Nonverbal Communication and Body Language - HelpGuide.org (2022)

communication

Your facial expressions, gestures, posture, and tone of voice are powerful communication tools. Here’s how to read and use body language to build better relationships at home and work.

Nonverbal Communication and Body Language - HelpGuide.org (1)

What is body language?

While the key to success in both personal and professional relationships lies in your ability to communicate well, it’s not the words that you use but your nonverbal cues or “body language” that speak the loudest. Body language is the use of physical behavior, expressions, and mannerisms to communicate nonverbally, often done instinctively rather than consciously.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, when you interact with others, you’re continuously giving and receiving wordless signals. All of your nonverbal behaviors—the gestures you make, your posture, your tone of voice, how much eye contact you make—send strong messages. They can put people at ease, build trust, and draw others towards you, or they can offend, confuse, and undermine what you’re trying to convey. These messages don’t stop when you stop speaking either. Even when you’re silent, you’re still communicating nonverbally.

In some instances, what comes out of your mouth and what you communicate through your body language may be two totally different things. If you say one thing, but your body language says something else, your listener will likely feel that you’re being dishonest. If you say “yes” while shaking your head no, for example. When faced with such mixed signals, the listener has to choose whether to believe your verbal or nonverbal message. Since body language is a natural, unconscious language that broadcasts your true feelings and intentions, they’ll likely choose the nonverbal message.

[Read: Effective Communication]

However, by improving how you understand and use nonverbal communication, you can express what you really mean, connect better with others, and build stronger, more rewarding relationships.

The importance of nonverbal communication

Your nonverbal communication cues—the way you listen, look, move, and react—tell the person you’re communicating with whether or not you care, if you’re being truthful, and how well you’re listening. When your nonverbal signals match up with the words you’re saying, they increase trust, clarity, and rapport. When they don’t, they can generate tension, mistrust, and confusion.

If you want to become a better communicator, it’s important to become more sensitive not only to the body language and nonverbal cues of others, but also to your own.

Nonverbal communication can play five roles:

  • Repetition: It repeats and often strengthens the message you’re making verbally.
  • Contradiction: It can contradict the message you’re trying to convey, thus indicating to your listener that you may not be telling the truth.
  • Substitution: It can substitute for a verbal message. For example, your facial expression often conveys a far more vivid message than words ever can.
  • Complementing: It may add to or complement your verbal message. As a boss, if you pat an employee on the back in addition to giving praise, it can increase the impact of your message.
  • Accenting: It may accent or underline a verbal message. Pounding the table, for example, can underline the importance of your message.

Source:The Importance of Effective Communication, Edward G. Wertheim, Ph.D.

Types of nonverbal communication

The many different types of nonverbal communication or body language include:

Facial expressions. The human face is extremely expressive, able to convey countless emotions without saying a word. And unlike some forms of nonverbal communication, facial expressions are universal. The facial expressions for happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust are the same across cultures.

Body movement and posture. Consider how your perceptions of people are affected by the way they sit, walk, stand, or hold their head. The way you move and carry yourself communicates a wealth of information to the world. This type of nonverbal communication includes your posture, bearing, stance, and the subtle movements you make.

Gestures. Gestures are woven into the fabric of our daily lives. You may wave, point, beckon, or use your hands when arguing or speaking animatedly, often expressing yourself with gestures without thinking. However, the meaning of some gestures can be very different across cultures. While the “OK” sign made with the hand, for example, usually conveys a positive message in English-speaking countries, it’s considered offensive in countries such as Germany, Russia, and Brazil. So, it’s important to be careful of how you use gestures to avoid misinterpretation.

(Video) #Body Language Part I# Non-Verbal Communication#Effective Communication Skills#Hospitality

Eye contact. Since the visual sense is dominant for most people, eye contact is an especially important type of nonverbal communication. The way you look at someone can communicate many things, including interest, affection, hostility, or attraction. Eye contact is also important in maintaining the flow of conversation and for gauging the other person’s interest and response.

Touch. We communicate a great deal through touch. Think about the very different messages given by a weak handshake, a warm bear hug, a patronizing pat on the head, or a controlling grip on the arm, for example.

Space. Have you ever felt uncomfortable during a conversation because the other person was standing too close and invading your space? We all have a need for physical space, although that need differs depending on the culture, the situation, and the closeness of the relationship. You can use physical space to communicate many different nonverbal messages, including signals of intimacy and affection, aggression or dominance.

Voice. It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. When you speak, other people “read” your voice in addition to listening to your words. Things they pay attention to include your timing and pace, how loud you speak, your tone and inflection, and sounds that convey understanding, such as “ahh” and “uh-huh.” Think about how your tone of voice can indicate sarcasm, anger, affection, or confidence.

Can nonverbal communication be faked?

There are many books and websites that offer advice on how to use body language to your advantage. For example, they may instruct you on how to sit a certain way, steeple your fingers, or shake hands in order to appear confident or assert dominance. But the truth is that such tricks aren’t likely to work (unless you truly feel confident and in charge). That’s because you can’t control all of the signals you’re constantly sending about what you’re really thinking and feeling. And the harder you try, the more unnatural your signals are likely to come across.

However, that doesn’t mean that you have no control over your nonverbal cues. For example, if you disagree with or dislike what someone’s saying, you may use negative body language to rebuff the person’s message, such as crossing your arms, avoiding eye contact, or tapping your feet. You don’t have to agree, or even like what’s being said, but to communicate effectively and not put the other person on the defensive, you can make a conscious effort to avoid sending negative signals—by maintaining an open stance and truly attempting to understand what they’re saying, and why.

How nonverbal communication can go wrong

What you communicate through your body language and nonverbal signals affects how others see you, how well they like and respect you, and whether or not they trust you. Unfortunately, many people send confusing or negative nonverbal signals without even knowing it. When this happens, both connection and trust in relationships are damaged, as the following examples highlight:

Jack

believes he gets along great with his colleagues at work, but if you were to ask any of them, they would say that Jack is “intimidating” and “very intense.” Rather than just look at you, he seems to devour you with his eyes. And if he takes your hand, he lunges to get it and then squeezes so hard it hurts. Jack is a caring guy who secretly wishes he had more friends, but his nonverbal awkwardness keeps people at a distance and limits his ability to advance at work.

Arlene

is attractive and has no problem meeting eligible men, but she has a difficult time maintaining a relationship for longer than a few months. Arlene is funny and interesting, but even though she constantly laughs and smiles, she radiates tension. Her shoulders and eyebrows are noticeably raised, her voice is shrill, and her body is stiff. Being around Arlene makes many people feel anxious and uncomfortable. Arlene has a lot going for her that is undercut by the discomfort she evokes in others.

Ted

thought he had found the perfect match when he met Sharon, but Sharon wasn’t so sure. Ted is good looking, hardworking, and a smooth talker, but seemed to care more about his thoughts than Sharon’s. When Sharon had something to say, Ted was always ready with wild eyes and a rebuttal before she could finish her thought. This made Sharon feel ignored, and soon she started dating other men. Ted loses out at work for the same reason. His inability to listen to others makes him unpopular with many of the people he most admires.

These smart, well-intentioned people struggle in their attempt to connect with others. The sad thing is that they are unaware of the nonverbal messages they communicate.

[Read: Tips for Building a Healthy Relationship]

(Video) HOW TO READ BODY LANGUAGE

If you want to communicate effectively, avoid misunderstandings, and enjoy solid, trusting relationships both socially and professionally, it’s important to understand how to use and interpret body language and improve your nonverbal communication skills.

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How to improve nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication is a rapidly flowing back-and-forth process that requires your full focus on the moment-to-moment experience. If you’re planning what you’re going to say next, checking your phone, or thinking about something else, you’re almost certain to miss nonverbal cues and not fully understand the subtleties of what’s being communicated. As well as being fully present, you can improve how you communicate nonverbally by learning to manage stress and developing your emotional awareness.

Learn to manage stress in the moment

Stress compromises your ability to communicate. When you’re stressed out, you’re more likely to misread other people, send confusing or off-putting nonverbal signals, and lapse into unhealthy knee-jerk patterns of behavior. And remember: emotions are contagious. If you are upset, it is very likely to make others upset, thus making a bad situation worse.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress, take a time out. Take a moment to calm down before you jump back into the conversation. Once you’ve regained your emotional equilibrium, you’ll feel better equipped to deal with the situation in a positive way.

(Video) #Body Language Part III# Non-Verbal Communication# Communication Skills

The fastest and surest way to calm yourself and manage stress in the moment is to employ your senses—what you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch—or through a soothing movement. By viewing a photo of your child or pet, smelling a favorite scent, listening to a certain piece of music, or squeezing a stress ball, for example, you can quickly relax and refocus. Since everyone responds differently, you may need to experiment to find the sensory experience that works best for you.

Develop your emotional awareness

In order to send accurate nonverbal cues, you need to be aware of your emotions and how they influence you. You also need to be able to recognize the emotions of others and the true feelings behind the cues they are sending. This is whereemotional awareness comes in.

[Read: Improving Emotional Intelligence (EQ)]

Being emotionally aware enables you to:

  • Accurately read other people, including the emotions they’re feeling and the unspoken messages they’re sending.
  • Create trust in relationships by sending nonverbal signals that match up with your words.
  • Respond in ways that show others that you understand and care.

Many of us are disconnected from our emotions—especially strong emotions such as anger, sadness, fear—because we’ve been taught to try to shut off our feelings. But while you can deny or numb your feelings, you can’t eliminate them. They’re still there and they’re still affecting your behavior. By developing your emotional awareness and connecting with even the unpleasant emotions, though, you’ll gain greater control over how you think and act. To start developing your emotional awareness, practice the mindfulness meditation in HelpGuide’s free Emotional Intelligence Toolkit.

How to read body language

Once you’ve developed your abilities to manage stress and recognize emotions, you’ll start to become better at reading the nonverbal signals sent by others. It’s also important to:

Pay attention to inconsistencies. Nonverbal communication should reinforce what is being said. Is the person saying one thing, but their body language conveying something else? For example, are they telling you “yes” while shaking their head no?

Look at nonverbal communication signals as a group. Don’t read too much into a single gesture or nonverbal cue. Consider all of the nonverbal signals you are receiving, from eye contact to tone of voice and body language. Taken together, are their nonverbal cues consistent—or inconsistent—with what their words are saying?

Trust your instincts. Don’t dismiss your gut feelings. If you get the sense that someone isn’t being honest or that something isn’t adding up, you may be picking up on a mismatch between verbal and nonverbal cues.

Evaluating nonverbal signals

Eye contact – Is the person making eye contact? If so, is it overly intense or just right?

Facial expression – What is their face showing? Is it masklike and unexpressive, or emotionally present and filled with interest?

Tone of voice – Does the person’s voice project warmth, confidence, and interest, or is it strained and blocked?

Posture and gesture – Is their body relaxed or stiff and immobile? Are their shoulders tense and raised, or relaxed?

Touch – Is there any physical contact? Is it appropriate to the situation? Does it make you feel uncomfortable?

(Video) Non-verbal Communication

Intensity – Does the person seem flat, cool, and disinterested, or over-the-top and melodramatic?

Timing and place – Is there an easy flow of information back and forth? Do nonverbal responses come too quickly or too slowly?

Sounds – Do you hear sounds that indicate interest, caring or concern from the person?

Authors: Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Greg Boose

Last updated: October 2020

About Nonverbal Communications– Different categories of nonverbal communication, along with a detailed list of signals. (Adam Blatner, M.D.)

Body Language: Understanding Nonverbal Communication– Particularly as it applies to the workplace. (MindTools)

Take Control of Your Nonverbal Communication (video)– How to notice and use body language. (Harvard Business Review)

The Importance of Nonverbal Communication (PDF)– Piece by Edward G. Wertheim, Ph.D. about the communication process. (Northeastern University)

Last updated: August 16, 2022

FAQs

What is body language in non verbal communication? ›

Body language is the use of physical behavior, expressions, and mannerisms to communicate nonverbally, often done instinctively rather than consciously. Whether you're aware of it or not, when you interact with others, you're continuously giving and receiving wordless signals.

What does Helpguide emphasize about effective communication? ›

Effective communication is always about understanding the other person, not about winning an argument or forcing your opinions on others. To improve your assertiveness: Value yourself and your options. They are as important as anyone else's.

What are 5 examples of non verbal communication? ›

These nonverbal communication types are facial expressions, gestures, paralinguistics (such as loudness or tone of voice), body language, proxemics or personal space, eye gaze, haptics (touch), appearance, and artifacts.

What is nonverbal communication PDF? ›

The nonverbal communication system comprises facial expressions, body movements, vocalic or paralinguistic cues, personal and environmental space, objects, time, physical appearance, and smell/odor.

Why is body language so important? ›

Body language is a range of nonverbal signals that you can use to communicate your feelings and intentions. These include your posture, facial expressions, and hand gestures. Your ability to understand and interpret other people's body language can help you to pick up on unspoken issues or feelings.

Why is body language important in speaking? ›

Body language is an essential part of public speaking success. Your non-verbal cues will impact on the way your message is received, how engaged your audience is, and what they think of you as an individual.

Why do you think non-verbal communication is important? ›

Nonverbal communication is important because it gives us valuable information about a situation, including how a person might be feeling, how someone receives information and how to approach a person or group of people.

How do you think non-verbal communication impacts interactions? ›

Body Language: Non-verbal communication is an important part of human interaction. For example, tone, facial expressions and gestures can transfer the people's attitudes and feelings to others and the actions in many cases can be even more effective than verbal messages.

What are the 3 most important forms of nonverbal communication? ›

3 Key Elements of Nonverbal Communication
  • Body Language. Body language is the most obvious form of nonverbal communication, and it can convey much about ourselves and our level of interest. ...
  • Eye Contact. Making eye contact lets the speaker know that you think what he or she has to say is important. ...
  • Tone of Voice.

How many types of nonverbal communication are there? ›

Nonverbal communication can be categorized into eight types: space, time, physical characteristics, body movements, touch, paralanguage, artifacts, and environment.

What is the 10 non verbal communication? ›

-There are 10 types of nonverbal Communication: environment, appearance and artifacts, proxemics and territoriality, haptics, paralanguage, chronemics, kinesics, and eye contact.

What are the challenges of non-verbal communication? ›

Non-Verbal Communication Can Cause Problems
  • Facial Expressions.
  • Gestures.
  • Eye Contact.
  • Proxemics (personal space)
  • Appearance.
21 Mar 2016

What are types of communication? ›

Five Types of Communication
  • Verbal Communication. Verbal communication occurs when we engage in speaking with others. ...
  • Non-Verbal Communication. What we do while we speak often says more than the actual words. ...
  • Written Communication. ...
  • Listening. ...
  • Visual Communication.
12 Jul 2018

What are the characteristics of nonverbal communication? ›

The important characteristics of non-verbal communication are as follows:
  • (i) No use of words.
  • (ii) Culturally determined.
  • (iii) Different meaning.
  • (iv) Vague and imprecise.
  • (v) May conflict with verbal message.
  • (vi) Largely unconscious.
  • (vii) Shows feelings and attitudes.
  • (viii) Informality.
11 Apr 2020

How body language affects your mind? ›

Body language can not only influence our physical body and posture, but it can also influence how we are feeling. Having good posture has positive effects on depression, and helps us maintain higher levels of self-esteem and positivity when we are faced with stress.

How do you communicate with people? ›

3 steps to better communication
  1. Let others talk. If someone talks to you about something difficult or important, don't interrupt them with a story about yourself, even if it's relevant. ...
  2. Don't judge others. ...
  3. Accept that they may disagree with you. ...
  4. Ask open questions. ...
  5. Show them you're listening.

How can your body language have a positive impact on others? ›

A positive body language helps the person to be more assertive and assists in putting his or her opinion forward more easily than the others. Positive body language is liked by other people and hence, the person carrying a positive body language gets more attention and favor in any discussion.

What is good body language for a speech? ›

Keep a good posture, stand straight with shoulders back, relaxed and feet shoulder width apart. Do not cross your arms, put your hands in your pocket or slouch. Face the audience as much as possible and keep your body open.

How does body language show confidence? ›

  1. Make Eye Contact. Appear confident by maintaining eye contact in social interactions. ...
  2. Stand Up Straight. Don't slouch! ...
  3. Keep Your Chin Up. Do you look at the ground when you are walking? ...
  4. Don't Fidget. ...
  5. Avoid Your Pockets. ...
  6. Slow Your Movements. ...
  7. Take Larger Steps. ...
  8. Give a Firm Handshake.
22 Mar 2022

How can I improve communication skill? ›

There are specific things to do that can improve your communication skills:
  1. Listen, listen, and listen. ...
  2. Who you are talking to matters. ...
  3. Body language matters. ...
  4. Check your message before you hit send. ...
  5. Be brief, yet specific. ...
  6. Write things down. ...
  7. Sometimes it's better to pick up the phone. ...
  8. Think before you speak.

What is the importance of nonverbal communication and how it affects the relationship in a workplace? ›

Nonverbal communication in the workplace can indicate your understanding of directions, project goals or assignments from your supervisor or coworkers. In a meeting, a simple nod of your head can indicate that you agree with a comment made by a coworker or accept an assignment from your supervisor.

Is nonverbal communication important in social interaction Why? ›

Nonverbal cues serve important functions in human social life, including expressing emotions; conveying interpersonal attitudes such as friendliness, insult, or dominance; regulating affect; regulating turn taking between people in conversation; and facilitating one's own speech production.

Why communication is important role in your life? ›

It helps you connect with others and share ideas. Effective communication clarifies information, reducing wasted time. Helps builds relationships, teamwork, and trust. Helps to develop your knowledge base, which helps you make better life choices.

How non verbal communication is important in interpersonal relationships? ›

Although verbal and written communication is important, research shows that nonverbal signals make up a substantial percentage of all interpersonal communication. Eye contact, gestures, posture, tone of voice conveys very subtle information about us.

How can we avoid misunderstanding using non verbal communication? ›

Four body language tips to avoid misunderstanding
  1. Watch people's hands and adapt your behaviours. ...
  2. Be present during conversations. ...
  3. Be aware of people's personal space. ...
  4. Look out for defensive body language signs.
19 Sept 2019

What are the 4 types of body language? ›

All people express their body language in one of four ways: a light and bouncy movement, a soft and fluid movement, a dynamic and determined movement, or a precise and bold movement.

What are examples of good body language? ›

Examples of positive body language
  • Maintain good eye contact. Maintaining good eye contact can show you're engaged and actively listening to what someone is telling you. ...
  • Head nod. ...
  • Firm handshake. ...
  • Open palms. ...
  • Upright and open posture. ...
  • Leaning in while speaking (and listening)

What is body language in communication PDF? ›

Body language is a form of. non-verbal communication, which consists of body posture, gestures, facial expressions. and eye movements. Humans send and interpret such signals almost entirely. subconsciously.

How can we control our body language? ›

How to improve the body language
  1. Practice self-awareness. One of the first steps you should take to improve your body language is to gain a deeper sense of self-awareness. ...
  2. Relax your shoulders. ...
  3. Straighten your back. ...
  4. Use proper posture. ...
  5. Lean in slightly. ...
  6. Uncross your arms. ...
  7. Smile. ...
  8. Make eye contact.

Why do you think non verbal communication is important? ›

Nonverbal communication is important because it gives us valuable information about a situation, including how a person might be feeling, how someone receives information and how to approach a person or group of people.

What is an important use of body language and active listening? ›

Using body language and other signs to acknowledge you are listening can also help you to pay attention. Try to respond to the speaker in a way that will encourage them to continue speaking, so that you can get the information that you need.

How can I improve communication skill? ›

There are specific things to do that can improve your communication skills:
  1. Listen, listen, and listen. ...
  2. Who you are talking to matters. ...
  3. Body language matters. ...
  4. Check your message before you hit send. ...
  5. Be brief, yet specific. ...
  6. Write things down. ...
  7. Sometimes it's better to pick up the phone. ...
  8. Think before you speak.

What is body language explain in detail? ›

Body language is a type of communication in which physical behaviors, as opposed to words, are used to express or convey information. Such behavior includes facial expressions, body posture, gestures, eye movement, touch and the use of space.

How does body language influence our communication negatively? ›

Negative or closed body language are nonverbal cues that could diminish your credibility and influence. Your gestures, facial expressions and postures may offend or even hurt others. Your closed body language may drastically reduce your ability to be effective and you may not even be aware of it.

What's another word for body language? ›

In this page you can discover 7 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for body-language, like: gestures, nonverbal-communication, body movement, mannerisms, motion, gesture and kinesics.

What is the perfect example of nonverbal communication? ›

Waving to a friend, pointing to a restaurant menu item, and indicating how many apples you want by holding up three fingers are all examples of gestural non-verbal communication.

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