Types of Non-Verbal Communication
You probably know that feeling when you are trying to say something, but you feel that there are no right words to express that?
Have no worries, because even when you are as quiet as a mouse, you speak.
How so? Well, non-verbally!
Even when we say nothing, when we stand still or move, the way we breathe or look at someone or something, those are all telltale signs, which speak a lot.
They can tell much more than words do, so it’s important to have good knowledge about types of non-verbal communication and how they work.
We researched the topic, trying to encompass as many types as possible.
Have in mind that all we are about to describe works in general.
We can introduce you to types and the way they function, but we cannot tell for sure what will the final outcome be.
That’s because there are many factors which impact and dictate the precise meaning.
Those are, in the first place, situation and two people talking to each other, alongside a multitude of other aspects.
HOW TO DEFINE NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION?
We can freely claim that we communicate 24/7, even when we pronounce nothing.
Besides oral and written words that we use, we also express our thoughts and feelings using body-language, eye-contact, facial expression, and numerous other moves and non-verbal aspects of speech.
Ever since Charles Darwin published “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” in 1872, more and more attention is dedicated to exploring all the means and possible meanings of this sort of communication.
This type of interpersonal communication reveals much more than explicit words. It also hides a plethora of implicit messages, which is why it can often be misinterpreted.
Though we may claim that we talk a lot, statistics show that an enormous percentage of communication, around 70-80% is non-verbal!
That’s why we need to learn as much as possible about it, to improve our conversation with other people as well as our communicational skills that can take us far!
DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN VERBAL AND NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION
Come to think of it, it’s not just about using the words or something else to express one thing.
There are indeed many ways to say something and it will have different meaning based on what the person we are talking to wants to hear or understand.
Miscommunication happens, even when we are positive that our words, body language, gestures or other means of expressing are crystal clear.
However, there are some common things where one can see what’s the basic difference between these two types of communication.
- While verbal communication utilizes words (oral or written), non-verbal does not use them at all. It uses other forms of expressing opinions and feelings, and we shall explain that later in detail.
- Verbal conversation is much easier to understand, while the other type is not.
- Speaking of continuity, verbal communication always begins and ends with words, while the non-verbal continues until one achieves the purpose.
- The verbal conversation has only two forms, oral and written, while non-verbal can be expressed using a variety of means such as visual, audio (or combined), silence, gestures, moves, facial expressions and so on.
- Verbal communication leaves less space for distortion of information, whereas with the non-verbal situation is quite the opposite.
- From the structural point of view, verbal presentation is highly structured while non-verbal has no formal structure.
- Speaking of feedback, verbal gives delayed one, while non-verbal provides plenty of feedback.
USING BODY LANGUAGE TO COMMUNICATE NON-VERBALLY
This is the best known and the most widely-spread type. It encompasses several forms such as movements, facial expression, eye contact, posture, the way we breathe, and every other signal sent by our body.
This type of communication divides into conscious and unconscious acts, which confirms that the field of expressing is indeed enormous.
Here are the most common forms of body language and how to understand them:
1. Eye Contact
This one represents an important channel of interpersonal communication. You know what people say, eyes are a mirror of the soul, and that makes a lot of sense.
When we strive to maintain long eye contact with the person we talk to, we create some sort of trustworthiness between us and that individual.
We keep a person interested in what we talk about, by giving our conversation some warmth and credibility.
Sometimes even if we say nothing, our eyes can “tell” if we feel sad, worried, exhausted, practically anything.
That’s why it’s important to have in mind that no matter which words pronounce, our eyes tell a lot more than that.
So, if we want people to trust us, it’s necessary to learn how to make a balance between words coming from the mouth and coming from our eyes.
2. Facial Expression
Besides the previous one, eye contact, our face also reveals a lot about us. You will often hear that our face is the index of the mind.
Our face is where all the anger, surprise, joy, sadness, disgust, and fear, 6 key emotions, are written. (In case you haven’t, take time to check the best cartoon in the world “Inside Out”, it’s an excellent lesson about these emotions.)
All the parts of our face are equally “responsible” for the message we are trying to send.
By all parts, we mean mouth, eyelids, nose, cheeks and the forehead.
Therefore, when talking to someone, have in mind that everything matters- is your nose relaxed or wrinkled, your eyelids lowered or raised, is your mouth wide open or closed, is your forehead lowered or raised, and are your cheeks drawn up or back.
So many details, huh?
But, it certainly doesn’t mean that you should lose yourself and stray away from the conversation by obsessively analyzing every single facial part of the person you are talking to.
This means that when you cannot quite make out whether the other party is telling the truth or lying, signals coming from facial expression can be useful.
It’s interesting to mention that sometimes we are not aware of our facial expression.
So, it may happen that we are saying one thing, but our face speaks for itself something drastically different.
That’s why, like with eye contact, we have to be positive that what we are trying to say is what we mean, otherwise our face can “betray” us.
What we also need to mention is that these signs differ from culture to culture. It’s important to think about that when speaking with a foreigner, particularly if he/she’s coming from a culturally distant place.
If we want to avoid misunderstandings related to the interpretation of various facial expressions, knowledge about other cultures is essential.
Though the meaning behind the majority of expressions varies from culture to culture, there’s one which may be considered universal. It’s a smile.
You will agree that pleasant and neutral smile on people you are talking to gives a touch of friendliness and calmness to the conversation.
However, have in mind that we do not mean you should laugh loudly or have some artificial look, simply some natural position of your face.
Come to think of it, could you name a person standing still while speaking?
The answer is probably no, as we all move when pronouncing, some of us more, and some less.
And that’s precisely where the message we are sending differs.
Some people move so much when speaking that they get the impression as if they’re plugged into the source of electricity.
They wave their hands and arms excessively, they make one, two steps, here and there, they seem to be doing something all the time.
Some people are simply like that, it’s their habit. However, others act that way because they are nervous.
They are saying one thing, while their body desperately screams to explain that something’s wrong.
So, the way we move our head, hands, arms, legs, everything counts, the same like with facial expression. It’s also important to point out that these as well differ from culture to culture.
That’s why one needs to learn something about the person he/she is talking to. It’s the only way to avoid or minimize misunderstandings.
4. Posture and Body Orientation
As you can see, things are getting more and more complex, as everything counts.
The next in line is the manners and habits we have when we walk, sit, stand or talk.
Okay, there are situations when our posture is not quite in a presentable edition, for example, when we are tired.
However, in all other situations, it also reveals our thoughts and intentions.
If one has a confident attitude it will leave a positive impression to the people involved in communication.
It’s important to send the message that we are approachable, the same goes for the other party.
QUICK TIPS ON IMPROVING BODY LANGUAGE
Having in mind that jaw-dropping 85% of what the audience takes away comes from all forms of body language, it’s of vital importance to upgrade the knowledge on this constantly.
The best way to do so is being involved in communication and follow and analyze all the details closely.
Each person is a story for itself, and every single communication is an experience for itself which helps us learn a lot about ourselves and the other people.
Culture plays an important role and adds more complexity.
However, that should encourage us to learn more and improve communication.
Though there’s no universal recipe on how to ace non-verbal communication, there are several cool bits of advice which may come as handy:
- If we want to learn more about how we look while speaking, filming is an excellent solution. It should help us catch all the signal and be sure that they are correspondent to what we are pronouncing.
- While practicing the speech, one should stand and rehearse in front of the mirror if possible. This way you have a sort of “live streaming” of your performance and you will be able to correct something in case you don’t like it.
- Exercise happiness! Laugh as much as you can, but it’s possible. And all the tool you need is a pencil. Hold it horizontally in between the teeth. This helps contract the muscles around the eyes and mouth, making your face more flexible. This silly and simple exercise creates a sense of happiness.
- Breathe loudly and deeply before the speech or an important conversation. This will help your entire body and mind relax, and will certainly make you feel less stressed out before the moment comes.
- Try not to keep your eyebrows raised. This gives the impression that you are either afraid of something, that you are surprised or worried. Keep them low. Moreover, try to blink less, because rapid blinking may hint that you feel nervous. Don’t forget the importance of long and confident eye-contact.
- Do your best to use the first seconds of the speech as wisely as possible. Try to utilize all the available tricks you have learned regarding body language and leave the most positive impression.
- Mind the hands- open palms express openness while those facing down imply conviction. Use the hands in some smart points to emphasize some part of the speech, don’t wave all the time as of you are about to fly away.
- If your head is bowing or tilting, this means submission. Keep it up, and you will give the impression that you know what you are talking about and you strongly believe in the words you are pronouncing.
OTHER TYPES OF NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION
If you were about to leave believing that you have learned everything- hold on! We have prepared more for you!
The main focus was on body language and its types, but there are some other forms of non-verbal communications that we would like to point out.
The more you know, the better you will speak and listen to the upcoming conversations.
1. Space, Distance, Time
The distance between two people communication, the venue where the conversation is held as well as the period two individuals know each other are also among factors while will dictate the course of conversation.
Take, for example, two individuals that work together, but are brother and sister.
The way they speak with each other in the office will be significantly different than the one when they are off-duty.
Even if they are close to each other (being family), they will try to keep some distance when talking about the job and related duties.
Closely connected to distance, this also plays an important role in communicating with other people.
Besides cultural differences in the workplace or life in general, we should always have in mind that standing too close to the other party creates some feeling of being uncomfortable.
That’s because nobody likes when other people invade someone else’s personal space. It immediately creates pressure, and that leads to nowhere good, you will agree.
What makes the situation even more obscure is that people often do not comment on this, even if they don’t feel pleasant.
However, what people mostly do in such situation is unconsciously use any of the forms of non-verbal communication to give the hint that distance is necessary.
Those are leg swinging, rocking, change in someone’s tone and speech clarity, eyes down and so on.
It’s very important to evaluate the ideal proximity based on the situation and the subject of conversation. Is the situation more or less formal?
Are we trying to keep the atmosphere cold, or we want to add some friendliness to it?
These are some of the questions that may be of help when determining the ideal distance to interact with other people.
It’s also a widely used tool for non-verbal communication and it helps one express a whole palette of diverse emotions.
Again, culture inevitably plays a significant role in the meaning behind the touch, but other factors also contribute. Those are age, intimacy level, gender, and relative status.
Have in mind that it has the power either to comfort someone or make someone go nuts with anger, depending on how and when used.
Some people act overly familiar and close with everybody, and often touch people (grab their hand, tap them by the shoulder or something similar) without even being aware that they did it, and that may cause troubles.
This is probably the most intriguing one on the list. Like all the others, it has many good and bad sides, depending on various factors.
In some situations, it’s a matter of basic culture (for example, when we attend lectures, we should carefully and attentively listen to the professor’s words), while in the others it reveals that the other party is slightly puzzled.
That’s the situation where some reaction is expected and instead of that- we get silence! It’s a clear sign that the other party didn’t understand what we said.
Sometimes silence is a result of our concerns and something that appears after our mind wandered off a bit.
We lose the thread and the focus, and when the moment for the answer comes, we are somewhere lost in our thoughts and the result is silence.
5. Personal Appearance
Have no worries, it certainly doesn’t mean that you have to dress up every time you are about to speak to someone. It simply means that our clothes, accessories, hair and so on, also have something to tell about us.
In addition to this, specific clothes or uniforms can reveal someone’s profession, which also counts as non-verbal communication.
Just a single look can tell us who’s a policeman, a lawyer, a firefighter, a doctor and so on.
Then, take folklore as an example, the clothes used in dances are a cultural heritage which hides plenty of stories about some people and places.
6. Paralinguistic Aspects
These are probably the most closely connected to words but still belong to non-verbal communication.
Vocal elements such as loudness, rhythm, timbre, tone, pitch, and inflection are an integral part of the message we are trying to delegate.
Those paralinguistic aspects have the immense power to make the same sentence sound completely different.
There’s no mathematical formula which reveals correct adjustments of these elements, as the situation and the person determine these “settings”.
The only important thing is that we try to avoid sounding monotonous, or we will lose the attention and the interest of listeners. The same goes vice-versa.
Voice modulation can make even the most boring topic sound extremely engaging and interesting.
Just remember those TV presenters trying to sell some bizarre products, they introduce them as if those are the funniest and the most necessary items in the world.
Try the trick for yourself and you will see!
7. Symbols and Visual Communication
Sometimes we use specific objects, signs, and signals to communicate certain meaning.
Take street signs for example, where you have a picture which explains some occasion or introduces an event, or situation, even when there’s not a single word written.
Then you have a variety of charts, diagrams, maps, posters, pictures and so on, with the purpose to explain something.
Those are all very practical and useful means, which break the language barriers, and are understandable to people from all over the world.
FIVE KEY ROLES OF NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION
When combined with words, any of the forms have a certain role in defining how our words will sound and what will be their meaning. Those are:
- Accenting– to point out or underline a certain part of our message.
- Repetition– to express the same message again and add more strength to it.
- Contradiction– expressing opposite from what our words are implying.
- Complementing– adding a dose of positivity to your words, give praise.
- Substitution– when you cannot find accurate words to express something, vivid gestures and facial expressions, as well as moves, can help you add clarity and preciseness.
THE IMPORTANCE OF NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION
Being an integral part of oral and written communication, non-verbal communication is a highly valuable element of all forms of communication.
Every single type has its contribution and plays significant roles in delegating any message.
Here are some of the most valuable aspects:
- It helps express the inner meaning much clearer,
- It personalizes our words based on who is the listener.
- Non-verbal communication helps us learn a lot about people, culture and habits.
- It allows us to communicate with illiterate or disabled individuals easily.
- Sometimes it’s a quicker way to express our thoughts.
- It defines and strengthens the relationship between two people.
What may come as an extra question regarding non-verbal communication- is it possible to fake it?
Is it possible to have such good control over the entire body and mind and make them act differently from how they intent?
The answer is no because it’s a way to complex!
But, what you can do is learn, learn and never stop learning!
As we already said, communication itself is the best lesson you can have.
You will agree that this was a long but highly meaningful journey.
As you can see, all the explained types indicate that this form of communication is present in absolutely every situation and that it has even bigger importance than the sole words.
What we did here is introducing you to the common types and basic laws of how they work.
But again, it’s up to you to learn more about them.
Have in mind that it’s not something that you learn like an unchangeable definition, but something that requires constant revisions and modifications.
The best way to improve and upgrade your communication is to communicate.
As simple as it sounds, it’s an ultimate exercise to grow your knowledge about how other people’s minds work and how they speak with each other.
Now that you have a solid foundation about types of non-verbal communication, do your best to discover as much as possible about them.
After all, remember what one beautiful song thought us “words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm.”