Experts agree that non-verbal communication is responsible for a huge proportion of the messages we send out. The numbers vary anywhere between 65% even up to 80% or 90%. But whatever the number, it’s clear that communication is about far more than simply the words we say.
So what exactly are we talking about when we refer to ‘non-verbal communication’?
- Appearance – we all have a tendency to judge based on first impressions, and our clothes and appearance can give away a lot about our personalities. The colours we wear can even have an impact on the moods of the people around us.
- Body language and posture – body language is usually what people think of when they think about non-verbal communication: folding your arms could be perceived as defensive, for example. However, new research suggests that body language is far more subtle than we previously thought.
- Proxemics – this refers to the amount of ‘personal space’ we need in different communication situations. Get this wrong, and you could come across as pushy or even threatening.
- Gestures – some gestures are related to culture and habit, and don’t carry much meaning. But deliberate gestures, such as pointing, are very important to non-verbal communication.
- Haptics – communicating through touch can be an essential part of interaction. In fact, touch is crucial to human development. Touch can communicate affection, sympathy and other emotions. Of course, watch out for cultural differences in ideas of what’s appropriate.
- Facial expressions – these are pretty much universal, and we’re all good at recognising emotions on other peoples’ faces. Micro-expressions can also help us identify whether feelings are genuine.
- Eye gaze – this might vary from culture to culture, but staring, blinking, and even pupil dilation can give away a lot about what someone is thinking.
- Paralinguistics – this refers to the sound of your voice: tone, pitch, inflection, etc., and can signal anger, enthusiasm, disappointment, and a range of other emotions.
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