What is non-verbal communication?
Definition (CBC): “nonverbal communication involves those nonverbal stimuli in a communication setting that are generated by both the source [speaker] and his or her use of the environment and that have potential message value for the source or receiver [listener] (Samovar et al). Basically it is sending and receiving messages in a variety of ways without the use of verbal codes (words). It is both intentional and unintentional. Most speakers / listeners are not conscious of this. It includes — but is not limited to:
- eye contact (gaze)
- vocal nuance
- facial expression ? pause (silence)
- word choice and syntax
- sounds (paralanguage)
Broadly speaking, there are two basic categories of non-verbal language:
- nonverbal messages produced by the body;
- nonverbal messages produced by the broad setting (time, space, silence)
Why is non-verbal communication important?
Basically, it is one of the key aspects of communication (and especially important in a high-context culture). It has multiple functions:
- Used to repeat the verbal message (e.g. point in a direction while stating directions.
- Often used to accent a verbal message. (e.g. verbal tone indicates the actual meaning of the specific words).
- Often complement the verbal message but also may contradict. E.g.: a nod reinforces a positive message (among Americans); a “wink” may contradict a stated positive message.
- Regulate interactions (non-verbal cues covey when the other person should speak or not speak).
- May substitute for the verbal message (especially if it is blocked by noise, interruption, etc) — i.e. gestures (finger to lips to indicate need for quiet), facial expressions (i.e. a nod instead of a yes).
Note the implications of the proverb: “Actions speak louder than words.” In essence, this underscores the importance of non-verbal communication. Non-verbal communication is especially significant in intercultural situations. Probably non-verbal differences account for typical difficulties in communicating.