Nonverbal Communications


NonVerbal Communications

Nonverbal communication is the conscious and unconscious body movements in communication that couple with physical and environmental surroundings. Nonverbal communications are those which are not expressed orally or in writing and includes human elements associated with communication. These form an important and inevitable aspect of the total communication process because it compliments and substitutes verbal communication.

A good communicator should have the right posture, facial expression and body language that are in tune with the words spoken. Lack of co-ordination between verbal and nonverbal contents of communication would only confuse the receiver. So while communicating, care should be taken to ensure a proper blend between words and actions.

Kinds of Nonverbal Behavior:

  • Generally such behavior works in tandem with verbal and other non- language messages.
  • Watch for a series of actions to provide meaning; don‘t read too much into single, isolated behaviors.
  • Meaning is best derived from a cluster of nonverbal cues that are consistent and repetitive.

Behavioral (active) Codes: (watch for clusters of these at work)

    • These are “performed” by the communicator; such as gesturing, leaning, walking. Some are adaptors (indicators of emotional state)….some are emblems (used in place of words). These all fall within the category known as Kinesics. Generally speaking, we are more comfortable around and influenced by those who use some degree of movement and gestures.
    • Proxemics—how we use space/territory. Our status within an organization will affect our use of space and amount of territory available to us. In general, the greater the status, the more control we have over space and territory. Territory must be respected no matter what the employee status. Personal space is also key. Hall’s space ranges need to be understood and practiced.
    • Facial Expressions/Eye Behavior—often hard to interpret due to fleeting nature and sheer numbers of them. Control of communication is influenced by these; also an indicator of a person’s status within the organization. Also contributes to an overall sense of satisfaction when done in the proper amount at the proper time.

nonverbal communications

  • Haptics—how we use touch to communicate. Very powerful cultural influence. Use of touch is often very personal; an indicator of status; and must be managed carefully or harassment claims can result. The greater the status and power, the more likely people can use touch in more lenient ways. Nonetheless, it doesn’t make it any more correct or proper. Professor Jourard’s study on touch and culture found that it varied considerably from one culture to the next. Knowing who you do business with and what is the accepted norm for their country is essential. The same is true within our country as our need for touch varied considerably from person to person.
  • Vocalics—our paralanguage or how we use non-linguistic cues to communicate. Things like rate, pitch, volume, etc. to include our use of silence and its value to a message. When used correctly this can enhance our image in the eyes of our co-workers, managers, and customers. When we make errors such as with vocal fillers like “um” and “and ah” we can undermine our credibility and influence in the eyes of others.

 Non-behavioral Codes:

    • Dress and Appearance—How we look; our overall appearance can carry an enormous impact on how we are perceived in the organization. Managers, other employees, and customers will draw conclusions about us based on our clothes/appearance. Neither of these is a substitute for ability but when all things are equal, dress and appearance can make the difference.

nonverbal communications

    • Chronemics—how we use time on the job and in the context of our cultural as well. Status affects this category; the higher we are the more control we have over it. The study in our text that cites a disproportionate amount of time in interviews between white candidates and minorities was conducted 28 years ago. Less likely to be as true today.

nonverbal communications

  • Environment—Physical layouts of offices can affect the communication patterns and the amount as well. How we structure our offices; the way we position our furniture can impact communication in either good or bad ways. Additionally, environmental factors like colors and light also can produce psychological impacts on how much or how little communication as well as what kind. The latest changes in business offices are as follows:
    1. Larger companies are putting the manager’s office in the middle of the office, with various workstations around it and getting the window views. This creates a more equal and open feel for workers.
    2. More suspended lighting along with higher ceilings helps eliminate glare on the computer screens. In addition, more buildings are using sensors for energy management, making them more environmentally friendly.
    3. “Softer issues” are gaining in importance. That means things like day care, cafeterias, exercise and seating areas where employees can go to relax and or work wirelessly on their laptops.
    4. Storage is evolving, but filing cabinets will not yet fade away as paper will be around a long time. Storage towers that combine filing space and bookshelves save space and serve many purposes.
    5. Cubicles will not go away but are being redesigned to enhance communication and collaboration (being arranged to people don’t bother those who sit near them).


The Nature of Nonverbal Behavior

Even though nonverbal behaviors commonly occur in combination with other verbal and nonverbal actions, it is good to examine them in an isolated context to better understand them. Sometimes nonverbal behaviors don’t operate like we expect; there are many exceptions to the general rules for this type of communication.

(a)The Ambiguity of Nonverbal Behaviors—Words usually reflect what people want us to hear while nonverbal messages relay a person’s actual character and state of mind. This may be true in many instances but not always. Sometimes nonverbal behavior reflects sarcasm, relief, embarrassment, etc. In other words, they may reflect the opposite what we think they do. And sometimes we interpret them incorrectly due to cultural-specific rules that normally apply. In other words, what is true in one culture (even in our business cultures) may mean something different in another culture. In some instances the meaning of these messages comes not from some inherent or natural link, but the rules imposed by a certain group or cultural faction. In other words, we may feel like we need to act in a certain way because we are “expected to act that way,” rather than how we truly feel. Many times specific gestures “come to mean” something specific. For example, a “high five” or “chest butts” done by athletes. The more we see something and its context, the easier it is for us to understanding it. Bottom line: watch for clusters or consistent behavior in nonverbal gesture; and unless you know the person very well, be very careful assignment meanings to isolated nonverbal behaviors—for ambiguity is one of the truism for this method of communication.

(b)Degrees of Intentionality and Controllability—Certain behaviors are more controllable and therefore easier to use with a greater degree of intentionality. The DePaulo and Rosenthal showed which behaviors are more controllable than others. And which tend to reveal the truth more than others. Some behaviors are sent without us even realizing it. The Pygmalion Effect suggests that others will respond to us like we treat them in a certain way (positive or negative), The sense is that they react to this so-called expectancy –base behavior and thus respond to us like we treat them. Certainly that is not true in most instances, but it is worthy of some value. In short, some behaviors can be controlled completely while others tend to be more inherent acts that derive from our emotions rather than our conscious states.

(c)Levels of Meaning—Concern here is on whether or not the message was meant to be sent or sent by accident. We may send a nonverbal message and not be aware of it; it may come out not as we intended, or it may be just as we meant and with our full knowledge. There is great potential for breakdown here. I might not interpret your nonverbal act like you had intended. And vice versa. Attributing meaning and intention can be tricky, in the best of situations. A concept called the self-serving bias says “we are likely to view the cause of our negative behaviors in a way that makes us less responsible, but we tend to place the blame on others for the same actions.” In short, their short-comings are due to internal causes. Our short-coming are due to external causes. Not always the case, but human nature to do this. In addition, the type (positive or negative) of attribution influences us in how we respond to the behavior. Attributions help us make sense of things, albeit not always correctly. And they are not limited to just nonverbal behaviors. And whether the behavior is intentional or by necessity will affect our interpretation. Standing very close to a stranger in the elevator when it’s full is acceptable. But not if the elevator is virtually empty. The better we know someone the more likely we will interpret their behavior positively (though not always the case). Key point: “attributions, or receivers’ interpretations of others’ behaviors, are important sources of meaning within any communication exchange. They co-exist with the encoders’ view of what they believe has been communicated and are strongly influenced by the perceptions or biases of the decoder.” A negotiated meaning results from a give-and-take between two people to arrive at a meaning of a behavior that both agree with. Often this is a middle ground between a boss and employee’s view. Finally, one’s culture will play a role in the level of meaning. Each culture assigns meaning to nonverbal behaviors. And within each culture co-cultures will do the same again. Sometimes changing the meaning accepted by the parent culture. In sum, nonverbal behavior meanings exist in the mind of the person who initiates them, but also in the minds of those on the receiving end. Sometimes we need to discuss those meanings with others to arrive at an accepted or agreed upon interpretation. The more we have in common with our audience, the more likely they will draw the conclusions we had intended from our nonverbal behaviors.

(d)Culture and Context—to fully understand a nonverbal behavior we have to know the culture it comes from and the context in which it occurred. After all, the majority of meaning of nonverbal communication comes from the society we live in. What is true for doing business in one culture might be drastically different elsewhere. The guidelines we follow in such cases are referred to as “display rules.” There are expectations that we will behave in specific ways in certain situations. To breach these rules will usually result in something negative or corrective responses soon to follow. Burgoon says that all cultures have “world views” of how we make sense out of the world around us. The greater the variance in the “world view” of one culture to the next, the greater the struggle to communicate effectively. We must be conscience of falling prey to high levels of ethnocentrism—the belief that our own culture is superior to all others. This has nothing to do with being proud of your culture and practicing its values and customs. But when we start to tell others why they are wrong and how we are better, we can be sure of only two things:

  1. they will defend their own culture, and
  2. the communication we have with that other person will become strained. You can think and feel whatever you wish, but when words flow from our mouths we become responsible for them. Even organizations within a single culture will (or can) have distinctive cultures specific to that organization. This is usually not a big problem within one culture but potentially it can be. Not only culture, but the situation or context in which a nonverbal behavior occurs will have major influence on how we interpret it. Sometimes a touch is very innocent or positive, but other times that same touch in a physical sense can be very suggestive and negative. To ignore the context of a behavior is just as foolish as to ignore the cultural rules that govern the behavior.


Functions of Nonverbal Behaviors—

What nonverbal behaviors do; the jobs they perform. Certainly they can be used to express intimacy, and controlling the type and amount of communication. Additionally nonverbal behaviors can be used to create impression formation through a variety of ways. One significant way is via interviews. There are other ways we create impressions with our nonverbal communication. For example, nonverbal communication can impact power, intimacy, and immediacy and how each is used.

(A)Perception and Impression Formation—We form impressions of others based on their nonverbal acts and we use those same behaviors to create an image of ourselves. How we behave non-verbally will depend largely on who we are with and the context in which it occurs.

  • Job interviews are great examples of how impression formation works in this setting. Key points: nonverbal becomes more important when applicants can’t be judged on ability alone. Also limited impact in most cases since most applicants do the same thing (sitting up right, smiling, proper dress, etc). And finally, and to a lesser degree of importance, interviewers may judge interviewees on different cue than those used by the applicants. Possible, but not that likely to be a regular occurrence.
  • Other Contexts–(power, intimacy and immediacy)—positive attitudes in sales can be helpful, if not necessary, for any success. We tend to buy from and do business with positive, energetic people. And certainly appropriate eye contact is essential. No one will buy a product from a sales person who lacks effective eye contact. There are many factors that affect successful selling but the bottom line is often that we do business with people we like. Other relational factors are power and immediacy. Power—the ability to influence others. Time, location, seating, etc. Power is often a clear-cut element of corporate hierarchy. Status is less clear. One may no little power but great status. Immediacy or a sense of psychological closeness between the source and the receiver. A strong sense of interest and enthusiasm can be created by using the wide-array of nonverbal behaviors effectively. When we behave with high immediacy, it tends to create similar behavior in others (the norm of reciprocity). Dull, lethargic people lack immediacy. While they may be very intelligent, their ineffective use of nonverbal behavior makes it hard for them to develop business relationships that help themselves and their companies. The text notes intimacy (a close union with others) but note this does “not” suggest nor should it be interpreted as “sexual closeness.”

(B)Coordinating interaction between people—nonverbal behaviors in organizations provide structure and patterns (for example, leaders sit at the end or front of a table and subordinates line up in order of power/status away from them). Locations of offices/rooms tend to facilitate or reduce communication with others. Main offices where high traffic passes are centers for communication (by design). The locations of offices are often indicators of status or power. How people use objects in their offices is another indicator of power. Staying behind a heavy desk rather than coming out on an “equal position” or sitting up higher than those you meet is another indicator.

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