Kinesics

What is Kinesic Communication?

Kinesics is the broad field of nonverbal communicationOpens in new window solely concerned with the interpretation of nonverbal behaviours that are associated with body movementOpens in new window, gesturesOpens in new window, postureOpens in new window, facial expressionOpens in new window and eye contactOpens in new window.

body movements and inherents meanings
Kinesics communication. Graphics courtesy of HM|HUBOpens in new window

Kinesics is most closely connected with what is popularly referred to as body languageOpens in new window. Kinesics, is in fact, a scientific study of body language. The term “kinesics” was developed by the American anthropologist Ray L. BirdwhistellOpens in new window, who used slow-motion films of conversations to analyze speakers’ behaviours.

Components of Kinesics Messages

While wordsOpens in new window generally transmit facts and information, kinesics communication involves transference of nonverbal messages, such as feelings, emotionsOpens in new window, and attitude through the use of body movementOpens in new window, gesturesOpens in new window, postureOpens in new window, facial expressionOpens in new window and eye contactOpens in new window. Birdwhistell labeled this form of communication ‘kinesics’ as it relates to movement of individual body parts, or the body as a whole. Observe the following modes of kinesics messages.

  1. Gestures
    Gestures are the movements of hands, face, or other parts of the body in a way that conveys meaning, either in conjunction with verbal communication such as frowning while saying harsh words against someone, or in isolation such as smiling at a stranger to express pleasure at ones presence. Keep on learning about gesture hereOpens in new window
  2. Body movement
    Body Movement is the voluntary or involuntary movement of parts of the body such as hands, feet, legs, and shoulders, which may either reinforce or contradicts what is communicated verbally. There are various body movements that sends bodily signals. Learn more hereOpens in new window
  3. Posture
    PostureOpens in new window communicates a great deal of information about you. The way in which you sit, stand, slump or slouch provides information about your sex, status, self-image, attitudes and emotional state. For example, sitting with your head in your hands often indicates that your are feeling low, whereas sitting with your feet on the desk may be interpreted by others as a sign of your feeling of superiority.
  4. Facial expressions
    Facial expressionOpens in new window refers to certain movements or conditions of the facial muscles that facilitate the nonverbal communication of some thought, emotion, or behavior. Facial expression is the main channel we use to decode emotional states or reactions of others to a message, and they generally mirror the intensity of people’s thoughts and feelings.
  5. Eye contact
    Eye contact is a natural byproduct of effective communication. To look someone in the eyes is to invite him to communicate with you. Eye contact indicates degree of attention or interest, influences attitude change or persuasion, regulates interaction, communicates emotion, defines power and status, and has a central role in managing impressions of others. Keep on learning about eye contact hereOpens in new window
Important Hint! 

kinesics communication carries a significant risk of being misinterpreted in an intercultural interaction. As many movements are carried out at a subconscious or at least a low-awareness level; the movements can be misinterpreted when communicating across cultures. In today’s global environment, awareness of the meanings of different kinesic movements is important in order to avoid sending the wrong message.

Kinesics signals can be inborn (unwitting), learned (witting), or a mixture of the two. Blinking the eyes, clearing the throat, and facial flushing are innate (inborn) signals. These are often involuntary, as are, for example, facial expressions of happiness, surprise, anger, disgust, and other basics emotions understood by people in all cultures.

Laughing, crying, and shrugging the shoulders are examples of mixed signals. They may originate as innate actions, but cultural rules shape their timing and use. Gestures, such as a wink of the eye, a thumbs up, or a military salute, are learned signals. The meanings of such signs vary among different cultures.