Nonverbal Communication: What It Is + Why It’s Important

What is nonverbal communication?

Communication is comprised of verbal and nonverbal aspects.

The verbal component is words. The nonverbal component consists of:

  • facial expressions,
  • voice patterns,
  • gestures,
  • body language (including the amount of space between people),
  • locations,
  • breathing.

Although there is more to nonverbal communication than body language, many people use “nonverbal communication” and “body language” interchangeably.

Why is nonverbal communication important?

Do you feel the POWER in the nonverbal of a finger pointing at you?

Understanding another person’s nonverbal communication cues helps us connect with others more quickly, understand when the conversation is going “off track,” and lead groups more effectively.

Often each culture has their own language (verbal) and their style of delivery (nonverbals). The concept of “culture” is not limited to nations. Every person has several identities (think: parent, spouse, sibling, professional, community member, at home vs. work), and often each identity has its own culture.

What does nonverbal communication involve?

Things like:

  • eye contact,
  • how often someone blinks,
  • voice speed, intonation, undulation,
  • frequency and amplitude of gestures,
  • sitting up straight vs. leaning forward

Surprisingly, the single most important nonverbal component is breathing. Neuroscience indicates high, shallow breathing releases “fight” chemicals with every inhalation.

How much of communication is nonverbal?

About 80-90 percent of communication is nonverbal.

Research shows that people respond much more to nonverbal communication than literal words.

What’s an example of nonverbal communication?

We all have been impressed with the statement, “Bond, James Bond!” The way the actor has his voice curl down at the end conveys confidence and competence; the pausing between words indicates the comfort and credibility of the speaker.

If you think such traits are limited to acting, watch the Hudson River Plane Landing video and just listen to the pilot landing the plane. To communicate well nonverbally, you have to have the ability to recognize, label, predict the effect, and respond to non-verbal patterns of communication.

We have recorded people and asked them to talk about their responsibilities… after 2 minutes, we ask them to talk about another arena of their world. When we play back the footage, it is clear that their eye contact, how often they blink, voice speed, intonation, undulation, frequency and amplitude of gestures, sitting up straight vs. leaning forward is markedly different.

Surprisingly, the single most important nonverbal component is breathing. Neuroscience indicates high, shallow breathing releases chemicals of fight with every inhalation.

Are there gender differences in nonverbal communication?

Generally, yes — men and women have different communication styles. For instance, women tend to give off more approachable nonverbal cues. Men come across as more credible. Here are 5 gender differences in communication styles.

Can understanding nonverbal communication help at work?

Yes! Group dynamics are an excellent example. For instance, nonverbal cues can tell you if a group is formed or unformed. You can also use nonverbal cues to identify dysfunctional teams — for instance, watching how team members listen to what’s being said.

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