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In many cases, we communicate information in nonverbal ways using groups of behaviors. For example, we might combine a frown with crossed arms and unblinking eye gaze to indicate disapproval. Facial expressions are responsible for a huge proportion of nonverbal communication. The look on a person's face is often the first thing we see, even before we hear what they have to say. While nonverbal communication and behavior can vary dramatically between cultures, the facial expressions for happiness, sadness, anger, and fear are similar throughout the world.

Deliberate movements and signals are an important way to communicate meaning without words. Other gestures are arbitrary and related to culture. In courtroom settings, lawyers have been known to utilize different nonverbal signals to attempt to sway juror opinions. An attorney might glance at his watch to suggest that the opposing lawyer's argument is tedious or might even roll his eyes at the testimony offered by a witness in an attempt to undermine his or her credibility. These nonverbal signals are seen as being so powerful and influential that some judges even place limits on what type of nonverbal behaviors are allowed in the courtroom.

Paralinguistics refers to vocal communication that is separate from actual language. Consider the powerful effect that tone of voice can have on the meaning of a sentence. When said in a strong tone of voice, listeners might interpret approval and enthusiasm. The same words said in a hesitant tone of voice might convey disapproval and a lack of interest. A friend might ask you how you are doing, and you might respond with the standard "I'm fine," but how you actually say those words might reveal a tremendous amount of how you are really feeling.

A cold tone of voice might suggest that you are actually not fine, but you don't wish to discuss it. A bright, happy tone of voice will reveal that you are actually doing quite well. A somber, downcast tone would indicate that you are the opposite of fine and that perhaps your friend should inquire further. Posture and movement can also convey a great deal of information.

While these nonverbal behaviors can indicate feelings and attitudes , research suggests that body language is far more subtle and less definitive than previously believed. People often refer to their need for "personal space," which is also an important type of nonverbal communication. For example, the amount of personal space needed when having a casual conversation with another person usually varies between 18 inches to four feet. On the other hand, the personal distance needed when speaking to a crowd of people is around 10 to 12 feet. The eyes play an important role in nonverbal communication and such things as looking, staring and blinking are important nonverbal behaviors.

When people encounter people or things that they like, the rate of blinking increases and pupils dilate. Looking at another person can indicate a range of emotions including hostility, interest, and attraction. People also utilize eye gaze as a means to determine if someone is being honest. Shifty eyes and an inability to maintain eye contact, on the other hand, is frequently seen as an indicator that someone is lying or being deceptive.

The Power Of Mindful Nonverbal Communication

Communicating through touch is another important nonverbal behavior. There has been a substantial amount of research on the importance of touch in infancy and early childhood.


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Harry Harlow's classic monkey study demonstrated how deprived touch and contact impedes development. Baby monkeys raised by wire mothers experienced permanent deficits in behavior and social interaction. Touch can be used to communicate affection, familiarity, sympathy, and other emotions. Researchers have found that high-status individuals tend to invade other people's personal space with greater frequency and intensity than lower-status individuals.

Learn how to read and use body language in ways that build better relationships at home and work.

Sex differences also play a role in how people utilize touch to communicate meaning. Women tend to use touch to convey care, concern, and nurturance. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to use touch to assert power or control over others. Our choice of color, clothing, hairstyles, and other factors affecting appearance are also considered a means of nonverbal communication. Appearance can also alter physiological reactions, judgments, and interpretations. Just think of all the subtle judgments you quickly make about someone based on his or her appearance.

These first impressions are important, which is why experts suggest that job seekers dress appropriately for interviews with potential employers. Researchers have found that appearance can play a role in how people are perceived and even how much they earn. One study found that attorneys who were rated as more attractive than their peers earned nearly 15 percent more than those ranked as less attractive.

Culture is an important influence on how appearances are judged. While thinness tends to be valued in Western cultures, some African cultures relate full-figured bodies to better health, wealth, and social status. Objects and images are also tools that can be used to communicate nonverbally.


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On an online forum, for example, you might select an avatar to represent your identity online and to communicate information about who you are and the things you like. People often spend a great deal of time developing a particular image and surrounding themselves with objects designed to convey information about the things that are important to them. Uniforms, for example, can be used to transmit a tremendous amount of information about a person.


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A soldier will don fatigues, a police offers will wear a uniform, and a doctor will wear a white lab coat. At a mere glance, these outfits tell people what a person does for a living. Nonverbal communication plays an important role in how we convey meaning and information to others, as well as how we interpret the actions of those around us. The important thing to remember when looking at such nonverbal behaviors is to consider the actions in groups. What a person actually says along with his or her expressions, appearance, and tone of voice might tell you a great deal about what that person is really trying to say.

They convey far less information than the non-verbal communication that is part of face-to-face interactions. The good news is that most of us learn to interpret non-verbal communication as we grow up and develop. It is a normal part of how we communicate with other people, and most of us both use it and interpret it quite unconsciously. This can make it harder to interpret consciously. However, if you stop thinking about it, you will probably find that you have a very good idea of what someone meant. The popular stereotype of Italians, involving big gestures, lots of hand-waving, and plenty of loud and excited shouting, may be a stereotype, but it exists for a reason.

In the Italian culture, excitement is shown a lot more obviously than in the UK, for example. Non-verbal communication tends to be a lot more obvious. This can make it much harder for Italians to interpret non-verbal communication in the UK or USA, where it is more subtle. However, even in Italy, there are geographical variations. The thumbs-up gesture, which generally signals approval in English-speaking countries, is considered offensive in other countries, including apparently Greece, Italy and some parts of the Middle East.

It is essential to remember that non-verbal cues can be as important, or in some cases even more important, than what we say. Non-verbal communication can have a great impact on the listener and the outcome of the communication. This is partly because non-verbal communication is much more emotional in nature, and therefore much more instinctive. If there is a mismatch between the two, therefore, you should probably trust the non-verbal messages, rather than the words used.

A lack of non-verbal message may also be a signal of sorts, suggesting that the speaker is carefully controlling their body language, and may be trying to hide their true emotions.

Body language, the power is in the palm of your hands - Allan Pease - TEDxMacquarieUniversity

Body movements kinesics , for example, hand gestures or nodding or shaking the head, which are often the easiest element of non-verbal communication to control;. Eye contact , where the amount of eye contact often determines the level of trust and trustworthiness;. Para-language , or aspects of the voice apart from speech, such as pitch, tone, and speed of speaking;. Closeness or personal space proxemics , which determines the level of intimacy, and which varies very much by culture;.

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Facial expressions , including smiling, frowning and blinking, which are very hard to control consciously. Interestingly, the broad facial expressions that show strong emotions, such as fear, anger, and happiness, are the same throughout the world; and.

Nonverbal Communication: Definition, Types, Importance (Explained)

Physiological changes , for example, you may sweat or blink more when you are nervous, and your heart rate is also likely to increase. These are almost impossible to control consciously and are therefore a very important indicator of mental state. There is more about all of these types of non-verbal communication on our pages on Body Language and Face and Voice.

Our Communication Skills eBooks. Learn more about the key communication skills you need to be a more effective communicator. Our eBooks are ideal for anyone who wants to learn about or develop their interpersonal skills and are full of easy-to-follow, practical information. Non-verbal communication is an extremely complex yet integral part of overall communication skills.

However, people are often totally unaware of their non-verbal behaviour. A basic awareness of non-verbal communication strategies, over and above what is actually said, can help to improve interaction with others. Knowledge of these signs can be used to encourage people to talk about their concerns and can lead to a greater shared understanding, which is, after all, the purpose of communication.

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