By its very definition, non-verbal communication refers to the type of communication that does not use words.
It Does Not Use Words:
It is thus a very prominent third type of communication as distinct from both oral and written communication. It takes place extensively at various levels—individuals, family, society and organization.
Non-verbal communication in ancient and universal:
Non-verbal communication is ancient and constitutes the earliest type of communication. It developed much before oral communication and languages came into being. Gestures, postures, signals and facial expressions were obviously among the earliest means of communication used by the preliterate man.
The language of the hearing impaired which uses signs and gestures perhaps evolved from these ancient methods of communication. Another significant dimension of non-verbal communication is its universality.
Unlike verbal communication, which has limitations in terms of reach, the non-verbal communication is universal in appeal. Words have boundaries, whereas non-verbal communication, which does not use words, transcends linguistic and cultural barriers and boundaries.
The language of love and compassion is widely recognized as a universal language. Mother Teresa, for example, was a communicator par excellence who ‘spoke’ the universal language of love and compassion that was understood all over the world. The silent movies of the bygone era are another example of effective nonverbal communication.
Non-verbal communication relies on observation and interpretation:
Non-verbal communication is closely associated with the power of observation. The receiver of the communication should be in a position to see, hear and even feel the communicator.
The receiver of the communication should be in a position to clearly see the face, the gesture, the tone, the dress, the appearance and also hear the voice of the communicator.
Since it is through observation, non-verbal communication may be both intended and unintended. It is intended when the communicator tries to convey certain messages to the target group through conscious gestures, postures, attire and other forms of body language.
Non-verbal communication is unintended when the body language, posture or appearance of the communicator is interpreted by the receiver, even though it is not done consciously. A sloppy posture or a casual attire may be interpreted as lack of seriousness, although the speaker may be quite intent.
Non-verbal message may complement or contradict:
Although non-verbal communication can take place independent of other methods of communication, it often goes along with oral or verbal communication by the speaker. Used appropriately, body language and non-verbal messages can supplement and complement the oral message.
Together they can make the message loud, clear and forceful. On the contrary, if they are not consistent, the message that comes out would be ambiguous or garbled. When a speaker speaks, it is not just through words, but through the speaker’s personality as well.
Similarly, although interpreting each non-verbal message provides a useful clue, listeners or the target audience should not jump to conclusions, but should, instead, take note of the totality of the messages communicated.
It takes conscious effort and keen attention on the part of both the communicator and receiver to appropriately convey and interpret the message. The required degree of awareness and consciousness on the part of both is of particular relevance for the effectiveness of non-verbal communication.
Non-verbal communication can have an overwhelming impact. There are myriad ways in which the body and its associated actions communicate messages, both intended and unintended.
Non-verbal communication takes place at various levels when parts of the body, actions, mannerisms, behaviour, attire and demeanour tend to communicate. In other words, non-verbal communication takes place through the following objects, actions, and expressions:
1. Body language—facial expressions, eye contact, voice modulation 2 Postures/Gestures—carriage, leaning, shrugging, nodding
Body language is a well-developed discipline of study. Behavioural psychologists and researchers have studied, over the years, individuals and groups of people in business organizations and have developed the art of interpreting each one of the above as a means to ensuring effective communication.
1. Body Language:
There are many ways in which a human body expresses itself. These expressions may be obvious or subtle, conscious or unconscious and complementary or contradictory. It is said that bodies don’t lie and body language, therefore, tells the truth.
If you are tired, you can’t sit erect; if you are sleepless, your eyes tend to shut or if you are bored, you tend to yawn. Skilful communicators can express themselves in many ways as long as they are conscious of the fact that various parts of the body may intentionally or otherwise carry a message.
Similarly, a keen listener or an observer carries and makes sense from the body expressions as well. Facial expressions, eye movements and the state of the eyes and the variety and intensity of the human voice can and do convey different meanings.
Innocence, anger, wonder, shock, grief, terror, indifference, seriousness, friendliness, approval, disapproval, exasperation and many other feelings can be expressed through body language.
In some professions, where the facial and body expressions are important, they are consciously cultivated. Let us consider drama artists, movie stars, actors and people in show business. The success of their performance often depends on their ability to cultivate and display a wide range of expressions as the situation demands.
The head, the gait, the walk, the carriage are also various facets of body language. Ramrod straight, bolt upright, hunchback, stoop and slouch are some of the words associated with the body and its movements. Nodding of the head to convey consent or approval and vigorous shaking of the head to convey dissent are also common.
2. Facial Expressions:
It is said that the face is the index of the mind. The thoughts of the mind and the feelings of the heart often find expression on the face. There are people who are good at reading facial expressions. Good communicators, whether they are speakers or listeners, learn to read and interpret facial expressions. Some of the idiomatic phrases used in connection with facial expression are:
1. The face that launched a thousand ships
2 To make a face
3. The smile of acknowledgement or recognition
4. To carry a wooden expression
5. To carry a mask on one’s face
The facial make-up, if any, can also be subjected to interpretation.
The eyes are indeed the most expressive part of the human face. The eyes of a person are often said to tell a tale. In fact, the eyes are the most commonly described part of the body. The feelings of the heart quite often find expression through the eyes.
In the expression of love, affection and sincerity the eye contact becomes crucial. Romantic literature, over the years, has seen copious references to the eyes. Some of the words and expressions used in common parlance while reading the eyes are as follows:
1. Twinkle in his eyes
2. Furtive glance
3. Eyes emitting fire
4. Worried look
5. Sad look
6. Wary look
7. Unsettling stare
8. Hurried glance
9. Cold stare
Since eyes are considered to be highly expressive, there is considerable significance attached to the presence or absence of eye contact. In legal cross-examinations, in counselling sessions, in negotiations and other such business situations, the quality of eye contact comes in for particular scrutiny. In dealing with customers at the counter, in facing interviews for recruitment and promotion, in making presentations and in sales talk, eye contact assumes considerable significance.
Human voices, through their variations, convey different meanings. Speech or oral delivery reaches the audience better through voice modulation. Voice modulation refers to the adjustment or variation of tone or pitch while speaking. It is generally understood that voice has five distinct features, viz.:
1. Tone—harsh, soft, whisper
2. Pitch—high, low
3. Quality—controlled, uncontrolled
4. Pace—rapid, slow
Voice-related features are particularly relevant in spoken communication, either face to face or through telephone.
5. Postures and Gestures:
Yet another component of non-verbal communication relates to postures and gestures. Posture refers to the carriage, state and attitude of body or mind. Gesture refers to any significant movement of limb or body and a deliberate use of such movement as an expression of feeling.
Gesture can also be understood as a step calculated to evoke response from another person or to convey intention. Gesture includes gesticulation. Like other aspects of body language, posture and gesture should also be read along with the verbal and other messages.
The posture of a person may be described as erect or upright or reclining. Posture may be physical or mental. Gestures in human interfaces are many and varied. People read and interpret gestures and hence these are extremely important in the organizational context.
Nodding, shaking of head, smiling, patting the back, putting the hand over one’s shoulder, clasping hands, shrugging, touching, frowning, scowling, blinking, yawning and crossing and uncrossing of legs are among the various types of physical actions and gestures that are used to convey meanings and messages and are likewise interpreted by others receiving the message.
The message conveyed through these actions can be both positive and negative, and therefore, the communicator has to be quite conscious of his actions. Again, to be effective, these postures, gestures and actions have to complement the spoken word. If not, the communication results in contradiction and confusion.
Postures, gestures and actions are of much significance in the organizational context. Understood properly, they can be of great help in conveying the right message. Ignored, they can cause considerable unintended damage and misunderstanding.
In a meeting where the chairman is addressing, or a promotional interview, or even when an important customer is being attended to, people concerned should be conscious of their body movements and actions.
They should convey the proper message that they are both physically and mentally alert and responsive. A smile at the wrong time may be taken as a sneer ad, therefore, may irritate a person.
Slouching, yawning, swinging of arms and legs and such other actions which give a message of indifference and carelessness will have to be scrupulously avoided in all serious business- related and organizational interactions.
In the organizational context, leaders and good communicators make effective use of gestures like a smile, a touch and a pat on the back. They come in very handy for motivation, morale building and clearing misapprehensions.
6. Attire, Appearance and Handshake:
Attire, appearance and handshake are other facets of body language that are subject to interpretation by the audience or the people with whom one interacts.
Attire or dress is another important aspect of non-verbal communication. The way a person dresses is often subjected too much interpretation. Attire proclaims a person. The dress a person wears, besides announcing him or her, creates the first impression.
In business organizations the world over, the attire of a person has come to acquire much significance. Formal, informal or casual dressing conveys different meanings. Important and ceremonial occasions normally call for a formal dress.
Organizations, in fact, very often have their own unwritten dress code that is well understood and scrupulously followed. A person addressing an important meeting, making an important announcement, receiving dignitaries or making an appearance at a high-level conference or a court of justice has to wear a formal dress or a dress that is not interpreted as casual wear.
Any breach of this unwritten code is likely to dilute the effectiveness of the communication. The dress one wears should be in agreement with the occasion.
Physical presence and appearance of persons play a key role in the process of communication. The way one looks and presents oneself indicates the importance one attaches to one’s presence or participation.
A disheveled look as evidenced by disorderly hair, untidy, ruffled or unkempt appearance, suggests indifference or casualness. Any person who is serious about what he wants to convey, especially in a formal setting, tries to appear so.
In modern society, people have the habit of judging others by their appearance. While there may be exceptions, generally a person keen on conveying a serious, business-related message has to make a positive impression in terms of appearance.
People tend to prejudge a speaker through his attire and appearance even before he starts speaking. When people speak and interact in business and organizational context, they speak not merely with their words but with their total personality.
It is now well accepted, especially in metropolitan and urban environs, that people greet each other and introduce themselves to one another with a handshake. It is a common form of greeting and introduction among both men and women.
Since a handshake is seen as a type of nonverbal communication, it is very essential that it is done properly. Like the other aspects of body language, handshakes are also varied, and each one of them has certain interpretations. Given below are some descriptions and interpretations:
1. A firm handshake—The right way, shows confidence and keenness.
2 A limp handshake—Indicates that the person is not very sure of him, suggests an inferiority complex.
3. A clasp—Using both the hands, suggests high degree of warmth or respect.
You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist,
4. A vice-like grip—A tight grip which makes the other person uncomfortable suggests some kind of aggressiveness and dominance. A good communicator is aware of what each type of handshake stands for and ensures that the most appropriate one is used.
A limp handshake by a person in authority may be interpreted to mean that the person is not keen on further communication or interaction. Further, when a businessman meets a businesswoman, it is appropriate to let her make the first move, when he is not very sure of the proper way of greeting.
10. Personal Space:
Personal space or the space between persons during their interactions with each other is another segment of non-verbal communication. Physical distance between persons can indicate familiarity and closeness or otherwise.
People who are close to each other tend to keep minimum distance whereas strangers and people who are not on very friendly terms with each other maintain physical distance. In a hierarchical context, while peers move close to each other, subordinates maintain a certain distance from their superiors. Similarly, the poor person refrains from going close to a rich person.
In ancient societies, besides economic factors, class, community, colour, profession, rank, education and other such factors constituted the basis for physical space. All these factors are relevant for the proper understanding of the spatial non-verbal language.
The British, particularly, respect such spatial considerations. Not only the length of space, but even the physical position has its own significance. Front seats and special seats, as we all know, are occupied by relatively senior and more important persons.
When peers are in conversation, or speaking on the telephone, the subordinates normally wait at a distance awaiting the signal to approach. On the contrary, when the subordinates are in conversation or speaking on the telephone, the superior moves close and often show his impatience.
Whether it is in an organization, or in a social context, personal space has its own significance, which one has to appreciate so as to make communication effective.
Timing is another means through which non-verbal communication takes place. Who comes first, who sits first, who gets up first and leaves first are all actions of non-verbal communication. Generally speaking, the subordinates, the invitees, the students and the participants arrive early and occupy their seats in advance.
They are expected to do so. On the other hand, the teachers, the speakers, the superiors, the special invitees and the chief guests generally arrive a little later. They are not made to wait. Similarly, in any meeting, the senior-most person or the chief sits first, speaks first, gets up first and leaves before the others.
When it comes to public and other formal functions involving the heads of state and other dignitaries, speakers are seated as per protocol. For example, the governor of a state is the last to speak while all other speakers get to speak before him. Looking at the watch is another aspect of time-related communication.
The superior looks at the watch to suggest his displeasure when the subordinate arrives late. The listener looks at the watch frequently to give the message to the speakers that their time is over.
Time management has come to acquire great significance in modern day business management. It is well recognized that as business organizations pursue their multifarious goals as per clearly laid out time schedules, time management holds the key to success. In the organizational context, the efficiency or otherwise of an organization is judged by the importance people concerned attach to actions such as:
1. Whether the person is in time for an appointment
2. Whether a person who has come on time for an appointment is kept waiting
3. Whether the meetings and functions start on time
4. Whether the speaker keeps to the allotted time.
5. Whether the telephone is picked up as soon as it rings.
Progressive organizations ensure that the value of time is well appreciated. Indifference to time schedules, on the other hand, suggests a sloppy work culture.
12. Examples and Behaviour:
The way in which one conducts oneself and behaves in the process of communication is another very forceful facet of non-verbal communication. Actions convey messages more forcefully than words. People expect others to practice what they preach. Preaching without practicing would sound hollow.
It is said that examples are far more effective in communicating intentions and concerns than words. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ does not carry conviction. The example set by the teacher, the father, the superior and the leader either reinforces or contradicts the verbal message.
Talking about cost control without being frugal may not be very effective. Asking others to work hard without setting an example in that regard dilutes the message. Before expecting one’s staff to be polite and courteous to the customers, the manager should set an example by being polite and courteous.
Behaviour refers to manners, conduct or treatment shown by a person towards others. People tend to interpret behaviour. One talks about childish behaviour, responsible behaviour and dignified behaviour.
Behaviour is governed by thoughts as well as feelings. The qualities of head and heart decide the behaviour of person under given circumstances. Sometimes the mind or a rational approach dominates behaviour.
There are also occasions when the heart or emotions take an upper hand. The behaviour of people gets closely watched by others in social, organizational and business interactions. People in organizations tend to imitate their superiors in behaviour and action.
Superiors who communicate through personal example and deeds communicate effectively and carry conviction. Great leaders recognize the power of example and behaviour and use them for effective communication.
A smile is a very potent form of facial expression. It opens the doors to communication. A natural, pleasant smile carries great significance in establishing and sustaining human relationships, be they in a family, society, community or a business organization.
The significance of smiling is beautifully brought out in the saying, ‘You are never fully dressed unless you wear a smile.’ Smile speaks the language of love, compassion, sincerity, courtesy, confidence and dependability.
A smile emits positive signals. All the same, it is also true that all smiles are not genuine. Wry or artificial or platonic smiles convey messages quite contrary to those of natural and pleasant smiles.
A smile should be well intended and not sarcastic. In making sales calls and presentations, in interacting with teammates and in every such transaction, a smile can create a favourable impact and earn goodwill.
In the service industry, the sales force is specifically taught to cultivate genuine smiles and smile liberally in their day-to-day transactions with colleagues and customers.