Nonverbal communication consists of messages that are expressed through “body language”: distance from one another, touch, body posture and orientation, expression of the face and eyes, movement, vocal characteristics, clothing, physical environment, and time. Nonverbal communication includes the vocal communication of tone of voice, sighs, vocal quality, pitch, and loudness. We call gestures, movement, appearance, and facial expressions nonvocal communication. In your job, you can not see any of these nonverbal clues. You will be at a disadvantage if any of these clues are present to contradict the verbal message. The only clues as to the seriousness of a call are auditory for you. What you hear in the background and what the verbal message conveys are on what you base your understanding.

In your private life, it is hard to overemphasize the importance of nonverbal expressions and the ability to read and respond to others’ nonverbal behavior. It is impossible to study spoken language without paying attention to its nonverbal dimensions.

Nonverbal communication commonly expresses the kinds of relational messages (affinity, control, and respect) that you have studied in previous chapters. Nonverbal communication also performs three valuable social functions: identity management, definition of the kinds of relationships we want to have with others, and the conveyance of emotions. All of us have learned that with email, we have to find other means of expressing these functions. We apply symbols to show our emotions and facial expressions.

Other functions of nonverbal communications can be repeating, substituting, accenting, regulating, complementing, contradicting, and deceiving. However, as your text points out, nonverbal behavior is ambiguous at best. The receiver’s decoding is based on his or her self-concept, experiences, skill level, gender, and culture.

Paralanguage describes nonverbal, vocal communication. The way the message is spoken, how emphasis is placed on certain words (inflection) can help you understand the message. The tone, speed, pitch, volume, length of pauses, and disfluencies are the means by which you have to decipher the actual urgency of the calls that you receive. In the same manner, you have to be sure to speak carefully so that your nonverbal message of being there to help comes through loud and clear. The aspects of paralanguage also come into play when considering liability issues in your profession. Be sure to follow established procedures when questioning your caller. Do not speak in a monotone, but speak clearly with pitch, volume, and inflection as neutral as possible. As this chapter points out, even when we try not to have our emotional state reflected in our voice, we often do involuntarily. It takes practice to speak and enunciate clearly.

Another aspect of nonverbal behavior that comes into play is the role of gender and culture. As your text points out, although there are differences between men and women and their nonverbal behaviors, they are not so dramatic as is sometimes suggested. Other cultures also have different nonverbal languages as well as verbal ones. Different gestures have different meanings. Different facial expressions may be interpreted differently from country to country. These differences often cause misunderstandings because of our different perceptions.

Gestures, illustrators, emblems, and adaptors are important types of nonverbal behavior. Facial expressions, posture, physical attraction, and distance give us clues to another person’s feelings and status. Proxemics is the study of the way people and animals use space. Hall’s four distance zones are those distances with which most Americans feel comfortable. Territoriality, physical environment, and chronemics also play a role in encoding and decoding nonverbal messages.

As we have seen, when presented with conflicting verbal and nonverbal messages, communicators are more likely to rely on the nonverbal ones. Nonverbal clues are important in detecting deception. But, because of its ambiguous nature, you must use caution in interpreting such cues.

Please know the key terms of this chapter and read the text thoroughly. I have listed some web links for further study and your enjoyment.

Web Links

Dress for Success

The Body Language of Proxemics

The Nonverbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs and Body Language Cues

I’m Running Late: The Silent Signals of Time

Links, Links, and More Links to Information on Nonverbal Communication

Quiz: Gestures Around the World

Quiz: Recognizing Emotions