives the impression that he/she is not being sincere enough. Avert your eyes only if there is a reason for it. For example, if you are having dinner and chatting, there is nothing wrong with occasionally looking at your plate.
  3. Slumped posture, slumped shoulders. Usually look like this very tired or insecure people. Therefore, regardless of your state of health and mood, make sure that your back is always straight and your shoulders are straight.
  4. Invasion of another person’s personal space. The width of your comfort zone differs from person to person. For example, a person who grew up in the countryside, it is much wider than that of a city dweller. Always keep in mind that the person you are talking to may be uncomfortable if you get too close to him.
  5. Touching the face, ears, neck and hair. Touching different parts of the body often signals hidden worries. In addition, a constantly fidgeting person looks insecure. Try to always sit straight and calmly, and if you want to correct something, it’s better to do it openly (for example, by looking in the mirror), not stealthily.

How can I develop nonverbal communication skills?

Non-verbal communication is an important part of interpersonal interaction. A person who is good at noticing and correctly interpreting other people’s nonverbal signals understands any interlocutor much better. He sees how people react to his words, quickly notices attempts to manipulate himself. Equally useful is the ability to monitor one’s own non-verbal signals. A person who controls his facial expressions and gestures well always creates a pleasant impression.

Developing the ability to better notice and control your non-verbal cues is not difficult at all. It is enough to start looking more carefully at the people with whom you have to communicate. Try to notice every involuntary movement, allowing you to say something about the thoughts or feelings of the interlocutor. Pay attention to everything: facial expressions, eye movements, gestures, changes in posture, tone of voice, and posture.

Over time, this will turn into a fun game that allows you to make new discoveries almost every day. Your skills will improve every day. Gradually you will learn to notice certain non-verbal signals in your own behavior as well. This will allow you to prevent unwanted ones in time and to emphasize those that you consider to be correct.

Ways of non-verbal communication

To create a holistic image of the communication process, nonverbal (not verbal) modes of interaction between partners are taken into account. More than half of the data about a person can be obtained simply by observing their behavior, which means that first we see and hear the person, only then we have an idea about them. Scientists have discovered and recorded more than thousands of non-verbal signs and signals. A. Meyerabin found that words convey only 7% of information, sound means (including tone of voice, intonation of sound) – 38%, and non-verbal means – 55%.

Non-verbal communication is communication using paralinguistic ways of transmitting information (speech volume, tone of voice, gestures, facial expressions, postures). The main types of nonverbal communication are visual, acoustic, tactile, and olfactory (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. – Types of nonverbal means of communication

Nonverbal manifestations in communication

It raises an interesting question, but is it possible to cheat our own body? Actually, you can’t, because there will be no overlap between the gestures. For example, open palms indicate honesty, but if the deceiver opens his arms to you and smiles while telling a lie, his body micro-signals will reflect his secret thoughts. This can be manifested by constricted pupils, a raised eyebrow, crooked corners of the mouth. Such signals will contradict an open embrace and a broad smile.

The face is used many times more often than any other part of the body to hide false statements. A person smiles, nods his head, and winks to hide untruths, but unfortunately for the deceiver, the body uses signs that tell the true truth, and an observant person will quickly notice the discrepancy between the signals that count from the face and body and the words. Therefore, the study of facial expression can be called an art.

Specific socio-cultural conditions leave a mark on the non-verbal means of communication, so there are no general norms for all mankind. The nonverbal language of another country must be studied in the same way as the verbal language.

For example, in France the gesture “O’K” means “zero” or “nothing”, in Japan it means “money”, and in some countries of the Mediterranean basin it is used to denote a man’s homosexuality.

In America, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, the thumbs-up is used in three ways. Usually it is used when “voting” on the road. In the second, it is used as “all right,” but if the thumb is thrown up sharply, it is seen as an offensive sign, which means a profane swear word. Some countries, such as Greece, use the gesture to mean “shut up,” so you can imagine how a Russian tourist who is trying to catch a passing car on a Greek road would look.

The most common gestures

Let’s look at the gestures that are most common regardless of culture.


With a turn of the palm in different directions, a gesture can be given an overbearing, submissive, or equal meaning. During an imperious handshake, the hand should grasp the other person’s hand so that the palm is turned downward. In this way, it will be a message to the person that the opponent wants to be in charge in the process of communicating with him or her.

Putting your hands behind your back

Some people are accustomed to walking with their heads held high, their chins held high, and their hands behind their backs. This is an indicator of a person’s self-confidence and, in addition, a sense of superiority over others. The gesture of putting the hands behind the back and grasping the wrists means that the person is upset and is trying to pull himself/herself together.

Gestures of “lying.”

The rapid pace and order of some gestures depends on the age of the person. For example, when a five-year-old child tells an untruth to his parents, he will cover his mouth with his hands immediately afterwards. If an untruth is told by a teenager, he will cover his mouth with his hand about the same way as a five-year-old child, but only with his fingers he will lightly trace the lip line. When an adult lies, his brain sends an impulse to cover his mouth in order to delay the words of deception, as children do, but at the last moment the person takes his hand away from his mouth and touches his nose, rubs his eyelids, ears, and pulls back his collar.

Neck scratching

The scratching of the neck signifies doubt and uncertainty of the person who says, “I’m not sure I agree with you.”

Crossing the arms across the chest

Hands in a lock on the chest indicates a desire to hide from an unfavorable situation. Crossing the arms is a universal gesture that signifies a person’s defensive or negative state in almost all situations.

The most effective way to get a person to open their arms is to offer to take any object, when taking it, the person will extend their arms forward. In this way, he will assume a more open position and his state may change.

But in a situation where the person not only crosses his arms across his chest, but clenches his fingers into a fist, it is a sign of his hostility and offensive stance. And if the hands of the crossed arms are on the upper arm, it signals that the person is holding back negative feelings.

Crossing the legs.

Putting the leg over the leg can signify an agitated state, a restrained or defensive stance. When placing the leg over the leg with the formation of an angle, it shows that there is rivalry and contradiction. This pose is popular with men who have a combative nature. A man who has quick reactions, who finds it very difficult to change his point of view in an argument, more often sits with his foot on his leg and his arms around his leg. This means that in front of you a hard, stubborn person who requires a special approach to find a common language.


Smoking a cigarette is a way in which one suppresses the inner tension that allows one to procrastinate before making a decision. In doing so, people tap and wave their cigarette, indicating that the person is experiencing tension. If a person frequently flicks the ash off the end of his cigarette, he has high internal tension and may need to be appeased. When a smoker lights up a cigarette but immediately puts it out before it has even reached its normal length, it signals a desire to end the conversation.

Thus, the briefly analyzed features of nonverbal communication indicate that they occupy an important role in the process of communication. Together with the verbal system of communication through them there is an exchange of information that people need to organize joint activities and other forms of interaction.

Main conclusions

Communication is the exchange of information between people, the main purpose of which is represented by the development of common meaning, a common point of view and agreement in different situations or problems.

Communication barriers are psychological obstacles to the proper transmission of information from one communication partner to another. Communication barriers are of three types: understanding, socio-cultural differences and attitudes.

Verbal communication is characterized by the use of human speech as a sign system, which is the most universal means of communication. With the help of speech information is encoded and decoded. An indispensable tool in this process is feedback, which is represented by messages sent by a person in response to messages from another.

Feedback can be:

  • non-judgmental, which clarifies information in order to obtain additional information;
  • Negative which contains criticism or correction;
  • positive, which contains approval or support.

The psychological essence of the feedback process is the need for people to develop a common sign system and the same understanding of the issues discussed during communication.

The totality of certain measures that are aimed at increasing the effectiveness of speech impact is called persuasive communication.

Speech activity is the activity of communication between people through language and speech. According to the degree of direction, there are external and internal speech. Internal speech occurs silently, as hidden thinking in verbal form, thinking to oneself and for oneself. External verbal speech is divided into monologic and dialogic.

Non-verbal communication is a type of communication that uses para-linguistic means of conveying information (speech volume, timbre of voice, gestures, facial expressions, poses). The main types of non-verbal communication are visual, acoustic, tactile and olfactory.

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