Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Non-verbal Communication

Non-verbal communication, or body language, has been studied for many years, due in part to the amount of information that it reveals and the messages it sends.  How we say it,” is more important than “what we say.”  Being able to “read” a person’s non-verbal communications will assist in being able to communicate more effectively.  Learning to send a better non-verbal communication to others will improve your social skills and build good rapport with others.

Facial Expressions

Scientists have determined that there are universal emotions that every culture recognizes:  happiness, sadness, anger, hatred/contempt, and surprise. These emotions can be a key to a person’s true feelings. We tend to feel before we think and our facial expressions could give these feelings away. 

What about all the other emotions? What about the ones that are revealed in our day-to-day communication with others? What about the expressions that are not always as readable as the universal expressions?

  • Furrowed eyebrows: concentration or concern
  • Eyebrow flash: interest or recognition
  • Nose flare: ready for action or engagement
  • Tenseness in cheeks or jaw: anger
  • Cheek blush: excitement or arousal
Body Language

Have you ever been able to know someone’s mood by the way they come into a room? That’s non-verbal communication through body language.  The person that slips into the room, making no eye contact, then slumps in the corner is not in good mood, and communication will probably not be positive without extra care taken.

There are two main categories of body language: 

Closed: Arms/legs crossed, body pointed towards exit, rounded upper body, head tilted down.
Open: Body is receptive to communication, pointed straight to action; head is upright, arms uncrossed.
It is well known that open body language is perceived as more positive, more persuasive, and more approachable.  Closed body language is perceived as more negative, less cooperative, and less able.

Giving Full Attention

Another form of non-verbal communication is the attention that is given to the communicator during the exchange of information. The body language is a clue to the respect that the audience has for the speaker and the attention that is being paid to the message. One way to ensure that the speaker knows that he/she has your attention is through eye contact. Breaking that eye contact can be read as an indication of disinterest or disagreement.

Another way to show that you are giving your full attention is to point your body towards the speaker. Avoid looking as if you are about to dash away.  Do not fidget.  Avoid tapping your foot or tapping your fingers as this gives the message that you are in a hurry to get somewhere, that you are agitated, or you are not approachable at this time.


“Spatial zones” refers to the space or distance between two people. This is also considered part of nonverbal communication.  The amount of space is very telling to the content of the conversation, the relationship between the two people, and the agreement or disagreement to the topic at hand.  Often in the workplace, the higher the degree of authority, the more personal space a person is given. New acquaintances that are male often tend to need more space than newly-acquainted women.

Personal space is important to everyone but is not always the same for everyone. Often it is based on trust levels. The less trust, the further apart the two people will be, and of course, the higher degree of trust brings people closer together during their interactions.  The invasion of someone’s personal space can lead to a breakdown of communication. Moving too close too early can cause distrust and discomfort for the person with whom  you are trying to develop a relationship.

Until next time ...

Sheryl Tuchman, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

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