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Non-Verbal Communication

Non-Verbal Communication

Non-Verbal Communication

A significant amount of the communication that goes on between people is non-verbal. Although most people do not realize it, and more cannot pick up on it, people are constantly using their bodies to send signs to each other. These signs can indicate what they are truly feeling at the time or they can be misinterpreted by the other person and misunderstanding can result. Thus, understanding your body language and correctly reading the body language of others can be critical in effective communication. 

Understanding Non-Verbal Communication

Non-verbal communication is usually understood as the process of sending and receiving wordless messages. Such messages can be communicated through gesture, body language or posture, facial expression and eye gaze, object communication such as clothing, hairstyles or even architecture, symbols and infographics, features of speech such as intonation and stress and other paralinguistic features of speech such as voice quality, emotion and speaking style.

Non-verbal communication can occur through any sensory channel; i.e., through sight, sound, smell, touch or taste. Non-verbal communication can be conscious and purposeful or unconscious.  Also, non-verbal communication comes in many forms at the same time. For example, a person's dress, tone of voice, attitude, and movement all contribute to the communication going on in a certain situation.  It can be very helpful in facilitating communication or it can be very derisive.

Types of Non-Verbal Communication

A few of the most common types of non-verbal communication are discussed below.  A person can learn how each of these affects his/her interactions with others and can learn to modify their non-verbal communications.

Object communication:

The most common form of object communication is clothing. The types of clothing that people wear are often used to assess, accurately or inaccurately, their personality traits. Social groups often use a common form of clothing to set themselves apart from other, presumably unaligned social groups. Object communication extends beyond clothing to other body adornments, such as wedding rings or bind is to indicate marital status, tattoos, piercing's, and brands. Also included in object communication is anything used as a status symbol.


Haptics is the study of touching as nonverbal communication. Touches that can be defined as communication include handshakes, holding hands, kissing (cheek, lips, hand), back slap, "high-five", shoulder pat, brushing arm, etc. Each of these give off nonverbal messages as to the touching person's intentions/feelings. They also cause feelings in the receiver, whether positive or negative.

Eye contact:

Oculesics is the study of the role of eyes in nonverbal communication. This includes the study of eye gaze and pupil dilation. Studies have found that people use their eyes to indicate their interest and with more than the frequently recognized actions of winking and slight movement of the eyebrows.  Eye contact is an event when two people look at each other's eyes at the same time. It is a form of nonverbal communication and has a large influence on social behavior. Frequency and interpretation of eye contact vary between cultures and species. Eye aversion is the avoidance of eye contact.  Eye contact and facial expressions provide important social and emotional information.  People, perhaps without consciously doing so, probe each other's eyes and faces for positive or negative mood signs.


Vocalics is the study of nonverbal cues of the voice. Things such as tone, pitch, loudness, duration, intonation and tempo, voice quality, speaking style and speech clarity, and accent can all give off nonverbal cues. Significant information is given by a person's voice and voice patterns.

Body language:

Body language is a broad term for forms of communication using body movements or gestures instead of, or in addition to, sounds, verbal language, or other forms of communication. In everyday speech the term is most often applied to body language that is considered involuntary, even though the distinction between voluntary and involuntary body language is often hard to distinguish.  Voluntary body language refers to movement, gestures and poses intentionally made by a person (i.e., conscious smiling, hand movements and imitation). It can apply to many types of soundless communication. Generally, movement made with full or partial intention and an understanding of what it communicates can be considered voluntary.  Involuntary body language quite often takes the form of facial expression, and has therefore been suggested as a means to identify the emotions of a person with whom one is communicating.  Body language is particularly important in group communication, in human courtship, and as a subconscious or subtle method of communication between potential mates, spouses and family members.

Additional Information

For more information about non-verbal communication, please click on the linked websites listed below.

 Eye contact
 Using body language
 Successful eye contact
 Non-verbal communication
 Examples of body language

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