All communication devices are divided into two large groups: verbal and nonverbal. It may seem that nonverbal means are not as important as verbal. In fact, it is not true. Although verbal communication is of central importance for the majority, it is incomplete without nonverbal devices. Even after developing language, people consciously or unconsciously use body movements. Eye contact, facial expressions, head movements, positioning of feet and legs, torso shifts, postures, tone of voice and even space between people during conversation are elements of body language. Professionals in the field of communication studies define these body movements as the forms of the nonverbal communication, which can convey a person’s true emotional and cognitive condition.
There are many sciences that study the major types of nonverbal behavior. Kinesics studies facial expressions, eye contact, body postures and movements. Oculesics more specifically analyzes eye contact or its avoidance. Haptics studies touching behavior. Proxemics deals with personal space usage. Chronemics refers to the study of how people use time to communicate. Olfactics is the study of sense of smell. Paralinguistics investigates non-verbal vocal clues, such as loudness, pitch, tone of voice (Esposito, Bratanic, Keller & Marinaro 86).
The term “nonverbal communication” was firstly used by G.H. Hewes in 1952 when he wrote his World Distribution of Certain Postural Habits (Calero 2). Nonverbal communication allows obtaining more accurate and complete picture of people’s hidden meanings than verbal communication. Ability to decipher nonverbal behavior accurately can help in any negotiation or other situation involving people. The key to reading nonverbal elements is the ability to feel speakers’ emotional condition while listening to the speech and taking into account the circumstances of the conversation.
Alan Pease has introduced the investigation of body language in the late 70th of the last century. He is a recognized expert in the psychology of human communication. Pease claimed that the prominent feature of the nonverbal communication is its dependence on the subconscious impulses. The inability to forge these impulses does not allow people to hide true intentions. According to Pease, only 10 % of the message is expressed through the words, 40 % is transferred through tone of voice, and 50% accounts for gestures and postures (Pease & Pease 4). Nonverbal behavior of people is inextricably linked to their mental condition and serves as a means of expression. Therefore, the inner world of the individual can be revealed on the basis of nonverbal behavior. People pretty quickly adapt their verbal behavior to changing circumstances, but they cannot so easily control their nonverbal behavior.
Nonverbal communication includes such forms of expression that do not rely on words and other verbal symbols. Words can convey only factual knowledge, but words alone are not enough to express feelings. Since nonverbal communication usually manifests itself unconsciously and spontaneously, hidden feelings can “leak” through facial expressions, gestures, intonation, and tone of voice. Each of these non-verbal elements of communication can help to verify the truthfulness of the spoken words or put them into question.
Body language conveys more truthful message than the language of words. However, most signals of body language are ambiguous. Precise decoding is possible only with the consideration of the following factors: environment, mood, stimuli. For example, crossed arms on chest are perceived as an unconscious attempt to block out possible threat. However, some people may habitually cross their arms.
The success of any communication and business negotiations in particular depends on the ability to establish trustful relations with a partner. It depends not so much on what people say, but on how they hold themselves. Spitzberg and Barge claimed “How people hold themselves, stand, sit, and walk communicates strong nonverbal messages. Whether you intend to send a message or not, every move you make potentially communicates something about you to others (Tussy & Gustafson 255).” Business people are inclined to trust the information transmitted nonverbally. They can catch hidden meaning focusing on intonation, facial expressions, gestures, body postures. If the meaning of the verbal message is contrary to the meaning of nonverbal message, it is more obliviously that the interlocutor lies.
Communication studies show the impact of culture on nonverbal behavior and reveal the similarities and differences in nonverbal communication across cultures. Various cultures may use the same gestures, movements and facial expressions. However, these gestures can have completely different meanings. Understanding the American’s behavior may not help to decode the hidden meaning behind the Frenchman’s gestures. For example, a sign “OK” formed with thumb and forefinger means that all is well in the United States. The same gesture means zero or worthless thing in France. Forms of emotional expression are also different. For example, in some Eastern cultures, people learn to restrain emotions, and representatives of other cultures, on the contrary, try to be more expressive during conversation. Representatives of the Western cultures consider direct eye contact as a live interest in partner and conversation. Chinese, Indonesians and Mexicans try to avoid long eye contact since it is a sign of bad manners for them (Samovar, Porter & McDaniel 40).
Nonverbal communication more accurately reveals the position of the interlocutor because it expresses hidden feelings. As a result, it proves the sincerity of spoken words or shows that the interlocutor is trying to withhold certain information. Moreover, nonverbal communication enables a person to transmit information when other methods are impossible. The only problem that may occur while decoding the nonverbal signs is a confusion caused by cultural peculiarities of different nationalities.
Calero, H. Power of nonverbal communication: what you do is more important than what you say (1st ed.). California: Silver Lake Publishing, 2005.
Esposito, A., Bratanic, M., Keller, E. & Marinaro, M. Fundementals of verbal and nonverbal communication and the biometric issue. Netherlands: IOS Press, 2007.
Pease, A. & Pease, B. The definitive book of body language. Australia: Pease International, 2004.
Samovar, L., Porter, R. & McDaniel, E. Communication between cultures (7th ed.). Massachusetts: Cengage Learning, 2010.
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