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Aspects of Non-verbal Communication

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The meaning of any communication is determined not only by the words that are pronounced. In most cases, it depends on what non-verbal signs and messages are sent at the same time. The topic is relevant because non-verbal communication is the most ancient form of human communication. Non-verbal communication is such movements and features of a person when transmitting a verbal message to them, which are interpreted as meaningful, i.e., as if they have an intention, although they are unconscious, and are equally interpreted in a given culture or a given speech community (Adler et al., 2016). It is important to note that the world uses the same non-verbal signals, but their perception varies from culture to culture (Burgoon et al., 2016). For example, we are comfortable that a simple nod of our head means yes or agreement. However, in India, Turkey, Greece, and Bulgaria, the nod has the opposite meaning. Agreeing, a Turk, Greek, Bulgarian or Indian will swing from side to side, which in our non-verbal language means a negative answer. In Japan, a quick nod indicates that a person is listening carefully, but that does not mean that they agree. Non-verbal communication, in addition to movement, voice, facial expressions, includes preferences in clothing, furniture, temperature, color, interior decoration, and many other features.

Now we will consider the types of non-verbal communication in more detail.

Kinesics and paralanguage

Kinesics

First of all, kinesics involve eye contact, which is characterized by how and for how long we look at another person or people in the process of communication. It reflects how carefully one listens and, most importantly, reveals certain emotions. Dominance intensity expresses the ability to dominate with the eyes. Paying attention to these moments, one can understand whether the dialogue is engaging and interlocutors listen to each other attentively, what feelings and emotions the listener experiences. People tend to maintain eye contact when discussing topics exciting or pleasant to them. On the contrary, individuals avoid direct glances when the topic is unenjoyable or difficult.

For instance, they are ashamed or trying to hide something. Interestingly, in the United States, women are more likely to make eye contact in conversation than men (Buroon, 2016). The facial expression, in its turn, conveys the emotional state of a person. In any culture, they are recognizable: sadness, joy, fear, surprise, anger, and disgust (Adler et al., 2016). Another non-verbal communication means is gestures: the movement of hands and fingers while talking. All people differ in the intensity of gesticulation that accompanies speech. It is also important to mention the posture, i.e., the body position in the space. Learning to read poses is essential. For example, when a person suddenly straightens up and leans forward, it indicates they increase their attention; and if they get up, it means that the conversation is over.

Movements in general and gestures, in particular, can: 1) replace a word, phrase; 2) illustrate what the person says; 3) serve for non-verbal expression of feelings; 4) manage the course of the conversation; 5) relieve stress.

Paralanguage is a way of expressing words in a speech with non-verbal signals. They include vocal characteristics and vocal impediments. The former comprise the pitch of the voice, which changes with volume. When people are nervous, they raise their voices; at the same time, when trying to convince, they tend to speak quietly (Burgoon et al., 2016). Vocal features also include the volume of speech, its pace, and a person’s timbre. People speak faster when they are happy or afraid (Burgoon et al., 2020). At the same time, vocal impediments are a crucial component of speech and can create a certain impression of the interlocutor. For example, “uh-uh”, “mmm”, “well”, “kinda”. Their excessive use can create an unfavorable impression of a person.

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Self-presentation and environment organization

Self-presentation is crucial and comprises many features, one of which is clothing and appearance. They are also capable of conveying messages like any type of non-verbal communication. Self-control (manner and ability to “hold on”). Nervousness is common in most people, but as they gain confidence in their abilities, it decreases. Nervousness can be dealt with in a variety of ways, but the most important thing is to understand why a person is nervous. Touch also reads differently in different situations. For example, a touch that seems pleasant to one person (hugs, slaps on the back) may seem intimate or threatening to another. Therefore, it can be both positive and negative.

Time. Activity duration is the amount of time we consider appropriate for a given situation (for example, a lesson is 45 minutes long). The content of the activity is what needs to be done in a given period. For example, in the USA, time is perceived monochromatically, i.e., it is irrevocable and unidirectional, and it must be “protected” and “taken into account.” In Asia, Latin America, on the contrary, time is presented polychronically, i.e., being late “doesn’t make sense.” Punctuality is strict adherence to the framework. In the United States, it is the dominant imperative that if a person arrives too early or is late, this will be considered disrespectful to the meeting.

Communication through environment organization

Space. First of all, the organization of permanent and non-permanent structures is critical: buildings in which we live and work and parts of buildings, the layout of which we cannot change, and the organization of objects in space. The latter implies the ability to rearrange things in order to achieve a certain result. The organization of informal space and its subsequent perception is intrinsically linked to distance characteristics. Intimate distance – up to 45cm (between close friends); personal distance – from 45cm to 1.2m (normal conversation); social distance – from 1.2m to 3.5m (business meetings); public distance – from 3.5m (public speaking) (Burgoon et al., 2016). Thus, a communication frame determines the distance between interlocutors, and not following these imperatives will result in communication breakdown.

Other important features to control are temperature, light, and colors. Temperature can facilitate or hinder effective communication; for example, it is impossible to listen carefully in a hot room, or, conversely, people become nervous in a cold room. The lighting level is vital for the transmission of information. Color stimulates specific emotional and physical responses (red – energizing; blue – calming) (Burgoon et al., 2016).

Why know all this?

Thus, although verbal and non-verbal forms are most effective when they complement each other, non-verbal signals can replace verbal and even contradict them. When verbal and non-verbal cues contradict each other, people unconsciously tend to trust non-verbal signals more (Adler et al., 2016). Such signals convey a colossal stream of information, although they are not expressed in words. A person poorly understands many of one’s own non-verbal actions since it happens unconsciously and, thus, is difficult to control. At the same time, other people’s actions are easily grasped and understood. Non-verbal communication is, thus, a powerful, tricky means of communication, and one who masters it has an advantage in a communication situation

References

Adler, R. B., Rodman, G. R., & Du Pré, A. (2016). Understanding human communication (Vol. 10). Oxford University Press.

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Burgoon, J. K., Guerrero, L. K., & Manusov, V. (2016). Nonverbal communication. Routledge.

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