While we usually associate Charles Darwin with his theory of evolution, very few people know that he was the first person to conduct research on nonverbal communication; the findings of which he published in his book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.
Nonverbal communication is the process of communicating by sending and receiving non-verbal messages by means of gestures, body language, or facial expressions. In other words, it is about communicating, i.e., sending and receiving messages, without using words.
Scientific research on this type of communication (and its effects) has identified various techniques that come into play in course of such communication. These include facial expressions, gestures, posture, and even our appearance.
A considerable part of our communication is nonverbal; about 80 percent according to some sources. Even though we often concentrate on words when we are in conversation with someone, our conclusions are also derived from his actions; the way the person talks, whether he maintains eye contact or not, the manner in which he holds his hands, and so on.
Nonverbal communication most often occurs through our sensory systems: sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste.
Different Forms of Nonverbal Communication
Being able to read facial expressions can give us insights into the thoughts and feelings of other people. More importantly, they are the same throughout the world, and thus, turn out to be very helpful when it comes to language barriers.
Similarly, evading eye contact usually indicates that the person is hiding something, or is disinterested. Studies have also revealed that the rate of blinking increases when we come across things we like.
The body language of a person can speak volumes about him. Nonverbal body language can help in conveying feelings and demonstrating attitude. An individual subconsciously leaning towards you while in conversation usually indicates sympathy and acceptance.
Similarly, talking face to face can be a sign of confrontation. Other than the emotional state of the person at a particular moment, posture is also an indicator of his overall nature.
While a closed posture, wherein arms are crossed at chest or abdomen, indicates nervousness, disinterest, and hostility, open posture, wherein the head is raised and feet are spread, indicates confidence, interest, and friendliness.
There also exist some gestures which are attributed to a particular culture or community. While an American will signal three using his index finger, middle finger, and ring finger, a German will signal it using his thumb, index finger, and middle finger.
Communicating by touch is by far the most important among the various types of nonverbal communication. The six different types of touch are positive, playful, control, ritualistic, task-related, and unintentional; the last one being mostly perceived as meaningless.
A strong tone indicates the confidence level, while a hesitant tone indicates lack of confidence or lack of interest. Similarly, sounds like 'uh-huh', 'aha' and 'ahem' also offer nonverbal cues to your behavior.
Proxemics is primarily based on the amount of personal space we need or maintain when we indulge in any sort of activity. This can be attributed to various factors including social norms, familiarity with the other person, and personal characteristics of an individual.
Regardless of whether you are addressing a group of people or interacting with someone for the first time, your audience has already made some opinions about you based on your appearance. And if you fail them in this aspect, they may not even pay attention to what you have to say.
It is difficult to fake nonverbal communication as there are numerous signals involved. Same is the case with the interpretation part. You miss out on nonverbal cues if you are not paying attention. By paying attention to these cues and sending across the right signals, you will be able to ensure that your interaction with the other person is smooth sailing.