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What is non-verbal communication?

Is body language important for communication?
You might think humans communicate with each other mainly through words, but what we don’t realize is verbal communication isn’t even required to convey messages.

Have you ever felt that your parents are angry with you from just the way they look at you?

Research states that about 60-70% of human communication is non-verbal. (Ray Birdwhistell)

Non-verbal communication is the transmission between individuals that does not involve the content of spoken language. It relies on an unspoken language of non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, eye contact, body posture, and body movements.

Types of non-verbal cues

Body language comprises many non-verbal cues. Some of them are stated as follows:
  • Facial Expressions - The quote “Face is the mirror of the mind….” by St. Jerome aptly explains how facial expressions play a major role in communicating what we’re feeling. A human can make 21 facial expressions! The five emotions of anger, fear, happiness, sadness, and disgust are common to all humans.
Microexpressions are facial expressions that occur within a fraction of a second. This involuntary emotional leakage exposes a person's true emotions.

                  Image source: Science of People
  • Eye movements (Oculesics)  - To continue St Jerome’s quote, “...and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart.” elucidates how eyes are an integral part of non-verbal communication.
  • Eye contact - Genuine eye contact is perceived as sincere and attentive whereas individuals avoiding eye contact appear to be distracted and linked with deception.
  • Blinking rate - A rapid blinking rate can be associated with stress or discomfort.
  • Size of pupils - It has been observed that when people are interested, their pupils dilate.

  • Tone - It can convey the emotions while speaking, such as a warm tone may reflect friendliness and a cold tone can mean displeasure or disinterest.
  • Volume - This implies volume is crucial in understanding emotions. For example- when someone is angry, the volume of their voices increases.
  • Pitch - Pitch can help in understanding moods and emotions too. A high pitched voice can denote excitement or even stress and panic.
  • Proximity (Proxemics) - The physical or social distance between people can speak a lot. A very less distance between two individuals can signal an intimate relationship.

  • Touch (Haptics) - A great deal can be communicated through touch and it can lead to either a positive or negative judgment.

A firm handshake and a pat on the shoulder can mean confidence whereas inappropriate touch on arms or legs can constitute unwanted touching or harassment.

  • Body movements (Kinesics) - Body posture, gestures, and movements such as how people stand, sit, or walk can give us vital information about them.

From the image presented below, we can get a fair idea of the emotional state of the persons depicted. The first person seems to be tired and bored as he/she has a hunched back, whereas the 4th person seems to be attentive and interested. The 5th person seems to be relaxed as he/she has an open posture and the 8th with the crossed arms seems to be hostile and defensive.

Non-verbal communication is very important because verbal communication can be voluntarily manipulated but it is difficult to manipulate body language. Learning to interpret non-verbal cues can help assess if the person in front of you is trying to deceive you or actually means what he/she is trying to say.


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