Non-Verbal Communication 1

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SLMtitle.png Learning Objectives

To explain the concept of non-verbal communication.

To expose students to different types of non-verbal communication.

To provide tips on adopting situation appropriate non-verbal signals.

To enable students to identify non-verbal cues in day to day life and use them to their advantage.

SLMtitle.png Introduction

Imagine yourself in a classroom,attending a lecture. You are unable to pay attention in spite of trying to do so,the reason being,you woke up late,skipped breakfast,missed your regular transport to your institute,in short it’s not your day.To add to it,the fight with hunger pangs that distract you from the first lecture onwards.You find yourself unusually restless,unable to pay attention,thus resorting to slouching on the desk,scribbling on your notebook instead of taking lecture notes and intermittently doodling away to glory,also at the same time try to look interested,and nod as if you follow every word the teacher has uttered. To add to your woes,the hawk eyedteacher,chooses you to recapitulate the entire lecture for the class and you are left with no option but apologize and hang your head down in shame as you are unable to do so.Why does the teacher single you out to recapitulate? Does she do it with the intention of sending across the message that she can see through your attention paying posture? How does she actually come to know that you are not paying attention? Are you a poor actor or is she a better judge? The answer to all these questions,very simply put is -non-verbal cues.The trained eye of the teacher catches all non – verbal signals i.e your slouching,scribbling,your forced nodding of head in affirmation when not required,after gathering these cues,she purposely puts you in a tight spot,so that you do not repeat the same behaviour.This example explains how useful non-verbal communication is in correcting behaviour. One can play around with words- but the same is not always possible with non-verbal communication.

SLMtitle.png Definition

Simply put non-verbal communication takes place in the absence of words (written or/and oral).Thus non - verbal communication is communication, by using means other than that which is usually used i.e language(written/spoken).Communication researchers have found that non - verbal cues have more impact in conveying meaning than verbal content. The example mentioned above proves this adequately (the teacher, could quickly identify on the basis of non –verbal signals who was paying attention or otherwise).However,this doesn’t mean that verbal and non-verbal messages do not co–exist,in fact,much of non-verbal communication depends for its meaning on verbal messages and vice versa. Today ,non- verbal communication is so vital to business communication,that many pro-active organisations try to train their employees to understand it.

{{SLMact|Activity=(Total time- 5 minutes)

The teacher can ask the students to present the answers orally and discuss.(5 minutes)

Define Non-Verbal Communication citing two examples from day to day life.(Five minutes)

SLMtitle.png Characteristics of non-verbal communication and behaviour

1 Non-verbal communication emanates from the sub conscious,therefore is persuasive and continuous- Unless one is life less one keeps exhibiting non- verbal cues continuously.It is possible to stop communicating verbally,but an abrupt halt in communication is indicative that something is surely amiss.Example:It is easy to delineate on the basis of non- verbal communication,whom you are comfortable with in a group of people and with whom you are not on the basis of subtle non- verbal cues like eye contact,less consciousness of one’s physical self and mind you,often,all these non-verbal signals are spontaneous and not studied. Of course, once we learn more about non-verbalcommunication,we can be more aware of it and use it consciously, to make verbal communication effective.

2 Non–verbal cues are real therefore reliable- It is said that only part of what we tell those around us is conveyed by the spoken word, rest is loudly put across through actions. When there is a mismatch between verbal and non–verbal cues then we tend to believe non-verbal cues.This is because it is difficult to feign non-verbal cues.It is for instance,very easy to identify a student trying to lie and excuse himself for coming late to class, through the speed of speech,which is too fast, there is more blinking of eyelids and generally gestures are more defensive. As Sigmund Freud said,"No mortal can keep a secret.If his lips are silent,he talks with his fingertips;betrayal oozes out of him at every pore."

3 Non–verbal cues communicate subjective responses: Non–verbal cues generally communicate myriad emotions and feelings across the spectrum,ranging from anger, dislike, hatred, love, disgust, fear and so on, in response to a particular situation. Objective ideas or concepts cannot be conveyed through non-verbal channels,for instance the Theory of Relativity,cannot be explained only by using non-verbal cue.On the other hand,an extra lecture on the Theory of Relativity can evoke emotions ranging from relief to boredom ,which can be clearly expressed through non- verbal behaviour.

4 Non –verbal cues make speech more meaningful as they supplement speech-Very often we regulate the flow of conversation non-verbally by raising an index finger,nodding and leaning forward,raising eyebrows and changing eye contact. In fact, use of gestures comes so naturally to us that even while speaking over the phone, we tend to use gestures and facial expressions as if the other person is present bang in front.

 Notice the hand movements and facial expressions supplementing speech unknowingly.

5 Non –verbal cues can replace speech-If students start murmuring loudly in the library, a raised index finger on lips by the librarian, in the students direction, is enough to hush the murmur.

Finger on your lips!

6 Non-verbal cues could also contradict speech - William Shakespeare has said,"For a man may smile and smile and smile,and yet be a villain".Outwardly,you may congratulate your colleague on his promotion,but your facial expressions betray your speech.

 Jealousy, thy name is man!

7 Non–verbal cues could often be vague- Non-verbal cues could at times be difficult to understand.The variety of non-verbal cues available makes it difficult to classify them. Sometimes, meanings that are not intended at all are conveyed.For instance,very often when we try to catch someone’s eye,by waving our hand in a crowded hall,some other person waves back at usassuming that we are waving at him, here, the friendly gesture was not meant for the stranger.In contrast, people fail to exhibit non-verbal cues when they experience some emotion strongly-they cannot just express-they go blank,a student who gets to know that she has topped a crucial exam is just stunned after looking at the results for a while.

                                   I'm sorry there is some confusion?

8 Non-verbal behaviour is intentional or unintentional – When for instance you shake hands with your business associate when you meet the hand shake is an intentional gesture , intended to greet.It is said that verbal communication carries a lot of intent,whereas non-verbal communication is more primitive and less controllable than its verbal counterpart. For instance while concentrating while studying ,may be an individual has a habit of playing with her hair,which is a non- verbal signal that the person is trying to concentrate,which is unintentional.

9 Non-verbal Communication is not universal:Just as there are different languages,different cultures have different non- verbal coding systems.Non-verbal messages that are normal in the U.S. may not be acceptable socially and could have an entirely different meaning in Asian culture.

SLMact.gif Activity
(Total time- 15 minutes )

The teacher can ask the students to present the answer orally and discuss.(15 minutes )

Describe five characteristics of non-verbal communication, giving real life examples.

Can non-verbal cues be taken on their own?

Can we consciously separate non-verbal communication from verbal communication for a long time?

After having understood the characteristic features of non-verbal communication, we will now examine the ways in which non-verbal messages are transmitted. The study of non -verbal communication can be broadly classified as:

Kinesics -The study of facial expressions and body movements.

Proxemics - This refers to the study of use of physical space .

Paralanguage- The way we say,what we say.

Other forms of non-verbal communication include-The Use of Time, Dress and Grooming, Silence and Colour.

SLMtitle.png Kinesics

Human beings communicate a lot through facial expressions and body movements. Kinesics is the study of this kind of communication. Let’s see how our facial expressions and body movements convey different messages effectively.

Facial expressions: The face plays an important part in communicating various emotions. The forehead,eyebrows,eyes,the nose,the lower face all put together create a gamut of expressions. The emoticons that express our feelings :-),:-(, ;-)are handy when we have to express our pleasure or displeasure instantly.The eyes of all parts of the face are used to give information. Eyes are very pivotal in conveying subtle messages. Eyes have been a source of inspiration to many a poets. A Spanish Philosopher puts it as "The eye is a whole theatre ,with its stage and actors.The eyes themselves do not show any emotion ,but together with other parts of the face,they are windows to the soul."

Our eyes do not only receive impressions of the world around us,they also transmit signals about our innermost feelings to the outside world.We all have been in situations where we have communicated only with our eyes,it could have been making eyes at others,or having winked at your friend,while wanting to fool the other friend present.

Several variations in eye expressions can be observed according to the extent we open our eyelids.Let’s take a look at some of them:

Normally open eyelids:The normally open eye can see all incoming images.We see everything without any critical distinction.

Eyes opened wide::These eyes try to take in as much as possible from the surroundings as a reaction to a feeling of joy, fright , surprise, amazement.We also open our eyes wide after a sudden or unexpected happening.A warning look accompanied by wide–open eyes signify reprimand.


Eyes Closed:Such eyes signal that no outer impressions are wanted.They show the need for some isolation and contemplation to think about something .When we wish to enjoy sensory or intellectual stimuli like food or music our eyes shut automatically.

Eyes screwed up: This is in response to unwanted irritations from outside,that could be purely physical.We also screw up our eyes when we experience or imagine unpleasant feelings like fear, reluctance,displeasure.

    I do not like this..

Blinking:Rapid and repetitive involuntary movement of the eyelids.This could again be a reflex action to get dust off your eyes. But it could also convey embarrassment,insecurity.Also it is observed that people tend to blink more than normal when they lie.

An exchange of glances between two people reveals the individual having the upper hand in a conversation.In principle,the stronger personality creates eye contact more quickly,more often and more persistently.You can also find out that:

1 Those who look away when speaking are unsure of their opinion or its reception.

2 Those who look at others can support the validity of their statements and appear more confident.

3 Those who look at the floor are overcautious and try to avoid new ideas, experience or risks.

4 The popular person within a group,maintains high level of eye contact.

5 An open look comes from an open person.

An interesting study on Gaze and Aversion by Argyle and Cook,reveal the type of personality and the attitude of speaker and listener at that moment. Their study revealed that :

Females gaze more than males.

Adults gaze more than adolescents.

Supervisors gaze more than subordinates.

Arabs gaze more than Westerners or the Japanese.

Staring at someone for a long period of time is considered to be impolite and rude.It is observed that Indians stare more than westerners.

Messages by nose and mouth:

Wrinkling the nose: Clearly depicts reluctance,displeasure,aversion or disgust. However,the defence is passive,the signal is that the other person has already agreed to suffer something.

  I detest this.

Flared nostrils: This is typically an accompaniment of eyes wide open and stand for severe anger,disgust it is an expression of unpleasant emotions.

   You better listen.

One’s lips can be expressive even when they don’t say a word. Silent lips adopt a variety of postures that reveal a wide range of emotions.

Lips pressed : This position of lips clearly indicates that the person disagrees .It is clear that the discussion is over.

Lips pursed : They are a sign of disapproval, that the person concerned has fixed views and nothing you say will change them. Self - important people usually purse lips.

Biting one's lips: Reveals embarrassment or a lack of self-confidence.In order to prevent rash words people control themselves by biting their lips. We also unknowingly tend to bite lips when we try to think very hard to say something.

Control your speech.

With a laugh and a smile:

We have all heard the famous Jagjit Singh ghazal ,where excessive forced smiling is claimed to have hidden inner turmoil.Most of us must have experienced this at some point in time.It is said that’Laugh and the whole world laughs with you’.

Just carry out a small experiment :Imagine being insulted by one of your seniors at the work place,to the extent of tears having welled up.But you hold back your tears and after the argument is over just try to SMILE,it might even sound difficult at the first shot,but if you just wipe your tears and force yourself to smile, you will observe your whole approach to the situation changes.Try doing this whenever you face a difficult situation in life, a smile can really be uplifting.

Even infants laugh and smile, when it is warm,well –fed and generally contented.A smile is thus rightly called a curve that can set any wrong right.

Laughter can be classified as follows:

Laughing with the Ha-Ha sound: This type of laughter is open and tension free.It is open- hearted laughter.However,even this should be used/done with discretion, as it is said that’ a fool is known by his laughter’.

Laughing with the He-He sound:This is usually laughing at somebody or at something.This is condescending;the tone is mocking and challenging.

Laughing with the Ho-Ho sound:This conveys surprise and disbelief in what one has heard.It is usually connected with a tendency to express critical astonishment, protest or even challenge.Usually we associate this with the Santa Claus.

Smirking:Smirking is a form of laughter with lips pressed together,expressing a certain resoluteness.A certain degree of mischief and joy of observing others make a smirk. The source of amusement is only known to the smirker.

SLMact.gif Activity
(Total time-5 minutes)

Write your response to the queries below:( Five minutes)

Come up with adjectives describing different eye expressions.(expected time to complete the activity -5 minutes)

SLMtitle.png Posture

Kinesics is also related to the positioning of the body called Posture.It refers to the way we move,walk,bend,stand or slouch. Posture reveals a lot of people’s attitudes and emotions.

Posture performs the following functions:

a)Defensive: If you all of a sudden see some object being hurled at you,instantly you try to adopt a different posture, obviously, to save yourself from the object, either by ducking or slouching or trying to get out of the way. Best example is when your teacher tries to reclaim your attention by aiming a chalk piece at you,you immediately change your posture by hiding under the desk.

b)Adaptive: You adapt your posture according to the space available.Example: When travelling on a local train we can adapt our posture to allow a fourth person to sit on a three seater space. We have to give in to the“Please adjust”appeal,by our fellow passengers.

c)Expressive: When we feel low,automatically our shoulders droop,our face falls and our pace slows down.Thus,our overall demeanour expresses our mental state.

Let’s take a look at the different ways in which people stand and balance their bodies and what it reveals about them:

Balanced Posture: This is portrayed by a person standing firm on both feet with a fair distribution of weight on both heels. The body is relaxed , torso is upright. Arms should be relaxed and hanging down at the sides.This posture reveals level –headedness,self -confidence and inner freedom.

A Stiff Posture:: One adopts this when one is under extreme tension automatically our muscles stiffen,this results in a rigid posture. People who display this posture often are said to be determined have lack of flexibility and have a great desire to prove themselves.

A Jiggling Posture: This posture is characterised by up and down movements as a result of shifting weight from side to side on back of the feet. Upward jiggling of the body is carried out in constant and abrupt movements. This is an unbalanced stance, generally visible in public speakers.

Standing with Legs Apart: This posture is adapted when people are eager to assert themselves.It reveals heightened self- awareness and arrogance. It is a defensive posture against an assumed threat.

Crossed Legs:Body tension is concentrated in crossed legs in this posture. It can reveal a defensive attitude but the tension also expresses a certain readiness for contact.Generally,a newcomer in a group unknowingly adapts this posture.

According to psychologists the way a person walks shows a great deal about his mental state and personal attitude. The pace of one’s walk reveals temperament and power. Swift movements reveal activity. Quiet movements reveal calmness, lethargic movements stand for sluggishness, carelessness and insecurities.Distracted movements reveal nervousness and insecurity.

Different styles of walking are:

Stepping Out: People who take big strides are generally decisive,ambitious and have the ability to take action.Big steps display initiative and dislike of narrow mindedness.

Hesitant Walk: People who take little steps are cautious,adapt quickly.However,these people lack confidence but are perfectionists.

Relaxed Walk: Generally this signifies a casual and carefree attitude. Young people are generally found walking in this manner.Along with other expressions it could also stand for immaturity, indolence , carelessness.

Dragging Walk: People who walk in this manner are usually under tension, their back is rounded, chest is hollow, their movements have little variation. Round shoulders show despondency and dislike of effort,such people are usually sluggish and inactive.

Similarly the way we Sit also reveals a lot about ourselves.

It is found that women sit differently than men.It is not only due to difference in anatomy or style of dressing but gender roles play an important role here.Generally, closed legs reveal anxiety, crossed legs stand for self -confidence,wrapping legs around the chair stand for inflexibility,strong inner tension and by wrapping legs around the chair the individual seeks for support against insecurity.