When people mention the conversational clichés where the atmosphere can be cut with a knife, there is an uncomfortable silence or looks could kill, nonverbal communication is to blame. A comforting lull in conversation, excitement in the air or love at first sight prove nonverbal cues are both negative and positive. Situations like these are exceptional, but nonverbal communication as a whole makes up the majority of the message conveyed between two people.
To better understand nonverbal interpersonal communication, one must first understand the defining factors of relationships. Three aspects characterize relationships: attraction, arousal and power. Each aspect contributes to the intensity of the relationship in a particular way. For instance, attraction is defined by the distance individuals put in between one another. Arousal is the enthusiasm, or lack thereof, shown in facial expressions and tone of voice when communicating. Finally, power can be shown through body posture. The more dominant conversationalist will be relaxed in comparison to the subordinate or two equals will be equally relaxed or tense depending on the situation.
When it comes to nonverbal communication, several elements contribute to the decoding of the message. These elements are normally physical in nature and can be both purposeful and subconscious. Gestures, facial expressions, eye behavior, appearance, use of space, touch, voice and smell are all factors that provide nonverbal communication between two people.
Physical gestures can be common hand cues to signify everything is A-okay, a shrug of the shoulders to show one isn’t sure, or crossed arms indicating irritation. Some gestures are part of a person’s personality trait. Some people chew their fingernails and others have nervous twitches. Though the latter gestures are normally unconscious, the motions can contribute to the way a person’s mood is interpreted. For instance, a conversation with someone nervously chewing their fingernails will be more awkward than a conversation with someone with their hands relaxed at their sides.
One of the most distinct indications of emotion in interpersonal conversation is facial expression. Anger, boredom, happiness and ecstasy are apparent in the movement of the mouth, eyebrows and forehead. As a child, I was always reprimanded for glaring at my parents when they were lecturing me. I never understood what they meant and often got in trouble for the way my face looked. Unknowingly, I had practiced masking my emotions in conversation and the expression I was left with was mistaken as an angry or dissatisfied glower. To this day, my expressions are often interpreted incorrectly as I have never mastered the art of having a relaxed facial expression while being lectured.
I was called on this look as an adult while learning sign language. My instructor was deaf and she told me that I needed to show my emotions in my face and through my body language for my hand gestures to be interpreted correctly. Apparently, my practiced nonchalant attitude in conversation was distracting and didn’t come off as well as I had intended. With practice, I learned to communicate through sign and body language and my instructor and I became good friends.
Eye behavior is in part related to facial expression, but can include the dilation and contraction of the pupil. Excitement and fear can physically alter the state of the pupil. Another sometimes unconscious element of eye behavior is the movement of the eye and eye contact. When someone wants to avoid conversation, they avert their eyes. When being spoken to, people should keep eye contact for over half the conversation, but when speaking, intense eye contact can be intimidating.
Appearance is an important element in nonverbal communication, as well. Someone who cares little about their appearance will not be taken as seriously as someone who is meticulous in grooming. Though appearance is in part a personality trait, posture combined with appearance can contribute greatly to the interpretation of someone’s appearance. Space, in relation to appearance can be interpreted differently, too. Some people try to purposefully intimidate others by stepping into their personal space; others need more personal space than others.
Touch, voice and smell contribute to nonverbal communication in a similar manner. Some people touch to clarify a point. Contact is considered an intimate form of communication and is interpreted differently by the duration, pressure or position of the touch. Another signal of meaning is in a person’s voice. The voice will rise or fall with emotions. Volume is a good indication of emotion or urgency. Finally, smell is an animalistic instinct ingrained in everyone. As with animals, people, too can smell fear, attraction and body odor.
Nonverbal communication is a significant part of communication. To completely understand meaning and intention, one must consider the combined elements of the nonverbal message. Similarly, one must be conscious of the cues they are sending to the other party when conversing.
© 2008 oneZtwoLLs
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Posted 8 Months Ago
Educating us dozen that need a taste of reality. Like holding a seminar for self-esteem, identity crisis'. A very well written piece. Thanks for sharing. Cheers
Posted 5 Years Ago
If you live in a big city in a developed country, then you are more or less involved in different kinds of communication. Communication nowadays has become a sort of cult; daily, people maintain dozens of personal contacts—at work, in the street, public transport, and so on. Because of this, it is not only important what and how you say something to other people, but also how your body behaves in the process of communication, as body language is as informative as the spoken one, sometimes conveying information more personal and important than the one said aloud. This is called nonverbal communication.
Nonverbal communication includes facial expressions, gestures, the distance between speakers, eye contact, voice intonations, touch, and many other minor details which—if decrypted properly—can provide speakers with valuable details about each other. For example, space between people can say a lot about the level of intimacy between them: usually, the shorter the distance between speakers, the more friendly or intimate they are, and vice versa. Or if a person avoids eye contact, it might mean that he or she is hiding something, feels uncomfortable around you, and so on (IFR).
Body language has several important functions. For instance, a person’s gestures can repeat the message he or she is making orally; a little child explaining how birds fly and waving his or her arms like wings is a decent example of this function. Another function—the opposite—is the opposite: when the way a conversationalist acts does not match with the orally-transmitted message. An example is when a person sitting with a dull face and twirling a pen in their fingers says they are interested in what you say. Substitution occurs when verbal messages can be expressed by nonverbal means (like shrugging). The function of complementing can be explained by a situation when a parent pats their child on the head for behaving well, while speaking it out loud. In addition, gestures can be used for accenting, like when raising one’s index finger when speaking about something important (HelpGuide.org).
At the same time, it is important to remember that in different cultures, norms of communication may vary; for example, in some eastern countries, looking straight in the eyes of a conversationalist is considered rude. In Caucasus, men usually communicate when gathering in large groups where everyone stands very close to each other. Men in some Arabic countries may walk around the street holding hands, or may kiss each other in cheek when greeting, but this is the indication of friendship between straight men, not romance or intimacy. Therefore, sometimes body language may also differ depending on culture (IRF).
Gestures are a rich layer of everyday communication, and being able to decrypt them may disclose new meanings of what people say to each other. Nonverbal communication usually includes posture, voice intonations, touch, eye contact, distance between speakers, and facial expressions. Body language messages may accent, compliment, repeat, substitute, or contradict orally spoken messages. However, depending on the culture, these messages may differ, so it is important to remember about it when communicating with people from different countries.
“Nonverbal Communication.” : Improving Your Nonverbal Skills and Reading Body Language. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.
“What is Nonverbal Communication?” FRIHealth. N.p., 13 July 2013. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.
“Why Communicating with Foreigners Might Be Tricky?” IFRTravel. N.p., 15 Aug. 2014. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.
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