Nonverbal communication is basically any type of communication that is without words. There are so many ways in which people communicate nonverbally. Just think about the clothes you wear. Did you know that the clothing you wear communicates something to other people? Also, your hair can say a lot about you.
First Type of Nonverbal Communication: Posture
One category of nonverbal communication is posture. For example, you can be crossing your arms when speaking to someone. This usually gives a more stern appearance. It appears a bit less friendly, and a bit more closed. You could also be slouching which can give an impression of relaxedness but also of being sloppy or not serious. Posture can also be a way to portray the difference in status between two people.
Paralanguage, What’s that?
Paralanguage is pitch, tone, etcetera. These are nuances when you speak that can give extra meaning to the message that’s being told. For example, if you say something in a sarcastic tone, people are supposed to understand that you mean the exact opposite of what you said. This is quite a special thing actually that we can recognize just by the tone of voice that someone means another thing than what s/he actually says.
Nonverbal Communication with Gestures
Another important category is gestures. These can be done with basically any part of your body. Usually it is done with your hands or with your face. Some gestures are universal, like doing a shoulder shrug. Basically any culture interprets this “idunno” or “meh, don’t care”. There are also gestures that are more specific to cultures, these are called emblems or emblematic gestures. This is something like the peace sign. But watch out, some emblems can mean something friendly in one culture, but something highly offensive in another, so be careful. Know what your emblems mean when going abroad. This information can easily be found online.
Proxemics is the science of the distance as nonverbal communication. The distance we have towards our conversationalist conveys the type of relationship we have with that person. This was theorized by Edward T. Hall, and he distinguishes four zones of distance:
- (i) intimate (touching to eighteen inches) distance
- (ii) personal (eighteen inches to four feet) distance
- (iii) social (four to twelve feet) distance
- (iv) public (more than twelve feet) distance.
Personal distance is still close but keeps another “at arm’s length” and is considered the most comfortable distance for most of our interpersonal contact, while social distance is used for the kind of communication that occurs in business relationships and, sometimes, in the classroom.
Nonverbal Communication by Touch
Furthermore, Haptics is nonverbal communication that centers around touching. For example, a high five communicates something, so does holding hands or giving a kiss. These are all haptic forms of communication. Again this is very dependent on culture and context. Perhaps there is even a culture where a high 5 means something like, I challenge you to a duel! Just like the slap with a glove people did many centuries ago. Why do we not wear gloves anymore? How are we supposed to challenge people to duels nowadays?
Conclusion and Further Reading
Thus, we have learned 5 cool categories of nonverbal communication. To recap, these are posture, paralanguage, gestures, proxemics and haptics. You now know what they are all about. Take a look in your daily life how much nonverbal communication you can spot!
We explain these categories in more detail and also discuss further important notions about nonverbal communication such as ambiguity and leakage in our YouTube video about this subject.
Also check out this article on verbal communication.