What is nonverbal communication, and how does it affect your everyday life?

  • Nonverbal communication refers to message components other than words you use to generate and respond to meaning.
  • Nonverbal communication accounts for between 60 to 70 percent of the meaning generated in a face-to-face message.
  • In everyday life, you use nonverbal communication to express emotions, define relationships, establish power and influence, interpret verbal messages, deceive, and detect deception.

How do verbal and nonverbal communication interact to create meaning?

  • Nonverbal communication differs from verbal communication in that it is more convincing, highly contextual, learned informally, less structured, and continuous.
  • Nonverbal behavior can repeat, complement, accent, regulate, substitute, and/or contradict verbal messages.
  • Expectancy Violation Theory demonstrates how your expectations about nonverbal behavior significantly affect how you interact with others and how you interpret the meaning of nonverbal messages.

What types of nonverbal communication should you pay attention to when interacting with others?

  • Nonverbal communication has many dimensions, including physical appearance, body movement and gestures, touch, facial expressions, eye behavior, vocal expressiveness, silence, space and distance, time, and environment.
  • Physical appearance includes nonverbal elements such as attractiveness, the presence or absence of tattoos and body piercing, clothing and accessories, and hair styles.
  • Hand movement can be classified as emblems, illustrators, and adaptors.
  • Facial expressions can function to mask, neutralize, intensify, or deintensify an emotion.
  • Proxemics refers to the study of how the distance between people communicates information about the nature of their relationship.

How can you improve your ability to recognize, use, and adapt to nonverbal communication?

  • By observing others’, nonverbal behavior and confirming your interpretation of its meaning, you can become more “other”-oriented.
  • Nonverbal immediacy strategies such as maintaining eye contact, smiling, using vocal variety and appropriate body movements, and maintaining close physical distance can enhance your interactions with others.

Test Your Knowledge

1. The textbook defines nonverbal communication as message components other than words that generate meaning. Which of the following answers is not an example of nonverbal communication?

a. using :-) in an e-mail to highlight your feelings

b. reading an old letter from a good friend who was living abroad

c. putting on perfume or cologne before going to a party

d. brightening up your apartment with flowers before your parents come over for dinner

e. sitting in a middle position at the side of a table during a staff meeting

2. Even though Fiona has nothing but good things to say about her boyfriend, her family can tell she’s angry at him. Which unique feature of nonverbal communication helps explain this experience?

a. Nonverbal communication is more convincing.

b. Nonverbal communication is highly contextual.

c. Nonverbal communication is learned informally.

d. Nonverbal communication is less structured.

e. Nonverbal communication is continuous.

3. Which of the following nonverbal communication goals could Sigmund Freud have been describing when he wrote that “He who has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret“?

a. to express emotions

b. to define relationships

c. to establish power and influence

d. to interpret verbal messages

e. to deceive and detect deception

4. Most people can detect deception accurately about _____ percent of the time.

a. 25

b. 30

c. 50

d. 75

e. 80

5. According to research reported by Mark Knapp, the small minority of people who are highly skilled lie detectors look for

a. higher voice pitch and vocal tension in a speaker.

b. exaggerated movements and longer pauses.

c. discrepancies between verbal and nonverbal behavior.

d. more blinking and less eye contact.

e. fidgety movements and less gesturing.

6. Which of the following nonverbal hand movements is an example of an illustrator?

a. Making a circle with your thumb and index finger to indicate “OK.”

b. Holding your thumb and fingers about two inches apart as you describe how much shorter your hair was after your last haircut.

c. Putting your face in the palms of your hands when you realize that you’ve forgotten to buy your spouse a Valentine’s present.

d. Raising your hand in class so the instructor will call on you.

e. Crossing your index and middle fingers as a good-luck signal.

7. If one of your co-workers tells you that she got the promotion that both of you applied for, you may smile at the news even though you feel awful. Which technique for adapting facial expressions are you using?

a. masking

b. neutralizing

c. intensification

d. unmasking

e. deintensification

8. Based on stressing the word indicated in italics, which of the following statements means “I was born in New Jersey, not in New York as you seem to think.”

a. “I was born in New Jersey.”

b. “I was born in New Jersey.”

c. “I was born in New Jersey.”

d. “I was born in New Jersey.”

e. “I was born in New Jersey.”

9. According to anthropologist Edward Hall, how close to a good friend does the average person in the United States stand?

a. 0 to 6 inches

b. 6 to 18 inches

c. 18 inches to 4 feet

d. 4 feet to 12 feet

e. more than 12 feet

10. ____ refers to the degree to which you seem approachable and likeable.

a. Other-oriented

b. Immediacy

c. Observant

d. Confirming

e. Conversational