How does Nonverbal communication have a great influence over our social environment and the whole communication process?
rodrigo | December 8, 2012
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Communication is a process in which people verbally or non-verbally share information and ideas. Nonverbal communication can be best defined as a silent form of communicating with a person or party without using any form of speech to grab an audience attention or to exploit a message. Nonverbal communication is often used to make an expression of a thought or thoughts and make your message more appealing and interesting to whom you are speaking. Nonverbal communication has a great influence over our social environment and the whole communication process. There are many types and functions of nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication regulates relationships and can support or even replace verbal communications in many situations. Different genders and cultures use nonverbal communication differently and these differences can impact the nature of interpersonal communication. Nonverbal communication can become a barrier or tear down barriers to effective communication.
I conducted my own observation of nonverbal communication in a restaurant which is done on a daily basis. Nonverbal rules may differ according to the situation, and each situation determines its set of rules. The restaurant is located in Waynesboro, Ms, where I live. The patrons of the restaurant consisted of all types of cultures and class of families. The distinctive patterns of the customers were very noticeable. Different types of patrons had very different yet distinct sets of nonverbal communication behaviors. I observed three different groups, the older adults, the younger adults, and the children. I observed them differently to determine the differences that age and gender play a role in nonverbal behavior rules. Many different types of nonverbal communication were observed such as body language, hand movement, facial expressions, and eye contact.
There are four important functions of nonverbal communication. These functions can complement, regulate, substitute for, or accent a verbal message. In addition to the functions, there are many types of nonverbal communication. Those different types include paralanguage, body movement, facial expressions, eye messages, attractiveness, clothing, body adornment, space and distance, touch, time, smell and manner. There are cultural and co-cultural variations in each case of what are acceptable and unacceptable practice (Hybels & Weaver, 2007).
In describing the functions with complementing, one might use body language in an effort to support or add credibility to your words, and if that body language is seen as genuine then the overall message is strengthened (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). If the body language is perceived as fake or misleading, however, then it moves into the category of conflicting. In regulating, the body language serves the function of pacing and regulating communication (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). For instance, in a group of people, there are a number of non-verbal cues indicating when one person is finished speaking and it is another person’s turn. The function of substituting uses body language to replace verbal communication (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). For example, if you are caught in a conversation with someone who just keeps talking and talking, it is difficult to come out and tell that person you are tired of the conversation. Instead, you might substitute body language such as glancing away or stepping away. The last function of accenting is a type of body language that emphasizes, accentuates, softens, or otherwise enhances your verbal communication (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). You might point your finger to direct attention to the subject of your words, or you might reach out and touch the hand of a child whom you are correcting or disciplining.
Paralanguage refers to the non-verbal elements of communication used to modify meaning and convey emotion. Paralanguage may be expressed consciously or unconsciously, and it includes the pitch, volume, rate, and the quality. Sometimes the definition is restricted to vocally produced sounds. The study of paralanguage is known as paralinguistic cues. Body movements or kinesics are referred to all forms of body movements are important part of non-verbal communication behavior. The transport of body movement has many specific meanings and the interpretations that may be a bound of culture. As many movements are carried out at an unawareness level, the body movements carry a risk of being misinterpreted in a different culture communications situation. Some related words for body movement may be emblems are substitute for words and phrases, illustrators accompany or reinforce verbal messages, display of feelings show emotion, regulators controls the flow and pace of communication, and adaptors release physical or emotional tension (Hybels & Weaver, 2007).
Facial expressions can show happiness, sadness, fear, and anger that are easily identifiable across cultures. In addition, facial expressions play an important role in closeness. Eye messages are messages given only with the eyes. In the American culture, eye contact is a sign of honesty, credibility, warmth, and involvement. Other cultures require eye contact. Conversations without eye contact represent disinterest, inattention, rudeness, shyness, or deception. Eye messages show connection to others, attentiveness, involvement, immediacy but prolonged stares show negative and intimidating expressions. Eye messages have a delightful and wondrous aspect in the rolling of the eyes because it is known for flirting (Hybels & Weaver, 2007).
The perception of nonverbal communication started during the first year of life, when we learned how to communicate without words as infants. Infants learned very early the difference between a scowl and a smile and they soon learn how to convey their own feelings through non-verbal communication. The way nonverbal cues are perceived and interpreted in relationships can make all the difference between a positive and a negative impression. Paralinguistic enforces the old adage; it is not what you say but how you say it. No matter the rate of speed, the faster the communicator speaks, the more competent they may appear. The speakers with a high and varied pitch come across as more competent; a constant low pitch voice is associated with strength and maturity, while a constant high pitch voice signals tenseness and nervousness. Those who speak loudly are generally seen as aggressive and domineering, and speakers with soft voices are perceived as timid and polite. How individuals perceive nonverbal communication is often based on how they see themselves. If an individual takes everything personally, they may take offense to some nonverbal cues that are being used, whether they are intentional or unintentional. To avoid miscommunication, it is essential that speakers become more aware of the nonverbal cues that are used (Hybels & Weaver, 2007).
In the workplace, effective communication can be used to improve performance and to produce desired results. There are many non-verbal cues that are used everyday in the workplace, most of which are stronger that spoken language. Professionally speaking, a handshake can make a strong first impression, whether it is positive or negative. Men tend to have better handshaking skills and etiquette than women do; handshakes should be inviting, strong but not overpowering. Workplace touching is often discouraged due to sending out mixed messages, but handshakes are usually accepted and encouraged in most cases. Eye contact is yet another important non-verbal cue that can be used both positively and negatively in the workplace. In the United States, eye contact conveys honestly and sincerity; making eye contact is often an invitation to open communication, and signifies the need for feedback. In contrast, avoiding eye contact signals distrust, suspicion, or lack of interest; similarly, prolonged eye contact or a stare signifies aggression or flirting (Henman, 2009). In the workplace, dressing professionally is something most employers require, it shows confidence in oneself. Dressing professionally includes clothes that are worn, personal hygiene and not overpowering cologne and perfume. American businesses value being on time and being conscientious of this is crucial in business. Paying attention to all these non-verbal types of communication can prove successful in almost every business.
Nonverbal communication has the ability to strengthen and develop existing relationships or it can destroy them. A relationship can be regulated by nonverbal communication because it can support or replace verbal communication. Some of the contributing factors are the sending and receiving ability and accuracy, perception of appropriate social roles, and cognitive desire for interpersonal involvement. If the communicators are unaware of the types of messages they are sending and how the receiver is interpreting the messages difficulties can arise from nonverbal communication. If the perception of the receiver is not of the social norms for the particular situation could cause problems also. All the people involved must want the interaction to occur for reciprocal communication to be successful. Facial expressions can compel one to communicate interaction with another. Facial expressions can cause negative feelings if the other is evoked by them. Introduction and management rely on nonverbal communication in interpersonal relationships. Through research, interpersonal relationships have been successful through nonverbal clues (Dunn, 1999).
Nonverbal communication has an impact with gender and cultural differences. There are different views from society of males and females. Males are portrayed as aggressive, controlling, and having a take-charge attitude. Women are seen as sensitive, emotional, and passive. There is a difference how males and females communicate verbally and nonverbally. Women are more expressive when they use non-verbal communication, they tend to smile more than men and use their hands more. Men are less likely to make eye contact than women are. Men also come off as more relaxed, while women seem tenser. Men are more comfortable with close proximity to females, but women are more comfortable with close proximity with other females. In terms of interpreting non-verbal signals, women are better than men are (Coggins, 2006).
Culturally, there is a world of differences in nonverbal communication. In comparing the United States with Latin America, we can see many differences. The hand gesture we use to tell someone to come here is the hand palm up with the index finger extending out three or four times is different in Latin America. In Latina America, this hand gesture means you are romantically interested in a person and it is considered solicitation. To tell someone to come here in Latin America the palm is extended down and move all four fingers in and out together three or four times. When traveling on buses in Latin America the elders will hold their hand sideways with all four fingers extended to let one know there is a pickpocket nearby. In the United States, when visitors come to our country, we usually do not greet them personally. Latin Americans give hugs and the men greet the women with “besitos” meaning they touch the cheeks and make a kissing noise with lips (Institute of Languages, 2011).
Some barriers to nonverbal communication include cultural differences, deceptive gestures, inappropriate touching, negative nonverbal communication, and perceptual filters. The different cultural differences are ethnocentrism, stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination along with the hand gestures, touching, and facial expression. Ethnocentrism shows that one culture fill their group is superior to all other cultures. Stereotypes show the distorted or oversimplified views of different races of cultures. When a culture is prejudice towards another culture or group, a negative attitude is shown based on little or no experience. To avoid or exclude oneself from another culture or group discrimination is shown (Hybels & Weaver, 2007).
Different gestures often have vastly different meanings to people of different cultures. Nonverbal gestures can lead to misinterpretation. Touching can cause many problems in communicating if it is done incorrectly. A person may touch the other person during a conversation a lot and move close to them. Some people find touching as an invasion of their personal space. This is a barrier for all communication; people have a hard time communicating when they are uncomfortable. When a person displays negative nonverbal communication, it can also act as a barrier. For example, slouching, rolling of the eyes, moving quickly or slowly, or performing a variety of other negative physical behaviors, makes it difficult to communicate with them at all. This is because the person is creating a negative situation and when people feel uncomfortable they are unwilling to communicate. Facial expression can show frustration, anger, embarrassment, or uncertainty. They can contradict the verbal expression sending the real message that the speaker wants to send (Hybels & Weaver, 2007).
It is very important to learn how to improve nonverbal communication now that we have discovered that a communicator’s nonverbal communication can influence another’s perception of a message and that of the communicator. One must first monitor our own nonverbal communication skills. We should pay close attention when we are engaged in everyday routine conversations. It will help us to stay attuned to what we are doing and what kind of impression we are giving others. We need to ask ourselves these questions. Do we allow enough personal space so others are comfortable? Do we show our interest by making eye contact with others? Is our face expression appropriate for the conversation at hand? Is the voice tone appropriate for the situation? By being aware of these things we can improve our nonverbal communication skills.
In addition to those skills, we also must learn to be good discriminative listeners. It is relatively simple to hear a message, but we also need to be aware of nonverbal cues from others. We often get so preoccupied by what we are saying and what we are going to say as a response, that we are not sensitive to others needs. People often these express needs through their nonverbal communication, as opposed to what they are saying. Overcoming cultural barriers is another important step in communicating effectively. It is important to understand all aspects of communication (Hybels & Weaver, 2007). “Successful communication between people across cultures requires not only an understanding of language but also of the nonverbal aspects of communication that are part of any speech community” (Ha, 2008). It is more important to understand the non-verbal aspects of communication when people do not speak the same language verbally.
In conclusion, communication is complex and multifaceted. Nonverbal communication is a strong factor in today’s society and is used in many cultures. It gives insight to others true emotions and feelings, as well as their truthfulness and sincerity. Nonverbal communication can come in many forms, it can add to, or replace verbal communication, establish relationships and boundaries, and reflect different cultural values. It is symbolic, can be intentional or unintentional and differs between genders and cultures. Effective nonverbal communication can benefit us in interpersonal relationships, our careers and across cultures. It is our responsibility as effective communicators to understand the dynamics of this form of communication, and learn to use it so it benefits everyone involved. By tearing down any personal barriers or biases, and recognize our strengths and weaknesses, we can ultimately communicate in ways that decrease the likelihood of misunderstanding and increase our nonverbal communication as wells as verbally proficiency.
Coggins, S. (2006). Nonverbal Communication Between The Genders. Retrieved March 15,
2011 from http://www.shaicoggins.com/nonverbal-communication-between-the-genders/.
Dunn, L. (1999). Nonverbal Communication: Information Conveyed Through The Use of Body
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Henman, L. (2009). It’s Not Always What Say. Retrieved March 14, 2011 from
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Non Verbal Communication
Non verbal communication is the process of receiving and sending information through wordless messages for the purpose of communicating. Non verbal communication can be done through gestures, facial expressions, body posture, eye contact, touch. Object communication is also part of nonverbal communication. Object communication takes the form of clothing, symbols, info graphics and architecture. The entire above are used to convey messages from one person to the other. Non verbal communication can be used to convey messages clearly but could be misunderstood. The ability to understand non verbal communication may depend on the context of use and the people involved in the communication process.
The concept of facial expression includes a characteristic of a person that is represented, the visual configuration representing the characteristic, the physical basis of the appearance and the perceiver interpreting the signs.
There was a lady named Jane who was telling her friend, Rachel, a story about how her weekend was great. Jane told Rachel of how she spent her weekend with her boyfriend. They went to the movies on Saturday during the day. During the lunch hour, they took lunch at a five star hotel that was at the city. After lunch they went swimming till late in the evening. They went home, had supper then went to the disco. They danced and sang till morning. On Sunday morning, Jane cleaned her house and her clothes. She spent the afternoon sleeping. All this while when Jane was telling the story, Rachel kept widening he eyes and opening her mouth wide without saying anything. She was amazed at how Jane’s weekend was great. When Jane was done telling her story, Rachel said nothing. Jane stopped smiling and asked Rachel why she kept widening her eyes and opening her mouth while she told her the story. Rachel told her she was amused and astonished with the way Jane enjoyed her weekend. Jane told Rachel she was lying and that all that while she thought Jane was loose. Jane and Rachel who were good friends ended up quarrelling, fighting and becoming enemies. This was as a result of Jane misunderstanding the facial expressions of Rachel towards her while she told the story.
Non verbal communication is transferable. However there are two factors that are problematic when non verbal communication is used. First, non verbal communication has form and function and secondly it is not at all times translatable. These two factors make non verbal communication difficult to teach causing break downs which lead to misunderstanding. Most paralinguistic features have more than one function and meaning. Thus non verbal communication manages, identifies and defines relationships. It conveys attitudes and feelings but not ideas. This is why Jane failed to capture the real meaning of the facial expression that Rachel portrayed resulting to enmity between the two of them.
Misunderstandings occur because the paralinguistic forms functions vary from culture to culture. Although there are non verbal forms that are universal, such as smiles, laughter and sour expressions, the difference in others do result in misunderstanding.
There are differences that are associated with gender and age. Non verbal communication is relatively ambiguous and is subject to personal interpretation of the receiver. The meaning conveyed is particularly unclear when the message conveyed is doubted to be deliberate or not deliberate. The communication might have improved if Jane had included Rachel in the conversation so as to know what she thought of her weekend. At the end of the conversation Jane could ask Rachel to tell her whether it was great or not before jumping in to her own conclusion and messing their friendship up.
A communication climate is the concept of how communications are conducted within an environment. It is the environment where communication can either thrive or fail. The communication climate that I can identify is the school environment. The negative behaviors that school mates use are making assumptions. School mates jump in to conclusions very quickly without getting to know the real meaning that the message carries. School mates and teachers use jargons and don’t explain technical terms to students. They assume that students must know what they mean when they use jargon. The use of jargon makes many students get an impression that they have understood but in real sense they have not.
Teachers don’t share complete and unbiased information. The information with which to make informed choices is not given. The teachers don’t offer suggestions that are clear. Students confuse and think that the suggestions are the only options thus making mistakes when making decisions. Students are usually afraid to say they don’t know. They are not as honest enough to admit their lack of knowledge on something ending up making wrong choices and decisions.
Students don’t respect cultural differences or recognize differences in the way people interpret and understand information. This leads to misunderstandings among students sometimes resulting to violence. They don’t pay attention to non verbal cues and thus being misled. The impact of my own behavior is the same with the behavior of the other students. Being misled, making inappropriate decisions and resulting misunderstandings is what comes out of that.
Analysis of language
Linguists have broken the study of spoken language into two. These two categories are phonology and grammar. Phonology is the study of spoken language. Grammar on the other hand is the study of how sounds are uttered to make sense.
In phonology the smallest sound that can be placed to change the meaning of a word is referred to as phoneme. In English for instance, the initial sounds of the words gin and pin are phonemes. Different languages use different sets of phonemes. Polynesian for instance, uses about fifteen phonemes. It uses vowel sounds more than consonant sounds. English language makes use of forty to forty five phonemes. The English language uses consonant clusters. Some cultures don’t have some sounds in their languages making it difficult for their speakers to use a language that contains sounds that are not present in the language of those cultures.
Learning and using the sounds of a language can be made difficult by the writing system. English for example, has more then a thousand combinations of letters that are used in producing the forty sounds of the spoken language commonly used. This is even made harder when words use same phonemes that are spelt differently for example see and sea.
Grammar is divided in to two categories when analyzing language. The two categories are morphology and syntax. Morphology is the unit dealing with how sounds are combined to form larger units called morphemes. A morpheme is the smallest combination of sounds that ha meaning and cannot form smaller units of meaning. Words can consist of one or more morphemes. Some morphemes make sense but cannot stand alone. Such morphemes are referred to as bound morphemes. An example of such is ‘mis’ in the word mismatch. Morphemes are combined to form words and words are combined to form sentences. Syntax is the study of how words are combined to form sentences. The sentences should be able to make sense when uttered. Native speakers of a language learn the basic rules that entail how words are joined together to form to form sentences. They do this as they grow up from childhood to adulthood. These rules are acquired at home before going to school. They acquire the rules from family members and acquaintances. When children go to school they learn to enhance them to merge with patterns which fit more to the society in question.
Different languages are intelligible because of the fact that vocabulary is unfamiliar and also because syntax rules are different. In English language for instance, the order of words is vital to effect change in meaning. In Latin languages word order is not vital. Meanings are determined by word endings. In the mandarin language meaning is determined by tonal variation put in words.
Language is involved in about all learning experiences. It is the tool that is used to bring out what one is thinking and experiencing.
The main purpose of language is to transmit culture from one generation to the other. Language assists new members of a group to learn the culture and values of that group. Language is used differently in different societies. What is taken as appropriate use of language varies from society to society. Different societies might have same words but the meaning portrayed by these words to the different societies might be different.
Behaviors might differ from culture to culture on how we converse or use language. In English and mandarin verbal communication for example, various ways of discussing about time in English like it was horizontal and mandarin like it were perpendicular match up to differences on how the speakers of the two languages think of time. World view in language entails language and thought. Thee two concepts are closely related. One can talk without thinking in the same way one can think without talking. To communicate an idea, it must be put in the parameters of a language. Words help bring out certain images or information to a hearer. Each culture has a different set of parameters for language and thought. Learning the language of a culture that one associates with, helps create one`s thought patterns required in the culture. World view and language entails factors such as word sets, smelling and understanding and developing new word and thought categories.
Language carries peoples` culture and history. Therefore language is integral to world view. When we learn another language, we learn a new set of cultural set up and way of thinking. As we progress in learning the new culture, we learn to think in the way of the new culture and create meaning in relation to that cultural world view. Language serves as an organizer of knowledge therefore aspects of language influence categorization.
Jourdan , C. & Tuite, K. (2006) Language, Culture, And Society: Key Topics In Linguistic Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mehrabian, A. (2007) Nonverbal Communication. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.
Wood, T.J. (2009) Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters. 6th ed. Belmont: Cengage Learning.