What Is Nonverbal Communication (With Benefits and Types)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 23 July 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Nonverbal communication accounts for a sizeable percentage of our daily communication. Every day, we encounter, employ and respond to endless nonverbal cues and behaviours, including postures, facial expressions, eye gazing, gestures and tone of voice. Being mindful of your nonverbal communication can create clarity in communication and improve relationships. In this article, we outline what is nonverbal communication and why it's important.

What is nonverbal communication?

Nonverbal communication is the conveyance of information with the use of body language encompassing eye contact, facial expressions, voice tone, haptics and body gestures. For instance, smiling when you greet someone communicates warmth, acceptance and openness. Everyone, whether they realise it or not, utilises nonverbal communication all the time. As opposed to verbal communication that employs language to transmit information, be it through written text, speech or sign language, nonverbal communication relies on seeing and understanding physical gestures and movements.

Related: 4 Types of Communication

Why is nonverbal communication important?

Nonverbal communication plays an essential role in our everyday life, as it has the power to improve one's ability to engage, relate, create and build meaningful interactions on a regular basis. It equips you with important information about a situation such as how a person is feeling, how they process information or how to approach them. A better and more comprehensive understanding of nonverbal communication allows you to develop deeper connections with others. Paying attention to and honing your capacity to understand nonverbal signals is an invaluable skill you may use at any level of your career.

Related: How To Improve Communication Skills (With Definition and Examples)

Benefits of effective nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication may help you communicate effectively in the workplace in numerous ways. Outlined below are some benefits of effective nonverbal communication:

Supports your message

Nonverbal cues may accentuate and highlight the content of your message in instances when you're having a conversation, participating in a meeting or doing a presentation. For instance, you can employ hand movements to convey and reinforce the significance of a concept. This way, you'll encourage your listeners to pay better attention to and remember the key points.

Communicates your message effectively

You may also interact with others solely through nonverbal means. For instance, if someone is describing something that you appreciate and agree with, you can nod your head to show your support and agreement. Be mindful when working in a culturally diverse workplace, as different geographical regions have different norms of what constitutes yes and no.

Demonstrates intent

Your body language may also communicate your present condition, either purposefully or accidentally. People may pick up on nonverbal indications that you're dishonest, excited, aggressive or passionate. For instance, if you keep jittering and can't keep focused eye contact, other people might assume that you're being dishonest.

Expresses feelings

You can employ nonverbal communication to express emotions such as disappointment, relief, happiness, satisfaction or anger. These emotions can shine through your facial expression, tone of voice and body language. For instance, smiling when you hear a funny story shows that you're happy and entertained.

Offers support

Nonverbal cues are one of the most effective ways to demonstrate support. In many situations, actions speak louder than words. Whether it be a simple smile or a pat on the back, a nonverbal gesture can leave a positive impact on someone.

Showcases your personality and authenticity

Nonverbal communication is a great way to show who you are and establish the authenticity of your feelings to those you're interacting with. Complementing your actual words with a strong, confident posture and direct eye contact may imply that you're genuine about your words. In another instance, a nice and optimistic person may often smile with open body language and make friendly gestures.

Types of nonverbal communication

There are several types of nonverbal communication to take note of, including:

1. Body language and movement

Body language involves the use of a physical expression, behaviour and mannerisms to communicate nonverbally, typically done intuitively rather than deliberately. In other words, it's the way you situate your body depending on the circumstance, the environment and how you're feeling. Moving your arms and legs in different ways, such as walking rapidly or slowly, standing, sitting or fidgeting, may all communicate distinct meanings to other people.

Example: Someone may engage in an affirmative head shake to say no.

2. Appearance

Nonverbal communication also includes variables influencing appearances such as your choice of clothing style, colour association and hairstyle. Various colour hues may elicit different feelings. You can influence other people's physiological judgment, reaction and interpretation from your appearance. Typically, your appearance heavily affects and determines people's first impression of you.

Example: You may perceive someone wearing posh clothing as a professional.

3. Posture

Your body posture has a strong effect on your communication with others. It can communicate information pertaining to your interpersonal relations with the other person. The way you sit or stand can also communicate your comfort level, professionalism and general disposition towards a person or conversation.

Example: Someone may slouch their shoulders if they feel frustrated or exhausted.

4. Gestures

While gestures vary greatly among societies, you typically employ gestures to transmit information to others, both purposefully and accidentally. Deliberate signals and motions are essential techniques to convey meaning without using words. Common gestures include pointing, waving and using your fingers to express numerical quantities. Other gestures are arbitrary and cultural in nature.

Example: Someone may show a "thumbs up" to communicate affirmation or that they feel positive about something.

5. Space

People have a differing need for personal space, also known as proxemics. Creating a distance between yourself and the surrounding people may communicate implicit information pertaining to the significance of the conversation, your comfort level and your willingness to connect with or support others The amount of space you require with another person is influenced by a range of factors such as social conventions, cultural norms, personality traits, situational considerations and level of familiarity.

Example: You may stand slightly more than a metre away from a new acquaintance to respect their boundaries.

6. Paralanguage

Paralanguage entails the non-language elements of speech, such as tone, speed, volume, pitch and inflection. Consider the impact that your tone may have on the meaning of a statement. Listeners may understand approbation and enthusiasm if expressed in a loud tone of voice. Identical words said with a cautious tone may imply that you're disinterested. Additionally, varying your pitch can communicate meaning, regulate conversational flow and highlight the importance of a statement. For example, you can easily identify a phrase with a higher-pitched ending as a question.

Example: You tend to speak quickly if you're excited or passionate about something.

7. Facial expressions

Facial expressions are one of the most prevalent forms of nonverbal communication. Your face is arguably the most expressive feature of your body. It's possible and likely very effective to express emotion and communicate information using the movements of your brows, lips, eyes and other facial muscles. Facial expressions have the power to transmit a variety of emotions and can be used to infer personality traits and form judgments about someone's trustworthiness and competency.

Your facial expression can show if you're feeling excited, tired, angry, confused, confident, shy, happy, frustrated or bored. Some facial expressions are frequently viewed as innate and not always connected to how you're feeling. Ensure that your facial expressions convey an emotion you believe your audience can understand and respond well in meeting your objectives. Also, be mindful that your facial expressions correspond to the topic you're discussing. When talking about something light-hearted, sparkling eyes, a smile and slightly lifted brows may enhance your verbal message.

Example: Someone may raise their eyebrows and open their eyes wide if they feel surprised.

8. Eye contact

Eye contact can be a very effective communication tool through its ability to control and monitor engagement, transmit information and form interpersonal bonds. Using or avoiding eye contact strategically is an exceptionally powerful method to express your attention and interest. Eye contact can also be employed to intimidate others. There are pre-existing social norms pertaining to how much eye contact is acceptable. Staring at someone for a long period of time may indicate intimidation or flirtation, depending on the surrounding circumstances.

Example: Looking away from someone and focusing on your phone may convey disrespect or disinterest.

9. Touch

Many also resort to touch as a method of communication. It's most often used to express support or comfort. Consider how touch has the ability to soothe someone in a time of sadness that words alone can't. This method of communication has to be utilised sparingly and only when the receiver feels at ease. It can never be used to convey anger, hatred or threat.

Example: Patting your friend's back may convey support or empathy.

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