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Nonverbal communication (NVC) is sending and receiving wordless messages. Language is not the only way to communicate, there are other means. Much nonverbal communication is unconscious: it happens without thinking about it.
NVC can use gestures and touch, body language or posture, facial expression and eye contact. NVC can be communicated through objects such as clothing and hairstyles. Dance is also a type of nonverbal communication.
Speech has nonverbal elements known as paralanguage. These include voice quality, emotion and speaking style, rhythm, intonation and stress. Likewise, written texts have nonverbal elements such as handwriting style, spatial arrangement of words, or the use of emoticons, such as :).
Meaning of verbal & non-verbal
Verbal means 'the use of words'. Thus, vocal sounds that are not words, such as a grunt, or singing a wordless note, are nonverbal. Sign languages and writing are understood as verbal communication, as both make use of words — although like speech, paralinguistic elements do occur alongside nonverbal messages. Nonverbal communication can occur through any sensory channel — sight, sound, smell, touch or taste. NVC is important because:
"When we speak (or listen), our attention is focused on words rather than body language. But our judgement includes both. An audience is simultaneously processing both verbal and nonverbal cues. Body movements are not usually positive or negative in and of themselves; rather, the situation and the message will determine the appraisal".p4
Functions of nonverbal communication
Spoken language is often used for communicating information about external events, but non-verbal codes are more used in interpersonal relationships. According to Argyle, there are five primary functions of nonverbal bodily behavior in human communication:
- To express emotions
- To express interpersonal attitudes
- To accompany speech: it helps speakers manage their conversation.
- To present one’s personality
- To perform rituals (such as greetings)
Paralanguage is the study of nonverbal cues of the voice. Various acoustic properties of speech such as tone, pitch and accent, collectively known as prosody, can all give off nonverbal cues. Paralanguage may change the meaning of words.
The linguist George L. Trager developed a classification of voice set, voice qualities, and vocalization.
- The voice set is the context in which the speaker is speaking. This can include the situation, gender, mood, age and a person's culture.
- The voice qualities are volume, pitch, tempo, rhythm, articulation, resonance, nasality, and accent. They give each individual a unique 'voice print'.
- Vocalization consists of three subsections: characterizers, qualifiers and segregates.
- Characterizers are emotions expressed while speaking, such as laughing, crying, and yawning.
- A qualifier is the style of delivering a message — for example, yelling "Hey stop that!", as opposed to whispering "Hey stop that".
- Vocal segregates, such as "uh-huh", tell the speaker that the listener is actually listening.
Clothes, and fashion generally, send messages. We judge others by what we see, at least when we first meet them. Fashion is a reflection of the time and place. The styles show as much about history and the time period as any history book. Clothes reflect on what people think, and how they live. Fashion is a nonverbal statement. It reflects our time, our beliefs and sometimes our religion.
Eye contact can indicate interest, attention, and involvement.p10 Gaze includes looking while talking, looking while listening, amount of gaze, and frequency of glances, patterns of fixation, pupil dilation, and blink rate.p153
Showing strong emotions is powerful communication which is immediately understood. Many of the signals are the same in all cultures, as Darwin showed. Examples of strong emotions shown visually are:
These are listed in order of clarity. No-one mistakes anger or fear, but more subtle emotions may sometimes be missed by the onlooker.
Touch is classic nonverbal communication. What it means depends on the context. Here is a short-list of what we may do when we touch another person:
Most of the arts are forms of non-verbal communication:
- Knapp, Mark L. & Hall, Judith A. 2007. Nonverbal communication in human interaction. 5th ed, Wadsworth. ISBN 0-15-506372-3
- Givens D.B. 2000. Body speak: what are you saying? Successful Meetings, 51.
- Argyle, Michael et al. 1970. The communication of inferior and superior attitudes by verbal and non-verbal signals. British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 9: 222-231.
- Argyle, Michael. 1988. Bodily communication. 2nd ed, Madison. ISBN 0-416-38140-5
- Floyd K. & Guerrero, L.K. 2006. Nonverbal communication in close relationships. Erlbaum, Mahwah N.J.
- Darwin, Charles 1872. The expression of emotions in man and animals. Murray, London.