What Is the Meaning of Nonverbal Communication?

by Kat Consador; Updated September 26, 2017
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What people don't say can be just as important as what they do say. Words are just one form of communication. Facial expressions, body language or style of clothing are other critical components in communication, called nonverbal communication. This type of "language" goes beyond words.

Definition

According to Gareth R. Jones and Jennifer M. George's book, Contemporary Management, nonverbal communication is "the encoding of messages by means of facial expressions, body language, and styles of dress."

Encoding

According to Walter Mischel, Yuichi Shoda, and Ronald E. Smith's book, Introduction to Personality, people can look at other's faces and naturally obtain information about "happiness, surprise, fear, anger, disgust/contempt, interest and sadness." It does not take special training to recognize basic forms of nonverbal communication. However, it may take more extensive training to become self aware of how you are portraying your nonverbal communication to others.

With Verbal Communication

A congruence between verbal and nonverbal communication can ensure that a common understanding has been established, such as a genuine smile that accompanies a positive agreement with another person.

However, people can also inadvertently express nonverbal communication that contradicts their verbal communication. People tend to have less control over their nonverbal communication. For example, an attempted positive agreement may reveal underlying discontent through a grimace.

Face and Body

Body language and facial expression can reveal underlying emotions, such as love and hate. For example, according to a British Broadcasting Corporation report, crossing arms and legs while standing can be interpreted as a defensive gesture that implies a person wants to be left alone. However, when seated, this can represent empathy or sympathy. Feet also can signal attraction when your feet are pointing toward a romantic prospect. Eyes have commonly been said to be "the window to the soul." When someone is attracted to another person, he maintains eye contact longer and the pupils dilate. Disgust universally is expressed by wrinkling up noses and raising the upper lip.

Attire

When people say that someone is making a "fashion statement," this is true in terms of nonverbal communication. Examples of styles of dress are casual, formal, conservative and trendy. Style of dress as a form of nonverbal communication is evident in the top corporate managers. According to Jones and George, for example, "top managers in General Motors wear slacks and sports jackets rather than suits to communicate or signal that GM's old bureaucracy has been dismantled and that the company is decentralized and more informal than it used to be." There is a trend toward increasing workforce empowerment, so managers dress informally to communicate that employees are a team and not part of a hierarchy.

About the Author

Kat Consador is a freelance writer and professional competitive Latin dancer. Her work has appeared in eHow and various online publications. She also writes for clients in small businesses, primarily specializing in SEO. She earned a Bachelor's of Arts in Psychology from Arizona State University.

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