Non-verbal expressions compensate two-thirds of all communications between the sender and the receiver. Nonverbal communication can delineate a message both verbally and with the correct body signals. Nonverbal communication builds up a first impression. Sight makes up 83% of the impact on the brain of information from the senses during a visual presentation. Taste makes up 1%, Hearing makes up 11%, smell 3% and touch 2%. (Pease, 2004)
Facial expressions play a major role in non-verbal communication. The importance of it is significant, especially is we consider how much information can be conveyed through a smile or a frown. The non-verbal gestures often mean different things in different contexts or in different cultures. No gesture is absolutely universal although many are commonly recognized, at least throughout the same cultural context. The facial expressions on the other hand are similar around the world.
Gestures are deliberate movements and signals. In general there are “movements made by the body or some part of it”. Speech gestures are anything that can include shake of the head to waving and pointing. Other gestures are usually related to culture but also can constitute emotional contagion. This happens when conversation partners are sharing their feelings and interacting in empathetic ways (Knapp & Hall, 2010). In Brazil and in Denmark the American “Ok” hand sign is an unrefined gesture. The same sign in France signifies zero and in Japan money. An understanding of cultural differences and basic awareness of those differences when communicating with individuals from other cultures can enormously improve cross-cultural relationships and eliminate misunderstandings. (Glover, 1990)
Clothing is the one way for understanding an individual’s personality. It can reveal their background and financial status. An individual’s clothing style can demonstrate a person’s culture, mood, level of confidence, interests, age, authority, values and beliefs, and their sexual identity (Pease, 2004). A study that took place in Austria, about women’s clothing and their attendance to discothèques, showed that in certain groups of women (especially women who were without their partners), their dress was motivated by sexual attraction and manifest in their display of a certain amount of skin. (Demarais, 2004)
Moreover, paralanguage is an essential aspect of nonverbal communication. It refers to vocal communication that is separated from verbal language. Various acoustic properties such as tone, pitch, and accent, collectively known as prosody, can all give off nonverbal indications. The paralanguage can be divided in subcategories. The first is the voice set, which is the context in which the speaker is speaking. This can include the situation, mood, age and the person’s culture. Another aspect of paralanguage is voice quality. These are the volumes of the individuals tone, pitch, tempo, rhythm, and his accent (Trager, 1972).
Posture plays a major role in creating an impact on the audience. Posture has great significance while reading body language. Postulating is a general approach of adjusting and relating with various physical environments and social situations. The adoptions of common bodily postures identify signals that the interactants are open to and with one another. Furthermore posture tends to identify the perceptual differences among people and the relationship distances.
Proxemics analyzes the physical and psychological space between individuals in the process of interaction. Proxemics could be divided into the elements of territory and personal space (Segerstrale & Molnar, 1997). Territory refers to the general area in which the interaction occurs. Personal space on the other hand is the immediate space around a person. One of the most essential aspects of proxemics is haptics, which in other words means touch. Touch amplifies the interpersonal involvement, positive affect, social attachment, intimacy, and overall liking in a communication (Patterson, 2002). In many civilizations people tend to confederate positive feelings with the individual who touched them. Of course there are cultures that find touching disrespectful.
Physical appearance and especially attractiveness, provides a way of interacting also non-verbally. Physically attractive people are perceived as more persuasive, successful in changing attitudes. Also they are perceived to be warmer, more poised, and more socially skilled than less attractive people. As we analyzed above the way one dress is also an important element of physical appearance as a source of nonverbal interaction (Patterson, 2002). This happens because a person has much more control over his or her clothes, in contrast to the features of the face or the body size.
Eye contact is also very important for understanding nonverbal behaviours. That’s because it can indicate the individual’s degree of attention and interest. Moreover, it helps recognizing how much it can influence the change in attitude and persuasion. Eye contact regulates the interaction among people and defines power and status. At last it has a central role in managing impressions of others. Of course eye contact is something that mostly Western civilizations accept as positive interaction. In Japan, Africa and Latin America people avoid eye contact to show respect.
Chronemics is the study of the use of time in nonverbal communication. It indicates the way individuals distinguish time, organize it and react to it. Time perceptions include the speed of speech and how long people are willing to listen. In two dominant time patterns Chronemics were identified in 1998, the monochronic and the polychronic time (Gudykunst & Ting-Toomey, 1988).
The monochromic system has to do with how time is arranged, scheduled, and managed and that things are done one at a time. The United States is considered a monochronic society. This system started in Industrial Revolution, were the labour force had to work specific hours and in specific places. American’s believe that time is essential. Time can be counted into years, months, days, hours, minutes and seconds. Everybody use time to structure both their daily lives and events that they are planning for the future. Also, Germany, Canada, Switzerland and Scandinavia are listed as monochromic societies (Scarborough& Lindquist, 1999).
A polychronic time system is a system where several things can be done at once. Northern and western European cultures use the polychronic system of time. This societies have an informal perception of time and believe more in the importance of having relationships with the people around them, than being in time for a scheduled meeting (Scarborough& Lindquist, 1999).
Genetics is a hard field to study in dealing with nonverbal communication. Although many believe that nonverbal interactions have to do with the individual’s environment, that’s not entirely true. “When you cross your arms on your chest, do you cross left over right or right over left?”. Seven out of ten people cross their left arm over their right. Indication suggests that this could well be a genetic gesture that cannot be altered (Rashad, 2013). Genetics also contribute to nonverbal communication. This happens because genetics form, for example, eye color, hair color and height. One study analyzes how taller people are perceived as being more impressive. Although tall people often command more respect than short people, height can also be detrimental to some aspects because an eye-to-eye discussion is not possible. (Pease, 2004)
Nonverbal interaction is one of the key aspects of communication. Nonverbal communication can be used to repeat or reinforce a verbal message. It is also often used to accent a verbal message, in this way the nonverbal communication adds emphasis to the verbal tone assisting the understanding of the actual meaning of the specific spoken words. Nonverbal communication can also substitute verbal messages. That is mostly helpful, especially when the interaction is blocked by noise or other interruptions. Non-verbal communication is especially significant in intercultural situations; because it can be used to help to avoid misunderstandings.
In nonverbal communication there are also some problems. Some individuals tend to concentrate more on their strongest areas of nonverbal communication while neglecting the other aspects. It is also important to mention that the same gestures, facial expressions or postures can and do mean different things in different interaction environment and settings. This brings many misunderstandings among people when communicating (decoding the encoded message). With this said, one must realize that the term culture does not refer to the various ethnic and geographical groups exclusively. Culture , in order to correctly interpret the nonverbal signs one must not only evaluate the ones that are relative to the context of what is being communicated, but also to attempt to deduce them in light of the decoder’s cultural background.
Communication can be effective if a message is accurately formed, sent and completely understood from the recipients. Effective communication also requires verbal and nonverbal interactions. The nonverbal aspect of communication is easiest when the environment is right for all communicators involved, such as, when the environment is suitable or the moment is correct. Nonverbal communication is an important aspect in any conversation skill people are practicing. Without nonverbal communication, verbal language has less meaning and can be tiring and monotonous. Ones gestures and movements do bring life to conversation.
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Knapp & Hall (2010). Nonverbal communication in Human interaction. Boston, Wadsworth Cengage Learning
Glover (1990). Do’s & taboos: cultural aspects of international business, Business America International Trade Administration
Rashad (2013). The Power of Family Unity, Xlibris Corporation
Demarais,A., White, V. (2004). First Impressions. New York, NY: BanTam Books.
Patterson (2002). Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill
Smith, M. Estellie (Ed.). (1972). Studies in linguistics in honor of George L. Trager. The Hague: Mouton.
Segerstrale & Molnar, 1997, p.235
Kaufman-Scarborough, Carol and Jay D. Lindquist (1999), “Time Management and Polychronicity: Comparisons, Contrasts, and Insights for the Workplace,” Journal of Managerial Psychology