The Loudest Voice Of All – Nonverbal Communication

By Flora Richards Gustafson

Man smilingLesson Plan Guide

You use nonverbal communication every day, whether you mean to or not. While verbal communication involves spoken messages, nonverbal communication is body language and wordless cues, such as smiling. To master the art of communication, you have to be aware of what your actions say.

Actions speak louder than words
Nonverbal communication makes up two-thirds of all communication. So it’s important to make sure your words and body language match. What makes it harder is that you can’t escape communication. Even silence, as in “the silent treatment,” is a form of communication. Your posture, hand movements, eyes and facial expressions send a message even if you don’t speak a word. People often judge what you say by your behavior, not your words. It’s easy to be misunderstood (like when you rolled your eyes at your mom, but didn’t mean to).

Nonverbal communication has a big impact on first impressions, according to “The Definitive Book of Body Language” — from a first meeting to greeting your family at breakfast. People use all five senses to interpret what you say and do, devoting up to 83 percent of their sight and just 11 percent of their hearing skills to figure out what you’re trying to communicate.

Types of nonverbal communication
Successful communication needs a combination of things to go right. You have to express a message clearly with your words and with the following forms of nonverbal communication.

Clothes: The clothes you wear let other people know about your background, personality, culture, mood, confidence, age, interest, gender and values. For example, people wear nicer clothes to a job interview to show that they’re serious about wanting employment.

Posture: It communicates your interest, feelings, degree of attention and how much you like or respect someone. More than just slouching or standing up straight, posture includes the placement of arms and legs, and the position of shoulders and jaw. Often people show interest in a person or conversation by copying the posture of the person, or leaning forward and leaving arms uncrossed. And if a friend says nothing’s wrong, but she has crossed arms and slumping shoulders, it would be hard to believe her because her body says otherwise.

Gestures: You can make gestures with your hands, arms, body, head, face and eyes. Many gestures are culture-specific. For example, the shape that you make with your hand to say “I got your nose” is considered rude in some parts of the world, while it’s a symbol of good luck in others. On the other hand, gestures like shoulder shrugging and smiling have the same meaning all around the world.

Eyes can do a lot of talking: Eye contact is the main way you communicate your interest, involvement and attention in another person (not necessarily romantic) or information you receive.

Your face and eyes are a big giveaway when it comes to telling the truth. With the ability to make over 10,000 expressions, your face usually shows emotions and communicates your honesty. Notice how many people can’t keep a straight face or look you in the eyes when they lie?

Touch: It is the first sense you develop in the womb. Even when people can’t hear or see, they can still use touch to communicate. Types of touch used to communicate in the United States include hugging, handshakes, high-fives, kisses, hand-holding or pats on the back.

Communication is the gateway to understanding, and nonverbal communication is one of the most important skills you can have.

About the Author

Flora Richards Gustafson