9 Nonverbal Communication

Introductory Exercise

  1. It’s not just what you say but how you say it. Choose a speech to watch. Examples may include famous speeches by historical figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Winston Churchill, current elected officials, or perhaps candidates for local and state office that may be televised. Other examples could be from a poetry slam, a rap performance, or a movie. Watch the presentation without sound and see what you observe. Does the speaker seem comfortable and confident? Aggressive or timid? If possible, repeat the speech a second time with the sound on. Do your perceptions change? What patterns do you observe?
  2. Invasion of space. When someone “invades” your space, how do you feel? Threatened, surprised, interested, or repulsed? When can learn a lot from each other as we come to be more aware of normative space expectations and boundaries. Set aside 10 minutes where you can “people watch” in a public setting. Make a conscious effort to notice how far apart they stand from people they communicate. Record your results. Your best estimate is fine and there is no need to interrupt people, just watch and record. Consider noting if they are male or female, or focus only on same-sex conversations. When you have approximate distances for at least 20 conversations or 10 minutes have passed, add up the results and look for a pattern. Compare your findings with those of a classmate.
Getting Started

In this chapter’s second Introductory Exercise, we focus on how a person presents ideas, not the ideas themselves. Have you ever been in class and found it hard to listen to the professor, not because he or she wasn’t well informed or the topic wasn’t interesting or important to you, but because the style of presentation didn’t engage you as a listener? If your answer is yes, then you know that you want to avoid making the same mistake when you share information with your group or team. It’s not always what you say, but how you say it that makes a difference. We sometimes call this “body language,” or “nonverbal communication,” and it is a key aspect of effective group communication.

One common concern is when to present your idea within a group setting to make sure it gets considered. Timing is an important aspect of nonverbal communication, but trying to understand what a single example of timing means is challenging.

Context may make a difference. For example, if you have known the group member for years and they have always responded positively to your input, you may not have reason for concern. If their behavior doesn’t match what you are familiar with, and this sudden, unexplained change in the established pattern may mean that you need to follow up. Group dynamics, like communication itself, is constantly changing.

This chapter discusses the importance of nonverbal communication. It examines how the characteristics of language interact in ways that can both improve and diminish effective group communication. We will examine how language plays a significant role in how you perceive and interact with the world, and how culture, language, education, gender, race and ethnicity all influence this dynamic process. We will look at ways to avoid miscommunication and focus on constructive ways to improve effective group communication.

9.1   Principles of Nonverbal Communication

Learning Objectives

  1. Demonstrate nonverbal communication and describe its role in the communication process.
  2. Understand and explain the principles of nonverbal communication.

Nonverbal Communication Is Fluid


Chances are you have had many experiences where words were misunderstood, or where the meaning of words was unclear. When it comes to nonverbal communication, meaning is even harder to discern. We can sometimes tell what people are communicating through their nonverbal communication, but there is no foolproof “dictionary” of how to interpret nonverbal messages. Nonverbal communication is the process of conveying a message without the use of words. It can include gestures and facial expressions, tone of voice, timing, posture and where you stand as you communicate. It can help or hinder the clear understanding of your message, but it doesn’t reveal (and can even mask) what you are really thinking. Nonverbal communication is far from simple, and its complexity makes our study, and our understanding, a worthy but challenging goal.

Where does a wink start and a nod end? Nonverbal communication involves the entire body, the space it occupies and dominates, the time it interacts, and not only what is not said, but how it is not said. Confused? Try to focus on just on element of nonverbal communication and it will soon get lost among all the other stimuli. Let’s consider eye contact. What does it mean by itself without context, or chin position, or eyebrows to flag interest or signal a threat? Nonverbal action flows almost seamlessly from one to the next, making it a challenge to interpret one element, or even a series of elements.

We perceive time as linear, flowing along in a straight line. We did one task, we’re doing another task now, and we are planning on doing something else all the time. Sometimes we place more emphasis on the future, or the past, forgetting that we are actually living in the present moment whether we focus on “the now” or not. Nonverbal communication is always in motion, as long as we are, and is never the same twice.

Nonverbal communication is irreversible. In written communication you can write a clarification, correction, or retraction. While it never makes the original statement go completely away, it does allow for correction. Unlike written communication, oral communication may allow “do-overs” on the spot: you can explain and restate, hoping to clarify your point. You can also dig the hole you are in just a little bit deeper. The old sayings “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging” and “Open mouth, insert foot” can sometimes apply to oral communications. We’ve all said something we would give anything to take back, but we all know we can’t. Oral communication, like written communication, allows for some correction, but it still doesn’t erase the original message or its impact.  Nonverbal communication takes it one step further. You can’t separate one nonverbal action from the context of all the other verbal and nonverbal communication acts, and you can’t take it back.

In a speech, nonverbal communication is continuous in the sense that it is always occurring, and because it is so fluid, it can be hard to determine where one nonverbal message starts and another stops. Words can be easily identified and isolated, but if we try to single out a group member’s gestures, smile, or stance without looking at how they all come together in context, we may miss the point and draw the wrong conclusion. You need to be conscious of this aspect of public speaking because, to quote another old saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” This is true in the sense that people often pay more attention to your nonverbal expressions more than your words. As a result, nonverbal communication is a powerful way to contribute to (or detract from) your success in communicating your message to the group.

Nonverbal Communication Is Fast

Let’s pretend you are at your computer at work. You see that an e-mail has arrived, but you are right in the middle of tallying a spreadsheet whose numbers just don’t add up. You see that the e-mail is from a co-worker and you click on it. The subject line reads “pink slips.” You could interpret this to mean a suggestion for a Halloween costume, or a challenge to race for each other’s car ownership, but in the context of the workplace you may assume it means layoffs.

Your emotional response is immediate. If the author of the e-mail could see your face, they would know that your response was one of disbelief and frustration, even anger, all via your nonverbal communication. Yes, when a tree falls in the forest it makes a sound, even if no one is there to hear it. In the same way, you express yourself via nonverbal communication all the time without much conscious thought at all. You may think about how to share the news with your partner, and try to display a smile and a sense of calm when you feel like anything but smiling.

Nonverbal communication gives our thoughts and feelings away before we are even aware of what we are thinking or how we feel. People may see and hear more than you ever anticipated. Your nonverbal communication includes both intentional and unintentional messages, but since it all happens so fast, the unintentional ones can contradict what you know you are supposed to say or how you are supposed to react.

Nonverbal Communication Can Add to or Replace Verbal Communication

People tend to pay more attention to how you say it than what you actually say. In presenting a speech this is particularly true. We communicate nonverbally more than we engage in verbal communication, and often use nonverbal expressions to add to, or even replace, words we might otherwise say. We use a nonverbal gesture called an illustrator to communicate our message effectively and reinforce our point. Your co-worker Andrew may ask you about “Barney’s Bar after work?” as he walks by, and you simply nod and say “yeah.” Andrew may respond with a nonverbal gesture, called an emblem, by signaling with the “OK” sign as he walks away.

In addition to illustrators or emblematic nonverbal communication, we also use regulators. “Regulators are nonverbal messages which control, maintain or discourage interaction.” [1]For example, if someone is telling you a message that is confusing or upsetting, you may hold up your hand, a commonly recognized regulator that asks the current speaker in a group to stop talking.

Let’s say you are in a meeting presenting a speech that introduces your company’s latest product. If your group members nod their heads in agreement on important points and maintain good eye contact, it is a good sign. Nonverbally, they are using regulators encouraging you to continue with your presentation. In contrast, if they look away, tap their feet, and begin drawing in the margins of their notebook, these are regulators suggesting that you had better think of a way to regain their interest or else wrap up your presentation quickly.

Affect displays are nonverbal communication that express emotions or feelings.” [2] An affect display that might accompany holding up your hand for silence would be to frown and shake your head from side to side. When you and Andrew are at Barney’s Bar, smiling and waving at co-workers who arrive lets them know where you are seated and welcomes them.

Adaptors are displays of nonverbal communication that help you adapt to your environment and each context, helping you feel comfortable and secure.” McLean, S. (2003). The basics of speech communication. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. pp.77 A self-adaptor involves you meeting your need for security, by playing with your hair for example, by adapting something about yourself in way for which it was not designed or for no apparent purpose. Combing your hair would be an example of a purposeful action, unlike a self-adaptive behavior. An object-adaptor involves the use of an object in a way for which it was not designed. You may see group members tapping their pencils, chewing on them, or playing with them, while ignoring you and your presentation. Or perhaps someone pulls out a comb and repeatedly rubs a thumbnail against the comb’s teeth. They are using the comb or the pencil in a way other than its intended design, an object-adaptor that communicates a lack of engagement or enthusiasm in your speech.

Intentional nonverbal communication can complement, repeat, replace, mask or contradict what we say. When Andrew invited you to Barney’s, you said “yeah” and nodded, complementing and repeating the message. You could have simply nodded, effectively replacing the “yes” with a nonverbal response. You could also have decided to say no, but did not want to hurt Andrew’s feelings. Shaking your head “no” while pointing to your watch, communicating work and time issues, may mask your real thoughts or feelings. Masking involves the substitution of appropriate nonverbal communication for nonverbal communication you may want to display.  McLean, S. (2003). The basics of speech communication. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. pp.77 Finally, nonverbal messages that conflict with verbal communication can confuse the listener. Table 6.2 “Some Nonverbal Expressions” summarizes these concepts.

Table 6.2 Some Nonverbal Expressions

Adaptors Help us feel comfortable or indicate emotions or moods
Affect displays Express emotions or feelings
Complementing Reinforcing verbal communication
Contradicting Contradicting verbal communication


Nonverbal gestures that carry a specific meaning, and can replace or reinforce words
Illustrators Reinforce a verbal message
Masking Substituting more appropriate displays for less appropriate displays
Object-adaptors Using an object for a purpose other than its intended design
Regulators Control, encourage or discourage interaction
Repeating Repeating verbal communication
Replacing Replacing verbal communication


Adapting something about yourself in a way for which it was not designed or for no apparent purpose
Nonverbal Communication Is Universal

Consider the many contexts in which interaction occurs during your day. In the morning, at work, after work, at home, with friends, with family, and our list could go on for quite awhile. Now consider the differences in nonverbal communication across these many contexts. When you are at work, do you jump up and down and say whatever you want? Why or why not? You may not engage in that behavior because of expectations at work, but the fact remains that from the moment you wake until you sleep, you are surrounded by nonverbal communication.

If you had been born in a different country, to different parents, perhaps even as a member of the opposite sex, your whole world would be quite different. Yet nonverbal communication would remain a universal constant. It may not look the same, or get used in the same way, but it will still be nonverbal communication in its many functions and displays.

Nonverbal Communication Is Confusing and Contextual

Nonverbal communication can be confusing. We need contextual clues to help us understand, or begin to understand, what a movement, gesture, or lack of display means. Then we have to figure it all out based on our prior knowledge (or lack thereof) of the person and hope to get it right. Talk about a challenge. Nonverbal communication is everywhere, and we all use it, but that doesn’t make it simple or independent of when, where, why, or how we communicate.

Nonverbal Communication Can Be Intentional or Unintentional

Suppose you are working as a salesclerk in a retail store, and a customer communicated frustration to you. Would the nonverbal aspects of your response be intentional or unintentional? Your job is to be pleasant and courteous at all times, yet your wrinkled eyebrows or wide eyes may have been unintentional. They clearly communicate your negative feelings at that moment. Restating your wish to be helpful and displaying nonverbal gestures may communicate “No big deal,” but the stress of the moment is still “written” on your face.

Can we tell when people are intentionally or unintentionally communicating nonverbally? Ask ten people this question and compare their responses. You may be surprised. It is clearly a challenge to understand nonverbal communication in action. We often assign intentional motives to nonverbal communication when in fact their display is unintentional, and often hard to interpret.

Nonverbal Messages Communicate Feelings and Attitudes

Beebe, Beebe and Redmond Beebe, S., Beebe, S., & Redmond, M. (2002). Interpersonal communication relating to others (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. offer us three additional principals of interpersonal nonverbal communication that serve our discussion. One is that you often react faster than you think. Your nonverbal responses communicate your initial reaction before you can process it through language or formulate an appropriate response. If your appropriate, spoken response doesn’t match your nonverbal reaction, you may give away your true feelings and attitudes.

Albert Mehrabian [3]asserts that we rarely communicate emotional messages through the  spoken word. According to Mehrabian, 93% of the time we communicate our emotions nonverbally, with at least 55% associated with facial gestures. Vocal cues, body position and movement, and normative space between group members can   also be clues to feelings and attitudes.

Is your first emotional response always an accurate and true representation of your feelings and attitudes, or does your emotional response change across time? We are all changing all the time, and sometimes a moment of frustration or a flash of anger can signal to the receiver a feeling or emotion that existed for a moment, but has since passed. Their response to your communication will be based on that perception, even though you might already be over the issue. This is where the spoken word serves us well. You may need to articulate clearly that you were frustrated, but not anymore. The words spoken out loud can serve to clarify and invite additional discussion.

We Believe Nonverbal Communication More Than Verbal

 Building on the example of responding to  a  situation with facial  gestures  associated with frustration before you even  have  time  to  think  of  an  appropriate  verbal response, let’s ask the question: What would you believe, someone’s actions or their words? According to Seiler and Beall, [4] most people tend to believe the nonverbal message over the verbal message. People  will  often  answer  “actions speak louder than words” and place a disproportionate emphasis on the nonverbal response. Humans aren’t logical all the time, and they do experience  feelings  and attitudes that change. Still, we place more confidence in nonverbal communication, particularly when it  comes  to  lying  behaviors.  According  to  Zuckerman,  DePaulo and Rosenthal,  there  are  several  behaviors  people  often  display  when  they  are  being deceptive: [5]

  • reduction in eye contact while engaged in a conversation
  • awkward pauses in conversation
  • higher pitch in voice
  • deliberate pronunciation and articulation of words
  • increased delay in response time to a question
  • increased body movements like changes in posture
  • decreased smiling
  • decreased rate of speech

If you notice one of more of the behaviors, you may want to take a closer look. Over time we learn people’s patterns of speech and behavior, and form a set of expectations. Variation from their established patterns, combined with the clues above, can serve to alert you to the possibility that something deserves closer attention.

Our nonverbal responses have a connection to our physiological responses to stress, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and skin conductivity. Polygraph machines (popularly referred to as “lie detectors”) focus on these physiological responses and demonstrate anomalies, or variations. While movies and TV crime shows may make polygraphs look foolproof, there is significant debate about whether they measure dishonesty with any degree of accuracy.

Can you train yourself to detect lies? It is unlikely. Our purpose in studying nonverbal communication is not to uncover dishonesty in others, but rather to help you understand how to use the nonverbal aspects of communication to increase understanding.

Nonverbal Communication Is Key in the Group Member Relationship

When we first see each other, before anyone says a word, we are already sizing each other up. Within the first few seconds we have made judgments about each other based on what we wear, our physical characteristics, even our posture. Are these judgments accurate? That is hard to know without context, but we can say that nonverbal communication certainly affects first impressions, for better or worse.

When group members first meet, nonverbal communication in terms of space, dress and even personal characteristics can contribute to assumed expectations. The expectations might not be accurate or even fair, but it is important to recognize that they will be present. There is truth in the saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Since beginnings are fragile times, your attention to aspects you can control, both verbal and nonverbal, will help contribute to the first step of forming a relationship with your group. Your eye contact with group members, use of space, and degree of formality will continue to contribute to that relationship.

As a professional, your nonverbal communication is part of the message and can contribute to, or detract from, your overall goals. By being aware of them, you can learn to control them.

Key Takeaways

  • Nonverbal communication is the process of conveying a message without the use of words; it relates to the dynamic process of communication, the perception process and listening, and verbal communication.
  • Nonverbal communication is fluid and fast, universal, confusing and contextual. It can add to or replace verbal communication, and can be intentional or unintentional.
  • Nonverbal communication communicates feelings and attitudes, and people tend to believe nonverbal messages more than verbal ones.


  1. Does it limit or enhance our understanding of communication to view nonverbal communication as that which is not verbal communication? Explain your answer and discuss with the class.
  2. Choose a television personality you admire. What do you like about this person? Watch several minutes of this person with the sound turned off, and make notes of the nonverbal expressions you observe. Turn the sound back on and make notes of their tone of voice, timing, and other audible expressions. Discuss your results with a classmate.
  3. Find a program that focuses on micro-expressions and write a brief summary of how they play a role in the program. Share and compare with classmates.
  4. Create a survey that addresses the issue of which people trust more, nonverbal or verbal messages. Ask an equal number of men and women, and compare your results with those of your classmates.
  5. Search for information on the reliability and admissibility of results from polygraph (“lie detector”) tests. Share your findings with classmates.
  6. See how long and how much you can get done during the day without the use of verbal messages.

9.2 Types of Nonverbal Communication

Learning Objective

Describe the similarities and differences among eight general types of nonverbal communication.

Now that we have discussed the general principles that apply to nonverbal communication, let’s examine eight types of nonverbal communication to further understand this challenging aspect of communication:

  1. space
  2. time
  3. physical characteristics
  4. body movements
  5. touch
  6. paralanguage
  7. artifacts
  8. environment

 When we discuss space in a nonverbal context, we mean the space between objects and people. Space is often associated with social rank and is an important part of group communication. Who gets the corner office? Why is the head of the table important and who gets to sit there?

People from diverse cultures may have different normative space expectations. If you are from a large urban area, having people stand close to you may be normal. If you are from a rural area, or a culture where people expect more space, someone may be standing “too close” for comfort and not know it.

Edward T. Hall, [6] serving  in  the  European  and  South  Pacific  Regions in the Corps of Engineers during World War II, traveled around the globe. As he     moved from one place to another, he noticed that people in different countries kept different distances from each other. In France, they stood closer to each other than      they did in England. Hall wondered why that was and began to study what he called proxemics, or the study of the  human  use  of  space  and  distance  in communication.

In The Hidden Dimension, he indicated there are two main aspects of space: territory and personal space. Hall drew on anthropology to address the concepts of dominance and submission, and noted that the more powerful person often claims more space. This plays an important role in modern society, from who gets the corner office to how we negotiate space between vehicles. Road rage is increasingly common where overcrowding occurs, and as more vehicles occupy the same roads, tensions over space are predictable.

Territory is related to control. As a way of establishing control over your own room, maybe you painted it your favorite color, or put up posters that represent your interests or things you consider unique about yourself. Families or households often mark their space by putting up fences or walls around their houses. This sense of a right to control your space is implicit in territory. Territory means the space you claim as your own, are responsible for, or are willing to defend.

The second aspect Hall highlight is personal space, or the “bubble” of space surrounding each individual. As you walk down a flight of stairs, which side do you choose? We may choose the right side because we’ve learned that is what is expected, and people coming up the same stair choose their right, or your left. The right choice insures that personal space is not compromised. But what happens when some comes up the wrong side? They violate the understood rules of movement and often self-correct. But what happens if they don’t change lanes as people move up and down the stairs? They may get dirty looks or even get bumped as people in the crowd handle the invasion of “their” space. There are no lane markers, and bubbles of space around each person move with them, allowing for the possibility of collision.

We recognize the basic need for personal space, but the normative expectations for space vary greatly by culture. You may perceive that in your home people sleep one to each bed, but in many cultures people sleep two or more to a bed and it is considered normal. If you were to share that bed you might feel uncomfortable, while someone raised with group sleeping norms might feel uncomfortable sleeping alone. From where you stand in an aerobics class in relation to others, to where you place your book bag in class, your personal expectations of space are often at variance with others.

As the context of a staircase has norms for nonverbal behavior, so group interactions. In North America, eye contact is expected. Big movements and gestures are not generally expected and can be distracting. The speaking group member occupies a space on the “stage,” when they have the “floor” (or it is their turn to speak), even if there are co-workers on either side. When you occupy that space, the group will expect to behave in certain ways. If you talk to the laptop screen in front of you, the group may perceive that you are not really paying attention to them. They also might think you need to read your own report, a less than confident position. Group members are expected to pay attention to, and interact with, each other, even if in the feedback is primarily nonverbal. Your movements should coordinate to tone, rhythm, and content of your message.  Tapping your pen, keeping your hands in your pockets or your arms crossed may communicate nervousness, or even defensiveness, and detract from your message.


As a general rule, try to act naturally, as if you were telling a friend a story, and your body will relax and your nonverbal gestures will come more naturally.  Practice is key to your level of comfort, and the more practice you get, the more comfortable and less intimidating it will seem to you.

Figure 9.1 SPACE

Types of Nonverbal Communication

Hall, E. (1966). The hidden dimension. N.Y., NY: Doubleday. articulated four main categories of distance used in communication.


Do you know what time it is? How aware you are of time varies by culture and normative expectations of adherence (or ignorance) of time. Some people, and the communities and cultures they represent, are very time-oriented. The Eurorail Trains in Germany are famous for departing and arriving according to the schedule. In contrast, if you take the train in Argentina and you’ll find that the schedule is more of an approximation of when the train will leave or arrive.

“Time is money” is a common saying across many cultures, and reveals a high value for time. In social contexts it often reveals social status and power. Who are you willing to wait for? A doctor for an office visit when you are sick? A potential employer for a job interview? Your significant other, or children? Sometimes we get impatient, and our impatience underscores our value for time.

When you give a presentation to your team or group, does your group have to wait for you? Time is a relevant factor of the communication process in your speech. The best way to show your group respect is to honor the time expectation associated with your speech. Always try to stop speaking before the group stops listening; if the members perceive that you have “gone over time,” they will be less willing to listen. This in turn will have a negative impact on your ability to communicate your message.

Suppose you are presenting a speech to your team that has three main points. Your group will look to you to regulate the time and attention to each point, but if you spend all your time on the first two points and rush through the third, your presentation won’t be balanced and will lose rhythm. The speaker occupies a position of some power, but it is the group that gives them that position. Your team is counting on you to make a difference, and to not waste their time. By displaying respect and maintaining balance, you will move through your points more effectively.

Chronemics is the study of how we refer to and perceive time. Tom Bruneau at Radford University has spent a lifetime investigating how time interacts in communication and culture. [7][8] In [9], [10]As he notes, across western society, time is often considered the equivalent of money. The value of speed is highly prized in some societies. [11]In others, there is a great respect for slowing down and taking a long- term view of time.

When you order a meal at a “fast food” restaurant, what are your expectations for how long you will have to wait? When you order a pizza online for delivery, when do you expect it will arrive? If you order cable service for your home, when do you expect it might be delivered? In the first case you might measure the delivery of a hamburger in a matter of seconds or minutes, and perhaps 30 minutes for pizza delivery, but you may measure the time from your order to working cable in days or even weeks. You may even have to be at your home from 8 A.M. to noon waiting for its installation. The expectations vary by context, and we often grow frustrated in a time-sensitive culture when the delivery does not match our expectations.

In the same way, how long should it take to respond to a customer’s request for assistance or information? If they call on the phone, how long should they wait on hold? How soon should they expect a response to an e-mail? As a skilled group communicator, you will know to anticipate normative expectations and do your best to meet those expectations more quickly than anticipated. Your prompt reply or offer of help in response to a request, even if you cannot solve the issue on the spot, is often regarded positively, contributing to the formation of positive communication interactions.

Across cultures the value of time may vary. Some Mexican-American friends may invite you to a barbecue at 8 P.M., but when you arrive you are the first guest,  because it is understood that the gathering actually doesn’t start until after 9 P.M.     In France, similarly, an 8 P.M. party invitation would be understood to indicate you should arrive around 8:30, but in Sweden 8 P.M. means 8 P.M., and latecomers may not be welcome. Some Native Americans, particularly elders, speak in well-   measured phrases and take long pauses between phrases. They do not hurry their speech or compete for their turn, knowing no one will interrupt them. McLean, S. (1998). Turn-taking and the extended pause: a  study  of  interpersonal communication styles across generations on the Warm Springs Indian reservation.    In [12] Some Orthodox Jews observe religious days when they do not work, cook, drive, or use electricity. People around the world have different ways of expressing value for time.

Physical Characteristics

You didn’t choose your birth, your eye color, the natural color of your hair, or your height, but people spend millions every year trying to change their physical characteristics. You can get colored contacts, dye your hair, and, if you are shorter than you’d like to be, buy shoes to raise your stature a couple of inches. You won’t   be able to change your birth, and no matter how much you stoop to appear shorter, you won’t change your height until time and age gradually makes itself apparent. If  you are tall, you might find the correct shoe size, pant length, or even the length of mattress a challenge, but there are rewards. Have you ever heard that taller people    get paid more? [13] There is some truth to that idea. There is also some truth to the notion that people prefer symmetrical faces (where both sides are equal) over asymmetrical faces (with unequal sides; like     a crooked nose or having one eye or ear slightly higher than the other).[14]

We often make judgments about a person’s personality or behavior based on  physical characteristics, and researchers are quick to  note  those  judgments  are often inaccurate. [15],[16] Regardless of your eye or hair color, or even how tall you are, being comfortable with yourself is an important part of your presentation. Act naturally and consider aspects of your presentation you can control in order to maximize a positive image for the group or team.

Body Movements

The study of body movements, called kinesics, is key to understanding nonverbal communication. Since your actions will significantly contribute to the effectiveness of your group interactions, let’s examine four distinct ways body movements that complement, repeat, regulate, or replace your verbal messages.

Body movements can complement the verbal message by reinforcing the main idea. For example, you may be providing an orientation presentation to a customer about a software program. As you say, “Click on this tab,” you may also initiate that action. Your verbal and nonverbal messages reinforce, or complement, each other. You can also reinforce the message by repeating it. If you first say “Click on the tab,” and then motion with your hand to the right, indicating that the customer should move the cursor arrow with the mouse to the tab, your repetition can help the listener understand the message.

In addition to repeating your message, body movements can also regulate conversations. Nodding your head to indicate that you are listening may encourage the customer to continue asking questions. Holding your hand up, palm out, may signal them to stop and provide a pause where you can start to answer.

Body movements also substitute or replace verbal messages. Ekman and Friesen [17]found facial features communicate to others our feelings, but our body movements often reveal how intensely we experience those feelings. For example, if the customer makes a face of frustration while trying to use the software program, they may need assistance. If they push away from the computer and separate themselves physically from interacting with it, they may be extremely frustrated. Learning to gauge feelings and their intensity as expressed by customers takes time and patience, and your attention to them will improve your ability to facilitate positive interactions.


Touch in communication interaction  is  called  haptics,  and  Seiler  and  Beall Seiler, W., & Beall, M. (2000). Communication: making connections (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. identify five distinct types of touch, from impersonal to intimate, as listed in Table 6.3 “Types of Touch”.

Table 6.3 Types of Touch

1. Functional-professional touch Medical examination, physical therapy, sports coach, music teacher
2. Social-polite touch Handshake
3. Friendship-warmth touch Hug
4. Love-intimacy touch Kiss between family members or romantic partners
5. Sexual-arousal touch Sexual caressing and intercourse

Before giving your presentation, you may interact with people by shaking hands and making casual conversation. This interaction can help establish trust before you take the stage. While speaking in groups we do not often touch people on the team, but we do interact with visual aids, our note cards, and other objects. How we handle them can communicate our comfort level. It’s always a good idea to practice using the technology, visual aids or note cards we’ll use in a speech in a practice setting. Using the technology correctly by clicking the right button on the mouse or pressing the right switch on the overhead project can contribute to, or detract from, your credibility.


Paralanguage is the exception to the definition of nonverbal communication. You may recall that we defined nonverbal communication as not involving words, but paralanguage exists when we are speaking, using words. Paralanguage involves verbal and nonverbal aspects of speech that influence meaning, including tone, intensity, pausing, and even silence.

Perhaps you’ve also heard of a pregnant pause, a silence between verbal messages that is full of meaning. The meaning itself may be hard to understand or decipher, but it is there nonetheless. For example, your co-worker Jan comes back from a sales meeting speechless with a ghost-white complexion. You may ask if the meeting went all right. “Well, ahh…” may be the only response you get. The pause speaks volumes. Something happened, though you may not know what. It could be personal if Jan’s report was not well received, or it could more systemic, like the news that sales figures are off by 40% and pink slips may not be far behind.

Silence or vocal pauses can communicate hesitation, indicate  the  need  to  gather thought, or serve as a sign of respect. Keith Basso[18] quotes an anonymous source  as stating, “it is not the case that  a  man who is  silent says nothing.”  Sometimes  we learn just as much, or even more, from what a person does not say as what they do  say. In addition, both Basso and Susan Philips [19]found that traditional speech among Native Americans places a special emphasis on silence.


Do you cover your tattoos when you are at work? Do you know someone who does? Or perhaps you know someone who has a tattoo and does not need to cover it up on their job? Expectations vary a great deal, but body art or tattoos are still    controversial in the workplace. According to the [20]

  • 20% of workers indicated their body art had been held against them on the job.
  • 42% of employers said the presence of visible body art lowered their opinion of workers.
  • 44% of managers surveyed have body art.
  • 52% of workers surveyed have body art.
  • 67% of workers who have body art or piercings cover or remove them during work hours.

In your line of work, a tattoo might be an important visual aid, or might detract from your effectiveness. Piercings may express individuality, but you need to consider how they will be interpreted by employers and customers.

Artifacts are forms of decorative ornamentation that are chosen to represent self- concept. They can include rings and tattoos, but may also include brand names and logos. From clothes to cars, watches, briefcases, purses, and even eyeglasses, what we choose to surround ourselves with communicates something about our sense of self. They may project gender, role or position, class or status, personality and group membership or affiliation. Paying attention to a customer’s artifacts can give you a sense of the self they want to communicate, and may allow you to more accurately adapt your message to meet their needs.


Environment involves the physical and psychological aspects of the communication context. More than the tables and chairs in an office, environment is an important part of the dynamic communication process. The perception of one’s environment influences one’s reaction to it. For example, Google is famous for its work environment, with spaces created for physical activity and even in-house food service around the clock. The expense is no doubt considerable, but Google’s actions speak volumes. The results produced in the environment, designed to facilitate creativity, interaction, and collaboration, are worth the effort.

Key Takeaway

  • Nonverbal communication can be categorized into eight types: space, time, physical characteristics, body movements, touch, paralanguage, artifacts, and environment.


  1. Do a www.google.com search on space and culture. Share your findings with your classmates.
  2. What kind of value do you have for time? And what is truly important to you? Make a list of what you spend your time on, and what you value most. Do the lists match? Are you spending time on what is truly important to you? Relationships take time, and if you want them to succeed in a personal or business context you have to make them a priority.
  3. To what degree is time a relevant factor in communication in the information age? Give some examples. Discuss your ideas with a classmate.
  4. How many people do you know who have chosen tattoos or piercings as a representation of self and statement of individuality? Survey your friends and share your findings with your classmates.

9.3 Summary

In this chapter we have defined nonverbal communication and described its role in the communication process.  We explained and explored the principles of nonverbal communication.  We described the similarities and differences among eight general types of nonverbal communications:  space, time, physical characteristics, body movements, touch, paralanguage, artifacts and environment.

Review Question

  1. Interpretive Questions


  1. From your viewpoint, how do you think that thought influences the use of language?
  2. What is meant by conditioned in the phrase “people in Western cultures do not realize  the  extent  to  which  their racial attitudes have  been  conditioned  since  early  childhood by the power of words to ennoble or condemn, augment or detract, glorify or demean?” Moore, R. (2003). Racism in the English language. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.


  1. Application Questions


  1. How does language affect self-concept? Explore and research your answer, finding examples which serve can as case studies.
  2. Can people readily identify the barriers to communication? Survey ten individuals and see if they accurately identify at least one barrier, even if they use a different term or word.
Additional Resources

Benjamin Lee Whorf was one of the 20th century’s foremost linguists. Learn more about his theories of speech behavior by visiting this site. http://grail.cba.csuohio.edu/~somos/whorf.html

Visit InfoPlease to learn more about the eminent linguist (and U.S. senator) S. I. Hayakawa. http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0880739.html

Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker is one of today’s most innovative authorities on language. Explore reviews of books about language Pinker has published. http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/books/index.html

Reference.com offers a wealth of definitions, synonym finders, and other guides to choosing the right words. http://dictionary.reference.com/

Visit Goodreads and learn about one of the best word usage guides, Bryan Garner’s Modern American Usage. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/ 344643.Garner_s_Modern_American_Usage

Visit Goodreads and learn about one of the most widely used style manuals, the Chicago Manual of Style. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/ 103362.The_Chicago_Manual_of_Style

The “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most famous speeches of all time. View it on video and read the text. http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

The Religious Communication Association, an interfaith organization, seeks to promote honest, respectful dialogue reflecting diversity of religious beliefs. http://www.americanrhetoric.com/rca/index.html

To learn more about being results oriented, visit the web site of Stephen Covey, author of the best seller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. https://www.stephencovey.com/

Supplemental Videos


  1. McLean, S. (2003). The basics of speech communication. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
  2. McLean, S. (2003). The basics of speech communication. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. pp.77
  3. Mehrabian, A. (1972). Nonverbal communication. Chicago, IL: Aldine Atherton.
  4. Seiler, W., & Beall, M. (2000). Communication: making connections (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
  5. Zuckerman, M., DePaulo, D., & Rosenthal, R. (1981). Verbal and nonverbal communication of deception. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 14, 1–59.
  6. Hall, E. T. (1963). Proxemics: the study of man’s spatial relations and boundaries. In Man’s image in medicine and anthropology (pp. 422–445). New York, NY: International Universities Press. 
  7. Bruneau, T.  (1974).  Time  and  nonverbal communication. Journal of Popular Culture , 8, 658–666.,
  8. Bruneau, T. (1990).  Chronemics: the study of time in human interaction.
  9. J. DeVito, & M. Hecht (Eds.), The nonverbal reader (pp. 301–311). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland press.
  10. Bruneau, T., & Ishii, S. (1988). Communicative silence: east and west. World Communication, 17, 1–33.
  11. Schwartz, T. (1989, January/February). Acceleration syndrome: does everyone live in the fast lane? Utne Reader, 36–43.
  12. K. S. Sitaram, & M. Prosser (Eds.), Civic discourse: Multiculturalism, cultural diversity, and global communication (pp. 213–227). Stamford, CT: Ablex Publishing Company. 
  13. Burnham, T., & Phelan, J. (2000). Mean genes: from sex to money to food: taming our primal instincts. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.
  14. Burnham, T., & Phelan, J. (2000). Mean genes: from sex to money to food: taming our primal instincts. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.
  15. Wells, W., & Siegel, B. (1961). Stereotypes somatypes. Psychological Reports, 8, 77–78.
  16. Cash, T., & Kilcullen, R. (1985). The eye of the beholder: susceptibility to sexism and beautyism in the evaluation of managerial applicants. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 15, 591–605.
  17. Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. (1967). Head and body cures in the judgment of emotions: a reformulation. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 24, 711–724.
  18. Basso, K. A. (1970). To give up on words: silence in western Apache culture. In Cultural communication and intercultural contact (pp. 301–318). Hillsdale, NJ: Laurence Erlbaum.
  19. Philips, S. (1983). The invisible culture: communication in the classroom and community on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation . Chicago, IL: Waveland Press.
  20. San Diego Union-Tribune: Kinsman, M. (2001, August 20). Tattoos and nose rings. San Diego Union-Tribune, p. C1.


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