Thursday, 15 November 2012


Why write about this junk you may ask? But like it or not, we all use and respond to thousands of nonverbal cues and behaviours everyday. Be it consciously or unconsciously. Nonverbal (unspoken) communications are usually understood as the process of communication through sending and receiving wordless (mostly visual) cues between individuals. These nonverbal cues and behaviours may include posture, facial expression, eye gaze, gesture, handshake and even our hair styles. Our speech is also said to contain some nonverbal elements known as paralanguage; which includes voice quality, rate, pitch, volume and speaking as well as prosodic features such as rhythm, intonation and stress. No wonder nonverbal details are said to reveal who we are and impact how we relate and interact with the people around us.
While these signals are often subtle that we are not consciously aware of them, researchers have identified several types of nonverbal communication as follows:

Facial Expression: Consider how much information can be conveyed with just a simple smile, a frown or scowl. A smile for instance is an expression that can send a message of joy, closeness, affection or comfort. Anyone seeing a smile can sense this meaning and may perceive the person to be comfortable, friendly, approachable, inviting and likely to be engaged in during interaction. A frown or a scowl on the other hand may transmit a message of disgust, irritation, frustration or anger which makes interaction difficult.

Touch (Haptics): Has it ever occurred to you that you communicate with people daily using “touch”? Whether we consciously think about it or not, we communicate several times daily using a mare touch from handshake to fist bonds; high fives to hugs, and pats on the back. They are mostly used as greetings, to communicate a job well done or to show sympathy. A firm handshake for instance may demonstrate confidence, while a weak one may communicate insecurity. A hug with wide arms conveys warmth, while a one-armed hug doesn’t express as much openness or comfort.

Proximity (Proxemics): People often refer to their need for “personal space”, which is also an important type of nonverbal communication. This personal or physical space (the amount of space, gap or distance we perceive as psychologically belonging and sacred to us) can communicate many feelings like warmth, friendliness, power and authority. No wonder many people become uncomfortable when someone they barely know or meet for the first time comes “too close” to them, as they perceive or interpret such an act as an invasion to their personal space.

Body Language and Posture (Kinesics): Posture and movement can also convey a great deal of information about an individual in certain situations. The way a person walks, stands, leans and sits can tell a lot about his level of comfort in particular situation. For instance, a person that is rigid, rocking back and forth and won’t look you straight in the eye is obviously nervous and insecure. But someone that stands tall, looks you in the eye and has a relaxed demeanor communicates his confidence.

Paralinguistics: Imagine the powerful effect that the tone of our voice can have on the meaning of a sentence. Paraguistics refers to vocal communication that is separate from actual language. This includes factors such as tone of voice, loudness, inflection and pitch. For instance, when we speak with a strong tone of voice, listeners might interpret approval and enthusiasm. The same words spoken in a hesitant tone of voice might convey disapproval and lack of interest.

Appearance: As social beings, we constantly find ourselves forming impressions about other people, just as they also form impressions about us. The kind of impressions we form about someone may however be as a result of his or her clothing, hair style or the kind of colour he or she is putting on and other factors affecting appearance are also considered as means of nonverbal communication. Research on colour psychology has demonstrated that different colours can evoke different moods and responses. This may give some kind of explanation to as why black and white colours are mostly used during funerals.

Eye gaze: Looking, staring and blinking can also be an important nonverbal behavior. When people encounter people or things that they like, the rate of blinking increases and pupils dialect. Looking at another person can indicate a range of emotions, including hostility, interest and attraction.
Gestures: Some common gestures include moving, pointing and using fingers to indicate numeric amounts. These deliberate movements and signals are important ways of communicating meaning without words.

Since a substantial portion of our communication is nonverbal (unspoken), understanding these nonverbal behaviours and communication can be extremely helpful and can go a long way in shaping the way we act and interact with people around us. These nonverbal cues are however not always reliable as there are factors that can impede their presentation and interpretation. Some of these factors may include difference in culture, individual difference (personality), a person’s mood or state of mind, environment, religion, etc.
Agwom M. Wakili



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