Nonverbal Communication

Characteristics of Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication—we’ve learned in the preceding discussion—is the sending and receiving of wordless messages using a wide range of human behaviours; people's actions or attributes such as body movementsOpens in new window, eye contactOpens in new window, facial expressionsOpens in new window, appearance, the use of touch and space, and tone of voice that have socially shared significance and stimulate meaning in others.

Nonverbal communicationOpens in new window is an integral part of the total meaning of a messageOpens in new window. The ability to understand the characteristics of nonverbal communication enhances your understanding of other people’s meaning and helps to eliminate communication barriersOpens in new window.

We can examine the characteristics of Nonverbal Communication under the following headings:

1.   Nonverbal Behaviour Has Message Value

While we might shut our mouths and resist ourselves from speaking, it is quite impossible that we stop behaving. Our behaviour—whether deliberate or inadvertent—is always active. Try as you may, you just cannot stop sending nonverbal messages. In as much as someone is aware of your presence and is able to process your nonverbal demeanour, it is impossible for you not to communicate. Because listeners tend to process nonverbal cues automatically and almost unconsciously, even if you turn your turn back on the listener and remove yourself from his or her sight, you are communicating.

2.   It Has Ambiguous Interpretation

Although we may send nonverbal messages deliberately or involuntarily, their meaning depends on how they are interpreted. Hence, what we communicate may be ambiguous and subject to misinterpretation. Nonverbal cues may not mean what others think they do. One nonverbal cue can trigger a variety of meanings. There could be any number of reasons why a person looks at a watch, coughs, or rubs his or her eyes. All nonverbal behaviour should be interpreted within a specific context.

3.   It Is Predominantly Relational

We often find ourselves unconsciously and involuntarily conveying liking, attraction, anger, respect for someone or authority, and other emotional feelings nonverbally. Sometimes we are unaware of the nonverbal cues we send; as a result, we inadvertently reveal information we would rather conceal.

Our nonverbal messages show to others how we truly feel about ourselves and about them. In fact, our primary means of revealing our inner states, that typically are not readily transmitted using words, is through nonverbal communication. As our awareness of our nonverbal communication increases, its informational value decreases. In effect, a conscious intention to manage the impression we convey means that we will do our best only to communicate messages that are in our own best interest.

4.   It Tends To Reveal Deception

When a person says one thing but means another, we can use our deception detectionOpens in new window skills to determine that the person’s behaviour contradicts his or her words. Under most circumstances, when there is a discrepancy or inconsistency between verbal and nonverbal messages, researchers advise that you believe the nonverbal cues, which are more difficult to fake. Deception clues or leakage can be detected in changes in facial or vocal expression, gestures, or slips of the tongue. In fact, once strong emotions are aroused, these changes may occur automatically, with our words, body, and voice betraying us by thwarting our attempts to conceal them.