Non Verbal Communication

Non Verbal Communication is any way that is used to express thoughts, feelings, or emotions without speaking. The human body is extremely susceptible to this type of communication, as 80% of the messages we send and receive are done so without ever saying a word. Nonverbal communication skills are a vital part of our everyday lives.  We must be aware of what we look like when we say things, sometimes more than what we look like when we say them. 
Non Verbal communication actually serves to drive our conversation in a particular direction. Knowing the powerful reaction that your body language, words, and tone of voice can be is a particularly useful tool in business communications.

7% - 38% - 55% Rule

UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian developed one of the most well-known rules when it comes to non-verbal forms of communication. He determined that messages received in communication are actually mostly received in a non-verbal form. 

55% of messages received and processed by your brain are based on your body language. This means that you are actually judged more on your physical stance and facial movements while communicating. A high percentage makes it imperative that you are aware of the way you look when communicating.  For example, you can say that you forgive someone while they are apologizing, but if you have your arms crossed over your chest, this puts up a barrier between you and the other person. Their brain will not accept your forgiveness because it doesn’t look like you are open to their apology.

38% of messages are processed based on your tone of voice. How you say something is more important that what you are actually saying.  While communicating with someone, if your voice is not expressive of the emotion you are trying to convey, the meaning behind your words will be lost.  Take the forgiveness scenario, if your tone of voice expresses a lack of enthusiasm when accepting the apology, the meaning will get lost.  You must sound forgiving and understanding if that is what you want the other person to feel.

Only 7% of your received meaning will be based off the words you are saying. This low percentage means that saying the words “I forgive you” means little when your tone and body language do not reflect forgiveness.
The functions of nonverbal communication are very important. Since there is so much importance on how we look and sound when communicating a message, it’s important to understand the functions of non-verbal communication. What makes this form of communication so important?

Supplementing or Repeating Verbal Communication1

Using gestures when speaking helps to clarify an intended meaning in communication and really drive home a point. For example, if you point in a direction while telling someone to turn left, or if you nod your head while saying “yes” you are repeating your verbal action with a non-verbal.

Regulating Interaction

Non-Verbal communication will help to regulate when another person may speak in a conversation. For example, if you move your hands a lot when you speak, you will subconsciously stop moving your hands, indicating to the other person that it is their turn to speak.

Establishing Relationship-Level Meanings

Relationship-Level meanings are broken down further into three categories: responsiveness, liking, and power.

Reflects and Expressing Cultural Value

The meanings behind non-verbal communications can vary in different parts of the world. A great example of this difference is eye-contact. In America, we associate eye contact with good manners, and if someone fails to make eye-contact with us we think that they are not paying attention to us. In Asian countries, eye-contact is considered abrasive and disrespectful. The same rules for non-verbal communication do not apply for all places in the world.  

Improve Your Non-Verbal Communication

Be aware of your own non-verbal messages. What kind of messages are you sending with your nonverbal cues? If you’re frowning, why is that? If your arms are crossed why do you feel unreceptive to the message being presented?
Remember that nonverbal messages coming from others are ambiguous and one set of cues will not mean the same thing for everyone.

Don’t jump to conclusions based on your own cultural normal cues. Depending on where you are in the world, non-verbal gestures can have different sets of meanings from place to place. Study up on the culture before you travel so that you are less likely to be offended, as well as offend.


1. Wood, Julia T. Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and Culture. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009.

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