Non-Verbal Communication contd.

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SLMtitle.png Gestures

We use our hands and arms to gesticulate.Gestures supplement and intensify speech.Gestures convey a lot about speakers,their interest,attitudes and emotions.

For instance a teacher may use forceful hand gestures to emphasize her view like banging on the desk,or pointing at an erring student.

Shrugging shoulders signify resignation or wringing of hands stand for nervousness.

If you ever get caught in a foreign country due to language problems,you could fall back on gestures to bail you out!

Positive gestures include patting on the back,shaking hands,waving fervently on seeing a friend in excitement or a usual hand shake.

The way we position our hands also reveal our attitude and emotions  :

Hands open: People showing their palms i.e keeping hands open during an argument reveal an open minded individual,ready to trust others and interested in others arguments and open to ideas.

Hands covered : Back of one or both hands raised against one another is representative of concealing feelings and covering insecurity. Such a person is difficult and keeps his distance.

Clinging hands: Depicts confused and insecure people,longing for support.Such individuals generally cling to handbags,files or even a hand kerchief.Such people are scared of the present and clinging to things is part of their coping activity.

Fists clenched: This is a forceful gesture.When an individual tries to prove a point vehemently automatically fists get clenched .

Hands twisted: People who twist arms are complex people trying to hide something.Twisted hands reveal a difficult emotional life .

Fists clasped: This is a defensive gesture.Clasped hands create a barricade.

Fingers also communicate effectively.

The usual thumbs up gesture stands for authority and encouragement.

Upward index finger held right up to the middle of the cheek stands for a self-opinionated individual.

Pointed index finger draws attention to something.Index finger across the mouth is a sign of restraint.

SLMact.gif Activity
(Total time- 15 minutes)

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

When you are at a lecture or a public meeting pay careful attention to the gestures,posture and general appearance of the main speaker.What does it suggest about the speaker?

SLMtitle.png Proxemics

On the basis of the distance shared we can deduce the relationship between the sender and the receiver. Proxemics is the study of use of physical space around us. We use space around us in the manner we are culturally conditioned,our exposure to the world and also our mental state decides how much physical distance is to be maintained.We know when and whereto draw a line between us and others.

On the basis of the physical distance shared between communicators Edward T Hall has classified space as :

Intimate distance which is within a radius of up to eighteen inches around the person,this space can be trespassed by people who are intimate,very close to the individual i. e close family relations,close friends.We should try and not invade into some one’s intimate space,by not holding someone’s hand for long or by touching people while communicating, especially subordinates should know where to draw the line between them and their superiors. Also we should be alert to the non –verbal signals that people give when we unknowingly trespass into their personal space like shifting in their seats, avoiding eye contact, looking away during a conversation best example of invading intimate space is celebrities trying to cover their faces,when cameras are literally thrust on to their faces.

  Close Friends.

Personal Distance: This distance starts where the intimate distance ends and extends till four feet away from the body. This space is again reserved for family and friends.People don’t like their personal space to be invaded, the most common invasion of personal space happens in public transports,elevators and on crowded streets. The best defence mechanism that we unknowingly adopt is we start ignoring others presence and in a crowded sea of people make our way as if we are wading through deep waters ignoring others presence,completely!

Social Distance: This distance is between four to twelve feet away from oneself. People kept at this distance are acquaintances,colleagues,sales executives,superiors. It is this zone that most of the formal business is transacted.

  A meeting in action

Public Distance:This generally extends from twelve to twenty five feet .This is the farthest distance where one can communicate with the other person on a face- to- face basis. However,in today’s world where distances are reduced by technology we can’t really limit ourselves to physical interaction. Vera Birkenbihl says,"The extent of the public zone can almost reach infinity ,namely as far as the camera can broadcast images .At the moment ,the public distance is as far away as the moon, the place farthest away from which we have received broadcasts." Today,with web cameras and video conferencing the boundaries between virtual and the real world are blurring rapidly so public distance need not be limited to twenty five feet away from the self!

The knowledge of Proxemics,will help you to find the right personal distance to others and to judge others in their behaviour based on the distance shared.However,this study should be conducted together with other verbal and non-verbal cues.

SLMact.gif Activity
(Total time- 15 minutes)

The teacher can ask the students to present the answer orally and discuss.(Five minutes) Observe the distance individuals maintain between each other at a social gathering.Does the space maintained suggest the kind of relationship that exists between individuals and groups?

SLMtitle.png Paralanguage

The study of paralanguage focuses on how you say,what you say.Although it is an accompaniment to verbal communication,it is part of non-verbal communication as the focus is not on what is being said,but on how it is being said,which actually lends a great deal of meaning to the conversation.To understand what exactly paralanguage is,imagine a forced apology to someone when you know that the other person doesn’t deserve one.The difference between a forced apology and a genuine apology-is exactly what paralanguage is all about.

What exactly differentiates a genuine apology from a forced one? It is the speed of the speech, pitch and volume of speech.In a genuine apology you enunciate each sound the rate of delivering the speech is slow,well thought out and the pitch isn’t high but is low.It’s the exact opposite in a forced apology. The above example indicates that paralanguage has several aspects to it,they are:

Volume: This could be loud or soft.Loud voice attracts attention on the other hand,soft voice conveys a sense of peace and calm.The volume generally reflects the social background to which an individual belongs.It’s prudent to regulate volume in a conversation for desired impact.Teachers for instance should modulate their volume according to the number of students present in class,which they seldom forget!

Rate of speech: People can roughly speak 150 words in a minute (unless one is rendering the Breathless number by Shankar Mahadevan).One should be conscious about the rate at which words are delivered,as too fast a speech creates confusion and there is less clarity regarding the message. Too slow a speech creates doubts about the speaker’s credibility. It is observed, when we try to give excuses or lie,or are forced to say something, the rate of speech automatically increases.

Voice Pitch: Question yourself as to “When do you raise your pitch?”,answers are either when you are excited,agitated,surprised. Pitch is an indicator of one’s emotions.We can observe that people who are sorted,confident are generally in control of their pitch,which is generally moderate.

Pronunciation: How many times have we caught people pronouncing the H sound in honest, and T sound in subtle? Or people pronouncing the ‘’e’’ sound as ae in the word message? i.e maessage instead of message Or elongating or contacting vowels at wrong places. One must be careful about these nuances,while speaking,these are minute pointers of the speakers depth of understanding and use of the English language.Moreover,it also raises questions about the quality of the speaker’s educational background.

Besides using the above described features ,we also sprinkle our speech with vocal segregates like er .. . ohh… or a chuckle or hmmm.. these sounds punctuate sentences.Also we use filler expressions like – I mean,Okay,Yes or No? You understand? frequent use of these expressions indicate a lack of confidence and exhibit a feeling of stress on part of the sender.

The other forms of non-verbal communication are

SLMtitle.png Dress and Grooming

Assume that you are new to a place,don’t know your way around and have only two options either ask for directions to a beggar in rags or ask a decently dressed and well groomed individual. In most cases, the first option will not be even considered as an option. Without giving a second thought to the first option you would have already approached the decent looking individual and would have taken your instructions. What really prevents you from approaching the first individual? It is obviously the appearance, "The apparel oft proclaims the man” , advices Polonious to his son in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It is observed that our perceptions and evaluation of people are influenced by physical appearance, which impacts the communication process positively or negatively.

Today, the way we dress and present ourselves has assumed great importance,especially in the corporate world.Physical fitness is also gaining equal importance ,people don’t like to be associated with people who are obese, out of shape and such people are generalised as being inefficient and lazy, due to their body structures. Such sweeping generalisations shouldn’t be made,although, people should be aware of their body size and shape,purely out of medical concerns. It is observed that people who are attractive ,who take care of their dress and appearance are found to be more competent, more successful and have professionally desirable qualities- attractive people are more likely to be hired.

People should take care to be appropriately dressed for occasions, if the occasion is formal -formal clothing should be worn, for example one shouldn’t face an interview in a pair of torn jeans and bathroom slippers .Instead one should be dressed in formal clothes,men should be dressed in formal shirts and formal trousers; if the position calls for,a formal suit along with a matching tie should be worn.The shades should be pastels and subdued,the dress should not be too flashy.Shirts should be lighter than the suit and tie darker than the shirt.

For women preferably a sari or a business suit comprising a jacket,shirt and skirt.Trousers are considered too casual.In case of both men and women accessories should not be too many and flashy. Personal hygiene should be paid attention to, hair should be in place and neatly trimmed, body odour should be eliminated, oral hygiene should be paid utmost importance to, nails should be trimmed- in case of women nails shouldn’t be too long and gaudily painted.

One should not be overdressed or under dressed and if the dress code is specified,it should be strictly adhered to.

SLMact.gif Activity
(Total time- 15 minutes)

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

Does dress and grooming influence the process of communication?Justify your answer with examples.

SLMtitle.png Silence

Silence communicates,an oxymoron it might seem,but is a proven fact that silence is more powerful than speech and lends speech its meaning. There are proverbs in abundance expounding the importance of silence. To quote Shakespeare once again,"There was speech in their dumbness, and language in their very gesture",in a Mid-Summer Nights Dreams. Richmond and McCroskey point out that people use silence to communicate many things. We may use silence to establish interpersonal distance,to put our thoughts together,to show respect for the other person or to modify others behaviour.

Silence can be warm,when you meet a long lost friend all of a sudden at the airport,for a while you do not know what to say.

Silence can be cold,when you cross paths with your arch rival at a party,you choose to be quiet.

Silence can be demanding,when there is a silence after a demand is made and you are not in a situation to answer,example:A teacher asking student for an assignment,that is incomplete.

Silence is natural,when we travel by train,we need not share our thoughts with our co-travellers,who are strangers.

Silence should be used judiciously in speech for speech to acquire it’s intended meaning.It’s prudent to listen to the other completely before expressing our ideas.

SLMact.gif Activity
(Total time-10 minutes)

Which means of communication would you opt for if you were asked to persuade a group of students to maintain silence in the library?Justify the reasons for your choice.

SLMtitle.png Use of time

The way an individual uses time provides others clues about the kind of person one is and what can be expected from him/her in terms of dependability. At the work place juniors are expected to conform to time guidelines.As people climb the organisational hierarchy they have greater control over both their own and juniors time. Different cultures view time differently.The notion that is still commonly held about Indians is that they are flexible about time,while Westerners are very punctual about time,if their time is disrespected,it is taken as a personal insult.However,these notions eroding rapidly in a globalised context,these boundaries are blurring and we see that the world is coming together as one unit,today people all over the world respect time.It is sensible to use time with a lot of care i.e if you wish to achieve your goal in life.

SLMtitle.png Colours

Different colours communicate different states of mind and different emotions.For instance,when we feel low it is said,we feel blue or when we sense something is wrong we see red or we describe someone jealous to be green with envy. The relation between use of colours is also cultural for instance in certain cultures brides wear white as it symbolises purity of mind and soul. Certain other cultures it is considered inauspicious. It should be kept in mind that while dressing for work, pastels and light coloured clothing should be preferred.

We have taken a look at different ways of communicating non-verbally. One thing can be safely deduced out of the entire study is that it is not easy to fake non- verbal communication for long.

As a conclusion,we can also state that women are more accurate in their interpretation of non-verbal cues and more responsive to non-verbal cues than men. Stangl rightly says "Body and soul are one." The driving force for our body language comes from our inner being,which cannot be changed or “created” out of the blue. In this superficial sense we can hardly achieve anything. Bearing this aspect /shortcoming of non-verbal communication in mind,yet,the study of body language and its impact on the communication process can prove to be stepping stone towards making our gestures, posture ,facial expressions- pleasant and acceptable

We could consciously take steps towards improving our body language,by practising by standing in front of the mirror.

Simultaneously assess ourselves by asking questions:

SLMact.gif Activity
(Total time-10 minutes)

When in conversation,do I maintain eye contact with others?Yes/No

Do I get overtly conscious about myself while talking to strangers?Yes/No

Do I fidget with things when conversing?Yes/No

Is my speech natural or affected?Yes/No

Do people feel I have a transparent face?Yes/No

Do my gestures match my personality?Yes/No

Is the tone adopted while speaking pleasant?Yes/No

Do I exaggerate the use of gestures,to prove to be an effective speaker?Yes/No

Do I think I am an effective speaker?Yes/No

Answers to these questions will surely provide a fresh perspective on our assessment of our own non-verbal behaviour and surely help us improve in the positive direction.

Thus,a study of body language can help us communicate effectively. The study of body language can help us in harmonising the inner and outer self. It can enable us to differentiate between spontaneous and studied body response. It could help us overcome personal inhibitions by correcting the wrong. Also,we can build our own body language and communicate more easily with others. Finally,we should remember that while judging others non-verbal communication,we should be very careful and should sharpen our senses to capture nuances of behaviour. Body language should never be studied in isolation,it should always be taken with other verbal cues.

SLMref.png References and Bibliography


Principles Of Communication -Vijaya Somasundaram,Author Press ,2005.

Essentials of Business Communication - Rajendra Pal,J.S.Korlahalli,Sultan Chand& Sons,1996.

Business Communication -A Modern Approach-Kewal J Kumar,Jaico Publishing House,1982.

For Further Reading: E.T.Hall:Silent Language(Doubleday,1959).

Ray L Birdwhistell :Introduction to Kinesics (University of Louisville Press,1952).

Argyle and Cook :Gaze and Mutual Gaze.

Peter Little: Communication in Business (Longman,1977)