Nonverbal Communication

Language plays a commanding role as a means of communication. When we communicate with other people, we use our facial expression, eye contact, body movement, intonation, volume of voice, clothing, body decoration, time, space and many other ways to transmit information. Such means of communication without words are called nonverbal communication. People had developed nonverbal communication skills long before they began to talk. Some researchers are sure that nonverbal communication is more powerful than verbal communication. Ray Birdwhistell of the University of Pennsylvania has estimated that 30 or 35 percent of human communication occurs through words, the rest through nonverbal modes. The first scientific study of nonverbal communication was Charles Darwin’s book ‘The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals’ (1872). In this work Charles Darwin studied facial expression.

Nonverbal communication can be communicated through gesture and touch, by body language or posture, by facial expression and eye contact as well as through object communication such as hairstyles or even furniture. In other words nonverbal communication can be considered ‘silent language’ which serves to express feelings without using words.

Nonverbal communication takes place simultaneously with verbal communication. For example, when we agree or disagree with somebody, we often nod or shake our head to convey positive or negative feelings. We can show a person that we are pleased with him or her or want to be friendly patting him or her on the shoulder. The words of love and affection are often accompanied by a hug or kiss.

Many aspects of nonverbal communication are greatly influenced by culture. People from different cultures interpret nonverbal behavior differently. For example, in Australia winking at women is improper; in Finland folding one’s arms shows arrogance and pride; in Greece waving is an insult. Direct eye contact is a sign of respect and attention in America and Europe; whereas in some Asian countries downcast eyes are a sign of respect and attention. In many Asian cultures, the bow signifies the culture’s concern with status and rank. In Japan low posture is an indicator of respect. In the United States, where people are usually informal and friendly, Americans often fall into chairs or slouch when they stand. In Germany and Sweden, where people are more formal, slouching is a sign of rudeness and poor manners. In Ghana and in Turkey, sitting with one’s legs crossed is extremely offensive.

Proximity and touching behavior often convey attitudes of liking and affection in many cultures. Latin Americans and Southern Europeans use touching behavior frequently and have a closer distance for conversation. In Thailand, patting an adult on the head is offensive.

In different countries people have different ways of greeting each other. Arab men often greet by kissing on both cheeks. In Thailand people greet with both hands closed in front of chest. In Japan, men greet by bowing, and in the United States, people shake hands.

Even the high or low pitch of the tone and volume of the voice play a very important role in communication and may be interpreted differently. Arabs speak very loudly to show strength and sincerity. Germans use a commanding tone to show authority and self-confidence. In Japan, raising one’s voice often means a lack of self-control. For Japanese people a gentle and soft voice reflects good manners.

We should remember that what is acceptable in one culture may be completely unacceptable in another. For example, the ‘OK’ gesture in the American culture is a symbol for money in Japan. The same gesture is obscene in some Latin American countries; while for Chinese or people in the South of France it is zero or nothing.

People’s nonverbal actions can say us much more than their words. For example, your partner wants to show you that he is calm, relaxed and self-confident, but his voice quavers and you notice his hands shake. That indicates that in reality this person is nervous and lacks confidence. Observing a person’s body language you can understand if he or she is telling the truth or lying. When someone tells a lie, he or she often makes many speech errors, hesitates, flushes or turns pale.

Physical appearance plays a very important role in communication and helps us produce a favourable impression. Eye contact can show a variety of emotions such as warmth, disapproval, irritation, distrust, surprise, interest, attention, sadness and so on.

Good communicative techniques in both verbal and nonverbal ways can help you become a successful communicator. If we want to avoid breaks in communication and personal relationships, we should take into consideration cultural differences and behave in an appropriate way both verbally and nonverbally. If you observe a person’s gestures, posture, facial expression and movements, you will be able to catch the right information. Remember that a sincere smile and a friendly expression facilitate communication and help remove the barrier between interlocutors.

1. Read the following sentences and circle TRUE or FALSE: 1) People had developed nonverbal communication skills long before they began to talk. T|F|
2) Ray Birdwhistell of the University of Pennsylvania has estimated that 70 or 75 percent of human communication occurs through words. T|F|
3) Many aspects of nonverbal communication are greatly influenced by culture. T|F|
4) In Australia winking at women is a sign of admiration and respect. T|F|
5) In Finland folding one’s arms shows pensiveness and concentration. T|F|
6) In some Asian countries direct eye contact is a sign of respect and attention. T|F|
7) In Ghana and in Turkey, sitting with one’s legs crossed is extremely offensive. T|F|
8) Arabs speak very loudly to show anger and irritation.
2. Complete each sentence (A-H) with one of the endings (1-8): A. Nonverbal communication can be communicated through
B. Nonverbal communication takes place
C. In Greece waving is
D. In many Asian cultures, the bow signifies
E. In Germany and Sweden slouching is a sign of
F. Latin Americans and Southern Europeans use touching behavior frequently and have
G. In Japan, raising one’s voice often means
H. Observing a person’s body language you can understand if
1. the culture’s concern with status and rank.
2. a lack of self-control.
3. simultaneously with verbal communication.
4. gesture and touch, by body language or posture, by facial expression and eye contact as well as through object communication such as hairstyles or even furniture.
5. an insult.
6. he or she is telling the truth or lying.
7. a closer distance for conversation.
8. rudeness and poor manners.
3. People often use ‘silent language’ to show their emotions and to send messages without words. What nonverbal modes will you use to show that you are – in a hurry
– tired
– angry
– in low spirits
– bored
– excited
– surprised
-friendly/u nfrie ndly
– interested
– attentive
– nervous
– pleased
For example: When a person is in a hurry he can look at his watch repeatedly and fidget uneasily in his seat.

4. What may the following nonverbal messages indicate? A person
(1) nods his head; (2) pats another person on the shoulder; (3) shrugs his shoulders; (4) places his index finger to his lips; (5) keeps silence; (6) coughs slightly; (7) waves his hand; (8) stares fixedly at another person; (9) raises his voice; (10) stammers; (11) covers his face with his hands; (12) smiles a lot.
5. Answer the questions 1) What ways do we use to transmit information besides language?
2) Why do many researchers believe that nonverbal communication is more powerful than verbal communication?
3) What is the connection between nonverbal communication and a person’s culture?
4) How do people greet each other in different countries? How do they greet each other in your country?
5) What role do the high or low pitch of the tone and volume of the voice play in communication?
6) What can the ‘OK’ gesture mean in different countries?
7) Why does physical appearance play a very important role in communication?
8) Why is it useful to develop good communicative techniques?
9) What should you do to avoid breaks in communication and personal relationships?
10) How can you facilitate communication?
6. Read and translate the quotations below. Choose any statement and comment on it – ‘A warm smile is the universal language of kindness’. (William A. Ward)
– ‘It [communication] means common understanding, a common tradition, common ideas, and common ideals. (Robert M. Hutchins)
– ‘Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of evry part of your life.’ (Brian Tracy)
– ‘Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know.’ (Jim Rohn)
– ‘Language is a social art.’ (Willard Van Orman Quine)
Find more information about nonverbal communication in different countries and prepare a report on this topic.

A. What do you know about nonverbal communication? Give the definition of this term.

B. Read the text ‘Nonverbal Communication’ and say what facts you have learnt about nonverbal communication in different countries.


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