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Human communication involves more than the things we choose to vocalize. Whether you know it or not, you’re constantly communicating via body language and nonverbal signals that accompany or stand in for spoken words. Understanding how nonverbal messages are sent and received and the types of nonverbal communication can make you a more effective face-to-face communicator. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of nonverbal communication.



What Is Nonverbal Communication?

Nonverbal communication encompasses a whole host of physicalized nonverbal cues that convey emotional states and complement verbal messages. Nonverbal human communication involves many different parts of the body and can be either conscious or subconscious on the part of the communicator.

Some forms of nonverbal communication, like a handshake or head nod, are conscious actions meant to communicate something deliberately. Other nonverbal forms of communication, like a nervous hand twitch or a quiver in the voice, subconsciously reveal emotional states that the communicator might not want shared. Learning how to decode nonverbal communication and how to control all aspects of communication for yourself are great ways to improve your interpersonal skills.

8 Types of Nonverbal Communication

There are many different forms of nonverbal communication. The main categories of nonverbal cues include:

  1. Kinesics (or body movements): These include deliberate hand gestures and head movements like a thumbs-up or affirmative head shake. This is one of the most easily controllable of the nonverbal forms of communication.
  2. Proxemics (or closeness/personal space): This is the measure of physical distance between people when they communicate. The standard amount of personal space expected by someone varies depending on setting and is somewhat culture-specific.
  3. Posture: The way that you sit or stand and how open your body is to others around you communicates a lot about your attitude and emotional state.
  4. Eye contact: This is one of the primary ways that human beings gauge interest or disinterest. Wavering eyes tend to communicate unease or even dishonesty.
  5. Touch: Many interactions begin with an exchange of physical touch like a hug or a handshake.
  6. Paralanguage: This category covers vocal qualities like loudness or tone of voice. Paralinguistic signals are any aspect of the sound of a voice outside a direct verbal translation of words being spoken.
  7. Facial expressions: Facial expressions are one of the main indicators of someone’s attitude. An emotional expression like a frown or smile can be hard to consciously control.
  8. Physiology: This category includes changes in body physiology like an increase in sweat or blinking rapidly. These are nearly impossible to deliberately control.

4 Reasons Understanding Nonverbal Communication Is Important

Understanding different types of nonverbal communication is important in order to control the messages you are communicating and to decode the emotional states of others. Here are a few of the ways understanding nonverbal cues can make you a more effective communicator:

  1. To show interest: Nonverbal signals are a great way to communicate attentiveness and engagement to those around you. Controlling your posture and eye contact will demonstrate to others that you are interested in what they have to say.
  2. To convey specific meaning: Many words have multiple different meanings, and the things we say can often be misheard. Learning how to complement your words with nonverbal communication can prevent misinterpretation and miscommunication.
  3. To establish connection: Nonverbal communication is a great way to establish connection and trust. It’s no accident that many cultures see some sort of physical gesture like a handshake or hug as necessary in certain types of personal interactions.
  4. To demonstrate authenticity: Your nonverbal communication goes a long way in establishing the authenticity of your feelings to those you are speaking with. Complementing your actual words with direct eye contact and confident posture will demonstrate to others that you are giving voice to your true feelings.

3 Tips for Understanding Nonverbal Communication

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In your everyday life, there are many scenarios where an understanding of nonverbal communication can be used to your advantage. Knowing how to decode nonverbal cues can improve your communication skills in many ways. Here are some ways to improve your awareness of nonverbal cues:

  1. Look for inconsistencies. Knowing how to spot signs of nervousness like fidgeting or evasive eyes is a great way to determine whether the person you are speaking with is trustworthy. If nonverbal behavior seems to run counter to the verbal messaging, it’s likely that the speaker is not entirely comfortable with what they are saying.
  2. Be conscious of cultural differences. It’s important to be aware of the different mannerisms and physical gestures that are common in different cultures. Nonverbal interpersonal communication varies around the world. Don’t rush into judging the nonverbal cues you are picking up from someone from a different country or culture, as they may connote something entirely different in their culture.
  3. Observe nonverbal signals holistically. It’s important to observe a variety of nonverbal cues that are being communicated to you. Just because someone has a sweaty brow doesn’t mean they are nervous. Similarly, a twitch in someone’s hand may just be an unconscious tic. Try to view nonverbal signals holistically in order to get a fuller picture of what a person is communicating .

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