3 Types of Nonverbal Communication
There are three important aspects of nonverbal communication we need to be conscious of whether we are sending or receiving messages. When these nonverbal signals match your other nonverbal and the words you’re saying, they increase trust, clarity, and rapport. When they don’t match, they can generate mistrust and confusion. The three aspects of nonverbal communication include:
- Proxemics – or the use of space
- Paralanguage – or the use of voice
- Kinesics – or body signals
You can use physical space to communicate many different nonverbal messages, including signals of intimacy and affection, aggression or dominance.
Personal Space is the distance we maintain when we interact with other people. Intimate space private conversations only required about 18 inches or less between the sender and receiver. This is reserved for very close family or friends. From there, the expected personal space increases as intimacy between people increases. Personal distance is appropriate for casual conversation. Social distance impersonal is used in situations like an interview or small meetings. Public distance, which can be more than 12 feet, is appropriate in a presentation where the speaker is talking to many who are vaguely or not at all familiar. Leaning toward a person can help you feel positive about that person. Step in too close and you can be presumed as rude or inappropriate.
Physical Space is the actual space that is perceived as belonging to you. Your office cubicle is an example. Often people use name tags, family pictures or trinkets to mark this as their space. In certain office meetings, each person will take the same chair from week to week. Even though it is an open seating situation, it can become uncomfortable when a new member joins the team and is unfamiliar customary seating.
When we speak, other people “read” our voices in addition to listening to our words. Things they pay attention to include your timing and pace, how loud you speak. your tone and inflection. Not the words, but the pitch, volume rate, quality, intonation and vocalized pauses. For more information about the use of voice, see our article “5 Vocal Characteristics for Public Speaking”.
Kinesics (Body Signals)
There are many body signals that amplify meaning between communicators. When considering nonverbal communication, what your body says should match whatever message you are speaking.
Gestures refer to the use of hands, arms, and fingers. Sitting with your arms folded can make you appear cold or distant. Random hand movements can make you appear nervous. How you angle your head, thrust your jaw, clench your fist, or lick your lips are signals that listeners use to interpret your meaning.
It’s important to remember that gestures are not universal. Certain gestures are interpreted totally different in other cultures. Take the American gesture for okay – a circle with the thumb and forefinger. It is interpreted as an obscene or sexual gesture in Brazil and in some European cultures. In Japan, it says that something is overpriced. To the French, it means zero. In Tunisia, it’s interpreted as “I’ll kill you.”
Eye Contact refers to the way you look at someone when communicating. Like gestures, eye contact can infer many things, including interest, affection, hostility, or attraction. Meeting your listeners’ eyes will increase their sense of your credibility and confidence. People who are not telling the truth or who dislike the person they are addressing often drop their eyes. Eye contact is also important gauging the other person’s interest and response. Talkers tend to hold eye contact nearly 30% less than listeners. So if your listener isn’t making appropriate eye contact, what assumptions will you make about his interest level? you making assumptions about.
Like gestures, eye contact is judged differently in different cultures. In the American culture, when parents say “look at me when I am talking to you,” they are teaching their child a sign of respect. However, in many cultures (i.e., Native American, Latin American and African cultures) it is disrespectful if the speaker is superior. There, averting the eyes is respect. In Japan, long eye contact is rude, disrespectful and even threatening.
Facial expressions for emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust are the same across cultures. Think how people communicate warning, sexual attraction, confusion without ever opening their mouth.
Posture is an indicator of attentiveness, respect, and dominance. But a rigid posture can send a message of hostility. Posture also includes body orientation. Face to face communication is direct body orientation and indicates more respect and attentiveness. Standing or sitting angles is indirect body orientation.
Locomotion is the speaker’s style of movement. Motivated movement helps clarify the speaker’s meaning, while unmotivated movement is distracting. Pacing is an example of unmotivated movement.
Haptics refers to how and what touch communicates. Reaction to unsolicited touch varies from person to person. This can be anything from a gentle touch on the forearm, a two-handed handshake, or a slight kiss on the cheek. It also varies across cultures. Certain cultures in southern and central America and Southern Europe encourage frequent touching. There are Arabic countries where two men walking and holding hands is a sign of a friendship. However in the US and several European and Asian it is interpreted as a more intimate relationship.
Communication involves so much more than words. How close to someone you stand, the tone of your voice and the movement of your body all play a part in shaping the interpretation of your message. Without the intentional use of the types of nonverbal communication at our disposal our what we think we are saying to our audience may not be what we are actually saying. However, the understanding and appropriate use of proxemics, paralanguage, and kinesics can make our message to our audience even stronger.
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