Non – verbal communication is the process of conveying a message without the use of words. It can include gestures and facial expressions, tone of voice, timing, posture and where and how the speaker stands. Non-verbal communication occurs mainly through visual symbols and auditory symbols. 

For example, the fragrance in a room, the feel of the plush covering on furniture, the taste and aroma of the coffee served in the visitors’ room of an office, make significant impressions.

What is Non- Verbal Communication

Non – verbal communication is the process of conveying a message without the use of words. It can include gestures and facial expressions, tone of voice, timing, posture and where and how the speaker stands. It is a significant part of the entire communication process, as it can help or hinder the clear understanding of the message. 

It does not always reveal what the speaker is really thinking. On the other hand, it can even mask it. Nonverbal communication is extremely complicated. The action flows almost seamlessly from one to the next and hence understanding it is a challenging task.

Characteristics of Non – Verbal Communication


The different aspects of communication which more or less relate with oral and written communication can be improved or get some effective role, might be included in non-verbal communication. 

The characteristics of non-verbal communication are as follows: 

  1. Non-verbal techniques can be used as a substitute for words as well as language also; 
  2. It is mostly involuntary and unconscious and almost it is not perfectly controlled. 
  3. Non-verbal methods help to make mutual coordination between oral and written communication; 
  4. It is invariably related with the concept of body language; 
  5. This communication can be consciously created and used with both oral and written communications; 
  6. Basically it is effected and develops a better situation on the basis of the ideas, concepts, inner feeling and outlooks of the concerned persons.

Function of Non Verbal Communication

Although non-verbal communication can stand alone, it frequently works with speech. Our words carry part of the message and non-verbal signals carry the rest. Together, the two modes of expression make a powerful team, augmenting, reinforcing and clarifying each other.

Experts in non-verbal communication suggest that it has six specific functions:


i. To provide information, either consciously or unconsciously.

ii. To regulate the flow of conversation.

iii. To express emotions like happiness, anger, etc.

iv. To qualify, complement, contradict or expand verbal messages.


v. To control or influence others.

vi. To facilitate specific tasks.

vii. It helps to establish credibility and leadership potential.

Importance of Non- Verbal Communication

Basically, non-verbal communication is one of the key aspects of communication. It is especially significant in intercultural situations. 

Its importance has been felt due to the following reasons: 

  1. It is used to repeat verbal messages.
  2. It is used to ascertain verbal messages. 
  3. It complements the verbal message but also may contradict. 
  4. It regulates interactions. 
  5. It may substitute the verbal message.

Components of  Non- Verbal Communication

It is communication of feelings, emotions, attitudes, and thoughts through body movements/gestures/eye contact, etc.

The components of Non-Verbal Communication are:

i. Kinesics – 

It is the study of facial expressions, postures and gestures. Did you know that while in Argentina to raise a fist in the air with knuckles pointing outwards expresses victory, in Lebanon, raising a closed fist is considered rude?


ii. Oculesics – 

It is the study of the role of eye contact in non-verbal communication. Did you know that in the first 90 sec—4 min you decide that you are interested in someone or not. 

Studies reveal that 50% of this first impression comes from non-verbal communication which includes oculesics. Only 7% comes from words—that we actually say.

iii. Haptics – 


It is the study of touching. Did you know that the acceptable level of touching varies from one culture to another? In Thailand, touching someone’s head may be considered rude.

iv. Proxemics – 

It is the study of measurable distance between people as they interact. Did you know that the amount of personal space when having an informal conversation should vary between 18 inches—4 feet while the personal distance needed when speaking to a crowd of people should be around 10-12 feet?

v. Chronemics –


It is the study of use of time in non-verbal communication. Have you ever observed that while an employee will not worry about running a few minutes late to meet a colleague, a manager who has a meeting with the CEO, a late arrival will be considered as a nonverbal cue that he/she does not give adequate respect to his superior?

vi. Paralinguistics –

It is the study of variations in pitch, speed, volume, and pauses to convey meaning. Interestingly, when the speaker is making a presentation and is looking for a response, he will pause. However, when no response is desired, he will talk faster with minimal pause.

vii. Physical Appearance –

Your physical appearance always contributes towards how people perceive you. Neatly combed hair, ironed clothes and a lively smile will always carry more weight than words.

Remember, “what we say” is less important than “how we say it” as words are only 7% of our communication. Understand and enjoy non-verbal communication as it helps forming better first impressions. Good luck!

Classification of Non- Verbal Communication

A. Body language or Kinesic


Kinesic communication is a message conveyed through non-verbal acts. Nonverbal acts in the form of body movements, such as gestures, winking, smiling, postures, or style of dressing and grooming, send out a message that supports or contradicts the verbal message. 

Kinesic communication is also known as body language or body talk. It includes the entire non-verbal behaviour of the communicator. A non-verbal act is usually unconscious. 

It transmits the unstated feelings, attitude and hidden intentions of the speaker. The receiver’s ability to perceive the non-verbal signs holds clues to the unworded messages. 

These non-verbal clues help you understand the total meaning of the message. Non-verbal clues influence our perception and understanding of the verbal message. Leakage A non-verbal message conveyed through bodily movements is known as ‘leakage’. A successful receiver is able to observe and interpret the ‘leakage’. 

Various Aspects of Kinesics or Body Language 

(i) Symbols of Body Language 


In this connection it is important to point out that all body movements, postures, gestures etc. are guided by our thought processes, emotions etc. By nodding our head, blinking our eyes, waving our hands, shrugging our shoulders and various other ways, we send out signals and messages that often speak louder than words. 

That is why this area of enquiry has been called ‘body language’. All bodily movements act as symbols (signs), which contribute to the meaning of the message received and interpreted by the listener. The symbolic meaning associated with different body movements, gestures, and expressions is only suggestive and not specific in its import. 

(ii) Touch 

Touch is one of the very first non-verbal symbols a new-born baby is lovingly exposed to. It continues to be a major means of communication for a long time because the range of symbols a baby can display or process is severely limited. 

Touch and tone of voice (as opposed to the actual words used) are arguably the most crucial symbols mothers use when they communicate their love and care to their new-born babies who cannot process visual inputs well and for whom words mean nothing. 

It is several months before it can process verbal symbols its parents and others employ. Even after a baby’s range of symbols grows, touch continues to be a powerful means to communicate emotions. 


You can convey different meanings to others through the way you touch them. Touch is one of the symbol systems that are heavily influenced by culture. A culture determines who may touch whom, which part of the body, when, and for how long. 

Following the rules conveys certain meanings and violating them deliberately or unwittingly also conveys some. The possibility of a mismatch between the communicator’s intentions and the communicatee’s interpretation is very high when they belong to different cultures. 

(iii) Facial Expression 

Facial expressions are a set of powerful non-verbal symbols we use mainly to communicate emotions like anger, love, hate, fear, interest, disdain, lust, pleasure, anxiety, nervousness, confidence, and so on. 

We change facial expressions by contracting and relaxing our facial muscles. We can, for example, part our lips in a smile or arch your eyebrows in anger or concentration. The trouble is that the emotions portrayed could be real or feigned. 

If the emotion is genuine, there is a good chance that other parallel expressions also will appear alongside without any special effort. 


If I smile at you but my eyes search for someone else, it will be obvious to you that my smile is put on, that it does not indicate genuine pleasure meeting you. It is amusing to see photographs of politicians shaking hands with others. 

When the two people shaking hands do not look at each other but at the camera, we feel that they are posing for a record; they are not showing any warmth for each other. 

Some people have a poker face. Their faces don’t show any variation even when their emotions fluctuate. It is difficult to communicate with them. 

They don’t display enough symbols for us to build a satisfactory model of what is in their minds. Just as a completely transparent mind is not interesting, a totally opaque mind also is unattractive. 

(iv) Eye Movements 

Eyes form the centrepiece of facial symbols in face-to-face communication. We treat them as a separate set of symbols here because they are extensively used to communicate a range of meanings. Eyes are particularly interesting because they have a voluntary dimension and an involuntary dimension. 

The voluntary dimension consists of eye contact with communicatees. If you choose to establish eye contact with another person you might be communicating friendliness, respect, interest, comfort, and even domination. The duration of eye contact is meaningful; so is frequency. 

If you don’t see another person’s eyes when you talk to them, it conveys some meaning too. Here culture plays a major role. In Western cultures looking up into the eyes of a person while talking to them is a sign of respect for them. In Eastern cultures, looking down is a way of showing respect to the superior talking to you. 

The more intriguing, involuntary dimension of eye contact is the dilation and contraction of the pupils. We have no control over it. Our pupils dilate when we see people or objects that interest us, and contract when we are bored. 

Several research studies involving different types of subjects have confirmed this phenomenon. Smart people, ranging from wily traders to crafty prostitutes, have for centuries used this insight to measure customer preferences or to attract and retain clients. 

(v) Gestures 

In addition to the face and eyes, other body parts move and convey meaning. We refer to these movements as gestures — the physical movements of arms, legs, hands, torso, and head. Gestures belong among the most commonly used non-verbal symbols in oral communication. 

Gestures are what we do with our hands in order to communicate. Many unconscious gestures that accompany speech may have no special connotations at all when they are separated from the rest of the constellation of symbols. They may acquire meanings in a communication context. 

If, for example, a person addressing a gathering wrings his hands, or ties and unties knots on her saree’s pallu, the audience might conclude that they are nervous. 

Some gestures such as beckoning someone are interpreted fairly uniformly all over the world. Some other gestures stand for vastly different messages in different communities. 

The circle formed with the help of the thumb and the index finger, for example, suggests ‘OK’ in the US; ‘nothing’ in parts of France. This variation further complicates the already messy act of communication. 

Here also the audience’s expectations are critical. They reconstruct your message depending on whether or not your gestures tally with their expectations and with the other symbols-verbal and nonverbal-that you display simultaneously. 

Some communicatees might consider the absence of gestures to indicate nervousness or rigidity. The same communicates might take your free-flowing gestures to indicate confidence bordering on arrogance. 

The mudras within the framework of a dance form like Kathakali or Bharatnatyam are stylised gestures. They have relatively specific meanings attached to them. We need to learn to interpret them. 

Stylised gestures are also found in the sign language of speech-challenged people. These gestures are like words with dictionary meanings but are still capable of portraying a multitude of meanings. 

(vi) Body Shape and Posture 

Postures are the positions adopted by the body. They also contribute to communication. Standing erect as opposed to standing bent, kneeling down, or prostrating while interacting with another person, supports a different meaning. 

Standing up, hunching one’s shoulders, leaning against a wall, sitting down stiff and upright, sitting at the edge of the chair, sitting down relaxed, lying down, changing the posture constantly, and so on, while communicating or being communicated to also have their own bag of meanings. 

None of these postures have any specific meanings of their own. They acquire meanings in association with other symbols and in the context of communication. Besides, they are noticed when they go against the communicatee’s expectations. 

If the students stand up when a teacher enters their classroom, and keep standing until asked to sit down, they communicate something. 

The message is not necessarily that they respect the teacher; it could be that they are not yet ready to challenge an old custom. Or the standing up could be an automatic, unthinking response with no meaning attached. We don’t know. 

(vii) Appearance 

The final area of kinesics is appearance. By appearance, we mean clothing, hair, and adornments such as jewellery, cosmetics, and the like. At first glance, it may seem that appearance is unrelated to body movements. 

Closer inspection, however, reveals that appearance relates to how the face, eyes, gestures, posture, and shapes — all those aspects of body language we have discussed — are perceived. Thus, we will present some basic ideas about appearance although our coverage will not include etiquette or good grooming techniques. 

Importance of Body Language 

Knowledge of non-verbal skills strengthens your communicative competence as a professional. But you do not get from these skills the power to control others. If you understand the body language of other persons, it does not mean you control their response to you. 

It only means you understand them and their meaning better. By gaining a fuller understanding of the message, you are better equipped to fulfil your purpose. 

Therefore, in the first place you should look upon understanding of non-verbal skills of communication as a source of crucial knowledge of others’ subconscious or unexpressed feelings and attitude. 

Body language is not the science of mind reading. Body language is a sudden flashing revelation from one subconscious mind to another subconscious mind. There is no deliberate attempt to give or receive non-verbal messages. 

It all happens spontaneously. Your skill is to be aware of such sudden and spontaneous expressions through bodily movements and gestures; develop the ability to support your verbal message with positive body expressions; minimise negative movements, expressions, and gestures; and interpret non-verbal clues received from other persons. 

Ability to Act as a Victim of Power Posturing 

In the presence of power posturing superiors or colleagues, you must have felt a strange sense of being subordinated or over-dominated, suddenly. Suppose your boss, known for his arrogance and strictness, quietly enters into your room from his side office, and stands holding your chair behind you. He keeps watching what you are working on for a few minutes. 

There is silence. You feel deeply nervous and upset. And finally, he says, “So, what’s on?” in a heavy voice. In such a state of nervousness, you should learn to manage your body talk. Do not allow your nervousness to leak out. If you exhibit nervousness, that would mean you were doing something wrong. 

If you blurt out “Nothing, Sir” in a shaky voice, your boss could infer that you were wasting your time. You should reply with confidence by first standing up, then facing him, (if not already met then greeting him for the day) and say exactly what you have to say (what you have been doing). 

Knowledge of nonverbal skills strengthens your communicative competence as a professional. But you do not get from these skills the power to control others. 

Body language is not the science of mind reading. Body language is a sudden flashing revelation from one subconscious mind to another subconscious mind. 

B. Paralanguage

The term paralanguage is a combination of two words — “para”, means like and “language” means mode of communication. Thus, para language literally means “like language”.

Para language is used to describe a wide range of vocal characteristics like tone, pitch, speed, etc., and these characteristics accompany the spoken language and express which help to express the speaker’s attitude. For e.g., Shaky voice expresses the nervousness of the speaker and a clear voice shows his confidence.

In the words of Prof. Barker and Gaut, “A language alongside language and includes vocal characteristics such as pitch, range, resonance, tempo and quality and various vocal sounds such as grunts, groans and clearing the throat.” 

In oral communication, through the medium of words we learn “what is said” whereas para language is non-verbal communication of “how is said”. In other words, it is that component of oral expression wherein words are not used.

To illustrate, read the following series of statements, emphasising the italicised word in each:

  1. I am a good communicator.
  2. I am a good communicator.
  3. I am a good communicator.
  4. I am a good communicator.
  5. I am a good communicator.

By emphasising the italicised word in each statement, you change the meaning of that statement from the others even though you used the same words. You do so by the way in which the word sequence sounds. 

As another example, try counting from 1 to 10 a number of times, each time expressing a different emotional state—say anxiety, anger or happiness. The way you state each sequence of numbers will show what you intend quite accurately.

Characteristics of Paralanguage:

Main characteristics of paralanguage are as under:

a. Paralanguage is the communication effect of the speed, pitch, volume and connectivity of spoken words. Are they fast or slow? Are they high pitched or deep? Are they loud and forceful or barely audible? Are they smooth or disjointed? 

These questions are examples of the types you would ask to analyse the non-verbal symbols of paralanguage. The symbols become a part of the meaning that is filtered from a spoken message.

b. Para language meanings are also conveyed by consistencies and inconsistencies in what is said and how it is said. Depending on the circumstance, a person’s voice may or may not be consistent with the intended word meanings. 

But you should make every effort to avoid inconsistencies that will send a confusing message. Consistency among the words you choose and how you deliver them to create clear meaning should be your goal.

c. Senders and receivers have certain expectations about how a message should sound. Whether real or imagined, people infer background factors (race, occupation, etc.,); physical appearance (age, height, gender); and personality (introversion, social orientation, etc.,) when they receive and filter voice patterns. When you speak, you should do whatever you can to influence these expectations positively.

Voice and Sound:

The most important vehicles of paralanguage are voice and sound. Your voice quality and the extra sound you make while speaking are also a part of non-verbal communication called paralanguage. Paralanguage includes voice volume rate, articulation, pitch and the other sounds you may make, such as – throat clearing and sighing.

The words “You did a great job on this project!” could be a compliment. But if the tone of voice is sarcastic and said in the context of criticism, the true meaning is anger.

Effective business communication requires that the voice of the speaker should have necessary modulation matching the nature of the message. This will sustain the interest of the listeners and they will listen to the message more attentively. 

For instance, a loud voice often communicates urgency while a soft one is sometimes calming. Speaking fast may suggest nervousness or haste.

A lazy articulation, slurring sounds or skipping over syllables or words, may reduce credibility. A lack of pitch variation becomes a monotone, while too much variation can sound artificial or overly dramatic. 

Throat clearing can distract from the spoken words. Emphasising certain words in a sentence can purposely indicate your feelings about what is important.

Necessary variation in pitch is an art. A good speaker, by virtue of his pitch variation, gets necessary information and suggestions from the listeners. It is by constant practice, experience and suggestion from others that a speaker can render pitch variation more useful and effective for purposes of communication.

Characteristics of Good Voice:

Good voice has an important role in effective communication. One can easily know the sex, education, training, background, nature and temperament, etc., of a person through his voice. Voice plays an important role in making cultural programmes effective or otherwise in business communication, clear, melodious voice has its own place.

Following points may be kept in view to make voice more effective:

1. Pitch:

Pitch measures whether a voice uses sound that is low (like the bass notes on a piano) or high. These variations are necessary to catch the listener’s attention and to keep him interested in the speech otherwise speech can become “monotonous” or boring. 

Most voices go up in pitch when the speaker is angry or excited; some people raise pitch when they increase volume. Women whose normal speaking voices are high may need to practise projecting their voices to avoid becoming shrill when they speak to large groups.

2. Intonation:

Intonation marks variation in pitch, stress or tone. Speakers who use many changes in pitch, stress and tone usually seem more enthusiastic; often they also seem more energetic and more intelligent. Someone who speaks in a monotone may seem apathetic or unintelligent.

Avoid raising your voice at the end of a sentence, however. In English, a rising intonation signals a question. Therefore, speakers who end sentences in higher tones sound as though they are asking some question.

3. Tempo:

Flow of language is very significant in oral communication. Flow does not mean speaking quickly or in a loud voice. Rather it refers to expression at different speeds in accordance with the needs of your message. In a formal presentation change your tempo. 

If a speaker reels off an important, complex and tough topic, then such a message goes over the heads of the listeners. Speakers who speak quickly and who change by their volume during the talk are more likely to be perceived as competent.

4. Volume:

Volume is a measure of loudness or softness. Voice should be according to the strength of the listeners. If the number of listeners is large, the speaker should speak loudly so that it is audible to all. 

On the contrary, if the number of the audience is small, the address should be in a normal voice. Very soft voices, especially if they are also breathy and high-pitched, give the impression of youth and inexperience. 

People who do a lot of speaking to large groups need to practise speaking loudly so they can increase their volume without shouting.

In short, to maintain flow in communication, there should be a proper adjustment of loud, normal and soft volume.

5. Pause:

The speaking speed is also accompanied by pauses. If you do it right, nobody gets conscious of your pauses and your ideas get communicated more persuasively. But if you do it wrong, then it can create problems and weaken your credibility.

Use of Voice:

Good voice is an obvious requirement for good speaking. The voice should help the listener’s concentration on the message. More specifically, it should not detract attention from the message.

Voices that cause such difficulties generally fall into these areas of fault:

1. Lack of pitch variation,

2. Lack of variation in speed,

3. Lack of vocal emphasis, and

4. Unpleasant voice quality.

1. Lack of Pitch Variation:

Speakers who talk in monotones make no change in pitch, volume and intonation are not likely to hold the interest of their listeners for long. The failure to vary pitch generally is a matter of habit—of voice patterns developed over years of talking without being aware of their effect.

2. Lack of Variation in Speaking Speed:

Determining how fast to talk is a major problem. As a general rule, you should present the easy parts of your message at a fairly fast rate and the hard parts and the parts you want to emphasise at a slower rate. 

The reason for varying the speed of presentation should be apparent; it is more interesting. A slow presentation of easy information is irritating; hard information presented fast may be difficult to understand.

A problem related to the pace of speaking is the incorrect use of pauses. Properly used pauses emphasise upcoming subject matter and are effective means of gaining attention. But frequent pauses for no reason are irritating and break the listeners’ concentration. 

Thus, incorrect, unnecessary or untimely pauses render communication boring and ineffective. On the contrary, pauses according to the occasion not only attract the attention of the listeners but also succeed in logical expression of the objective of communication.

3. Lack of Vocal Emphasis:

A secret of good speaking is to give words their proper emphasis by varying the manner of speaking.

You can do this by:

(i) Varying the pitch of your voice,

(ii) Varying the pace of your presentation, and

(iii) Varying the volume of your voice.

You must talk loud enough for your entire audience to hear you but not too loud.

Thus, the loudness—voice volume—for a large audience should be greater than that for a small audience. Regardless of audience size, however, variety in voice volume is good for interest and emphasis. It produces contrast, which is one way of emphasising the subject matter. 

Some speakers incorrectly believe that the only way to show emphasis is to get louder and louder. But you can also show emphasis by going from loud to soft. The contrast with what has gone on earlier provides the emphasis. Again, changing the voice as per need is the key to making the voice more effective.

4. Unpleasant Voice Quality:

It is a hard fact of communication that some voices are more pleasant than others. Fortunately, most voices are reasonably pleasant. But some are harsh, nasal or unpleasant in some way. 

Although therapy can often improve such voices, some speakers must live with them. But concentrating on variations in pitch, speed of delivery and volume can make even the most unpleasant voice acceptable.

Improvement through Self-Analysis and Imitation:

You can overcome any of the foregoing voice faults through self-analysis. In this day of tape recorders, it is easy to hear yourself talk. Since you know how to speak well when you hear it, you should be able to improve your vocal presentation. One of the best ways to improve your presentation skills is through watching others.

Watch your instructors, your peers, television personnel, professional speakers and anyone else who gives you an opportunity. Analyse these speakers to determine what works for them and what does not. 

Imitate those good techniques that you think would help you and avoid the bad ones. Take advantage of any opportunity you have to practise speaking.

In short, your voice is your trademark. You will be identified and assessed by it. It is that Dart of yourself that adds the human element in your words.

C. Proxemics or space language

Time, space and territory form three external elements that convey information in the communication process. People convey meaning the way they structure and organise their time and the way they order space around themselves.

1. Space:

The manner in which we arrange things in the space around us speaks volumes about our personality and objectives. Whether the space is a dorm room, an office or a department cabin, people reveal themselves by the design and the placement of furniture within their allotted space.

 An executive who seats his/her visitors in a row of chairs in front of his/her table indicates aloofness and desire for separation.

Similarly, those who stay indoors without opening doors and windows tend to signal the desire for secrecy. On the contrary, a team leader having a semi-circular arrangement of the chairs conveys a desire to be more open and egalitarian in the exchange of ideas. 

A manager creating an open office space without any partitions seeks to encourage an unrestricted flow of communication and work among different areas.

2. Territory:

Each one of us has a certain territory around us which we do not allow others to invade. For instance, at home your father may have a separate chair in which he is most comfortable, or in the workplace certain employees may feel that particular tools and implements are exclusively their own.

All of us maintain these zones of privacy and we interact with each other within that space. The noted anthropologist Edward T. Hall has categorised four zones in which social interaction takes place. These are presented below in the form of a table.

From the above table we can see that our family members and intimate friends alone are allowed in the intimate zone. If anyone violates these unwritten codes, then we are extremely uncomfortable. In such a case we may become defensive and try to re-establish our space.

These zones also differ culturally. For instance, an American or British may not stand as close to another person while speaking as they do in India.

3. Time:

The way we structure and use time conveys our personality and attitude. If a person gives a visitor an appointment and has a long interactive session then it is sending a clear message of the person’s interest in the topic and respect for the visitor.

On the other hand, if a person repeatedly arrives late for team meetings it speaks of his/her disinterest in it or that he/she accords low priority to it. These are certain assumptions one makes though punctuality is viewed differently in different cultures and regions.

Advantages of Non – Verbal Communication

The advantages or merits as arising from non-verbal communication are given here: 

(i) It can create and develop some creative and optimistic viewpoints and approaches at the working place; 

(ii) It can develop some informal interaction among different persons in an organisation; 

(iii) It is especially important in exchanging feelings and emotions among people; 

(iv) It can develop some innovative ideas and thoughts in the right direction. 

Disadvantages of Non – Verbal Communication

1. Long conversations will be difficult. 

2. Particulars of the message cannot be discussed

3. Difficult to understand and requires a lot of repetition. 

4. Cannot be used as a public tool for communication

5. Less influential and cannot be used everywhere. 

6. Not everybody prefers to communicate through non-verbal communication

7. Cannot create an impression upon people/listeners. 

Types of Non – Verbal Communication

Non-verbal messages come in various forms. Some of the common types of non-verbal communication are given below. 

1. Physical appearance: 

This is an important type of non-verbal communication. An individual will form a first impression from an envelope, stationery, letterhead, format and
neatness. Listeners use physical appearance as a clue to the speaker’s credibility.

 For example, an accounting professional if dressed casually while presenting an audit report may not be taken seriously. 

2. Body language: 

Whether in conjunction with spoken words or independently, your body sends messages to those with whom you communicate. For example, a smile is seen as a sign of friendliness and approval while a frown shows disagreement.

 Eye contact shows confidence, agreement or interest while the lack of it shows dishonesty, shyness and embarrassment. Facial expression also plays a vital role in body language and gestures. 

Body postures also indicate a lot. Leaning forward while listening, shows interest, approachability, etc., while leaning away indicates dislike or disinterest. A firm handshake generally shows confidence while a limp one shows lack of it. 

3. Space: 

Space as used in non-verbal communication includes the size of the physical area, proximity to another person and obstacles between you and the person with whom you are speaking. The importance of space is conveyed by employee-supervisor proximity.

 The employee’s importance may also be indicated by parking space location, office size and location, or seating location at meetings. The purpose of the communication will decide the personal space between communicators. The distance will vary with individuals from different cultures. 

4. Time: 

Communicators must be aware that the amount of time devoted to a subject transmits a non-verbal message. If a CEO of a company meets one manager for 20 minutes while another manager for 30 minutes it conveys the message of importance non-verbally. Punctuality also conveys a message of being well organized. The importance of time will vary among cultures. 

Types of Non-Verbal Expressions 

The manner in which a message is expressed may carry more significance and weight than what is said, i.e., the words themselves. Depending on the situation, the speaker can reinforce his message with a smile or a frown, raise his/her voice, or keep it pleasant, gentle, and easy. 

In short, depending on the context, the communicating person can frame the message in such a way as to convey the entire meaning. These signals are often so subtle and involuntary that the communicator is not consciously aware of them. 

  1. A gesture can be an illustrator when it is used to communicate the message effectively and reinforce our point. For instance, a nod can accompany a ‘yes’. 
  2. It is a regulator when used to control, maintain or discourage interaction, such as, raising a hand to tell the speaker to stop as the message is irritating, confusing or irrelevant. For instance, in a sales meeting, the audience may nod their heads in agreement on important points, while maintaining eye contact. 

Here they are using regulators to encourage the speaker. This is a positive use of a regulator. To convey a negative feeling like boredom, the audience can look the other way, tap their feet, doodle etc. 

  1. Non-verbal communication can be used to express emotions. Then it is known as affect display. For instance, a smile along with a waving of hand indicates that the person is happy to see the person he is greeting. 
  2. When the communicator does anything by way of gesture or hand movement to help him adapt to the environment he is using nom-verbal communication as an adaptor. He is trying to feel comfortable and secure in the environment. It could be actions like adjusting or combing his hair. 

He is adapting something about himself in a purposeful way. Or he can use the objects he has in some other way to indicate lack of interest, like using a pencil to tap on the desk, or chewing its edge and not engaging the speaker with eye contact. 

  1. Nonverbal communication can be used intentionally as well to complement, repeat, replace, mask, or contradict what we say. When a person agrees by saying ‘yes’ and nods, the nod has the effect of repeating. If a person is bored or not interested, he will raise his hand to ask the speaker to stop. 

But at the same time, if he shows his watch, he is masking his thoughts and feelings. By showing the watch, he has been diplomatic and has indicated a time constraint though in actual fact he is bored or not interested.                                     

Thus, masking involves the substitution of appropriate non-verbal communication for the really intended non-verbal communication. Nonverbal messages that conflict with verbal communication can confuse the listener. 

Categories of Nonverbals

Although the nonverbal signals occur in clusters or groups, each of them can be put into different categories which are as follows:

  1. Facial expressions,
  2. Posture,
  3. Gesture and movement
  4. Time,
  5. Space,
  6. Touch,
  7. Dress,
  8. Surroundings and voices.

1. Meaning and Facial Expression:

Smile-which is the best gift of nature, obviously may not connote friendship and goodwill. Consider the following smiles-forced smile or the plastic smile, bland smile, impassive smile, seductive smile, satiristic smile. In all these smiles the facial expression differs in meaning not only from one culture to another, but also from one person to another and even from one situation to another.

The eyes convey the maximum variety of expressions. People look at their eyes when they try hard to understand what the other person means. However, some people seem to convey no expression with a very flat face, but if one looks in the eyes, he can immediately pick up the subtle message conveyed by the attitude, the Americans, the Germans are quite assertive in their communication and hence display more facial expressions.

2. Posture:

Businessmen should try to develop a standing posture. The person should appear evenly balanced and stable. Changing of weight from one foot to another, negative attitude and several other undesirable attributes. On the contrary an erect position while seated conveys a lot of positiveness.

3. Gesture and Movement:

Gestures can carry meanings of their own and can modify or reinforce the meanings of worded messages. One can probably think of a number of gestures that substitute for words, it is quite prominent with the sportsmen. Gestures are also means by which one can regulate turn talking in conversation.

At the same time it adds conviction to what one says. Again sometimes one gestures to complement or further explain a worded message. Body position, degree of tension, degree of control of movement, speed and force of position change-all these communicate meaning to an observer.

People control space with their bodies. Those who gesture in a formidable manner but controlled way seem larger and more forceful in comparison to people who “stand and sit small” and gesture timidly.

4. Meaning and Time:

Most people speak of budgeting their time and studying time-management. They carry their daily calendars with them and cram their days with tasks and appointments. They “make time” for people and in the same breath say the people “waste their time” and ultimately are late, then the value of time drops.

Status influences time and value of time. The higher status person typically controls time in an interview and gets to talk longer. Hence time comes to occupy a very significant aspect in nonverbal communication.

5. Space:

Each culture generates “rules” about Interpersonal space. Indians like affinity i.e., they want less space whereas Americans like proximity i.e., they feel comfortable talking from a distance space can be categorised into four zones namely –

(i) Intimate physical contact about 18 inches from a person.

(ii) Personal physical contact of about 4 feet.

(iii) Social physical contact ranging from 4 to 10 feet.

(iv) Public Physical contact ranging above 10 feet onwards.

In business, the intimate zone is rarely used. Such approaches are reserved for only family members and lovers. In an organisation such affinity could lead to sexual harassment for the opposite gender.

However, the personal zone is used for many interpersonal business exchanges when two people meet and shake hands, they seldom approach closer than about 18 inches, when they continue their conversation, they generally stand at a respectable distance which implies that both of them are attentive, but if either of the one moves further, it implies that he/she is not interested in the conversation.

The social zone is suitable for less concentrated exchanges. Casual or brief exchanges occur in this zone. Invading people’s space bothers them and sometimes makes them feel threatened also. Most people observe the conventions even though many would be unable to put those rules into words. Convention demands that much affinity breeds proximity and similarly too much proximity breeds affinity.

6. Touch:

How often it has been observed that a salesperson after completing his target gets a pat on the back from his senior as a token of appreciation, and the face of the junior lights up. No words exchanged and communication with much more satisfaction and effectiveness than the rule of this business is that a superior can initiate a touch but not a subordinate.

However many times a touch can also easily miscommunicate and one should tread caution as far as touch is concerned, especially with the opposite gender at the place of work. Another important aspect of touch is that it varies from country to country. While Indians and Latin Americans touch a lot, in Germany and in England, your closeness will result in discomfort for your co-worker.

7. Dress Sense:

What people wear communicates a great deal about them and influences the way others, both outside and inside the organisation view the firm itself. Quite a lot has been written on dress as a nonverbal in business and more often than not, the navy blue or grey suit is a virtual uniform for the managers.

Most of the business people prefer this conventional outfit and prefer to play safe. The main variable is the corporate culture where one works. While those working in the marketing prefer to wear formal outfits, those in the advertisement department are more informal in their dressing attitude and prefer more colourful dress.

People who are just beginning their career basically should prefer a contrast outfit of the conventional style. Moreover such dress becomes ethical during an interview. Some organisations do not bother much about what people wear as long as their work is done, while some take great care about dress code and even displease verbally to those who deviate from the dress code.

Eventually, it boils down to the individual as to how comfortable he finds himself/herself in the dress. A dress loses its objectivity when it cannot be carried properly. Most of the people working in the organisation find themselves quite uncomfortable in a suit, and would be much better in a cardigan or a sweater, but they still stick to the suit with belly tucking out.

Quite a funny scene in India during winter. The next time you venture out give yourself a look and see if you are comfortable, in front of the mirror, otherwise you will end up making a clown of yourself.

8. Voice:

It is as important what you say as to how you say it. Each person’s voice differs. And a good voice is a gift of nature. Most speakers can improve voice characteristics with practice. Voices differ in quality and resonance. They also differ in degree to which individuals are able to vary and control range, pitch, speed, volume to an extent, some voice characteristics are inborn while some are habits formed by watching and imitating the style from people around us.

In this context we have two types of speakers

(i) Fast talkers and

(ii) Deliberate Talkers.

Fast talking is in fact a weakness, a sign of nervousness and the speaker uses a tact of gestures. It is one of the most misconceived notions that talking fast is a sign of smartness or it relates to the fluency of the language.

Good speakers are not fast speakers but deliberate speakers who believe that communication begins only when the listener responds and the listener will never respond to a “blabber” or a fast speaker. So one must remember every time one speaks, care should be taken to go slow on the speech, without losing the fluency or the interest of the audience.

Various Form of Non-Verbal Communication

The various forms of non-verbal communication have been grouped under different categories like body language, proxemics, signs and symbols, colours, time, spatial arrangements, maps and graphs, etc. 

1. Signs and Symbols: 

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2. Body Language: 

Unconsciously our body sends out many messages through the way we look at someone or something, we carry ourselves, we interact with others and the way we dress. Keen observers of these messages we’ll be able to collect much information other than what we contribute verbally. 

Body language will include the communication conveyed by the face (expressions), gestures, posture and even dress or appearance. Their study of body movements is called Kinesics. 

(a) Facial Expressions: 

The different parts of the face express several emotions and of these the eyes are the most expressive. Looking directly at someone shows boldness or arrogance, downcast eyes could indicate diffidence, shyness, fear or discomfort, averting your gaze could mean guilt and raising of eyebrows along with widening of the eye may suggest fear or surprise. The eyes, the eyebrows, the forehead and the mouth together could display many expressions. 

Facial expression means the movement of the muscles of the face for showing emotions. Different emotions or feelings convey the emotional state of the individual. 

(b) Gestures: 

The movements of the hands, arms, legs, head and shoulders are termed as gestures. A “Namaste”, bending of the upper body (a bow), raising of the hand, and a handshake are all various forms of greeting. When we require conveying a message to a person in a crowded room we mime the message using our own code. 

The way we place our palms, arms, hands, head, shoulders etc. while speaking, listening or reading, convey different meanings. Breaking knuckles, clenching fists, tilting of the head, slouching of shoulders, shaking of the head sideways or up and down all signify some meaning or the other. 

The same gesture could have different meaning in different contexts; and the same gesture with slight differences could send different messages. The raising of the hand to someone across the road is greeting, the same gesture at a meeting could mean I have something to say, may I? Or during an argument the same gesture could be a threat to say ‘I’ll hit you’. 

In a handshake the grip of the hands indicates much about the person to the other. A firm grip speaks of confidence, a limp grip – differences or disinterest, a fleeting touch – discomfort and so on. Gestures vary not only with context, but even with cultures. 

(c) Posture: 

The way you sit, stand or walk, or the way you carry yourself speaks about your personality. Marching soldiers look smart; imagine them with hands in their pockets and swaggering along. As a child haven’t you been told many times to stand erect, walk straight and sit properly? 

Here again the context decides the correct posture. At an official meeting the speaker should stand on both feet and be in command. The people listening should sit right – not stiff and upright throughout nor slouched on the table either. 

Contestants at beauty pageants and models walking the ramp are trained to carry themselves well. Good posture conveys smartness and confidence. 


Body Postures show us that a person is: 

  1. Confident, diffident, young, old, strong or weak 
  2. Lazy (slouching posture) 
  3. Overconfident (hands in the pocket posture). 

(d) Appearance: 

Physical appearance may be difficult to alter. Although today cosmetic surgery and other ‘corrective’ measures can give you a new look. Here, by appearance we mean general grooming. 

We dress differently for different occasions. A wedding in the family, a visit next door, a friend’s birthday party, attending an interview or going to college, calls for different dressing. 

(e) Space: 

Proxemics is the study of space. Each person occupies space and considers the space around him as his space. He may allow some people to cross into this space; some people are referred at the boundary and some others still further away. Your close family and friends may touch you or be in close contact while speaking. 

When you interact with colleagues or acquaintances you maintain some distance from them. This distance will depend on how close or comfortable you are with the person. 

Researchers have identified various zones as intimate space (close family and friends), personal space (for colleagues and friends), social space (acquaintances, superiors, subordinates) and formal or public space (meetings, gatherings). A person keeping to these specified distances may change with context and culture. 

Space is the personal distance a person keeps (often unconsciously) with people, events and its surroundings. 

  1. Actions like shaking hands, touching or whispering use intimate space. 
  2. Interaction with good friends uses personal space. 
  3. Attending a marriage ceremony uses social space. 
  4. Public gatherings use public space. 

(f) Chronemics: 

Chronemics is the way people plan, execute and react to time and its effect on the interpretation of messages they send and receive. It refers to the element of time in communication. How does the time factor affect communication? In fact, time is a powerful tool of non-verbal communication. 

Time perceptions can be shown through punctuality, willingness to wait, speed of speech, pause or even through the amount of time people are willing to listen to the other person. The time factor plays a vital role in non-verbal communication also. 

The general understanding of chronemics is useful in intercultural communication also. The perception and handling of time in communication may vary from culture to culture. 

Sometimes, while conversing, a person starts answering even before the speaker has finished the question. This may be considered as an insult in certain cultures, whereas in some other cultures, immediate response to the question may be expected. 

3. Charts, Maps and Graphs: 

Verbal communication could be made more effective with some non-verbal inputs like sketches, charts, maps and graphs. A lecture on some geographical aspect could be more interesting when explained with the help of a map. An animal’s circulatory function would be better understood if accompanied by a sketch or diagram. 

Sometimes these non-verbal supplements may be able to convey messages by themselves. A pie-diagram with the right title and basic details can be self-explanatory. 

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Charts, figures and tables often direct the audience to the central theme of the presentation. A well-planned chart, for example, can quickly summarise pages of text while emphasising the most important points. 

Sketches help related topics, graphs supplement mathematical and statistical data, and maps make directions to places and environmental studies interesting and so on. 

4. Colour and Layout: 

The use of colour is symbolic. Certain colours are associated with some political parties. In an international sports meet countries are identified by the colour of their jerseys. Some professionals have uniforms by which they are identified (doctors, air-hostesses, lawyers etc.) In India red is an auspicious colour, while black is inauspicious. 

Most Christian brides wear a white gown on their wedding day while in most Hindu weddings brides never wear white. So colours reflect different ideas depending on cultures and countries. 

Business houses have logos designed in specific colours so that they are identified by those. For example, the logo of McDonald’s big yellow ‘M’ is easily identified. 

Besides colours, the layout of a structure, the design of a room, the arrangement of furniture and the placing of doors, windows and artefacts are of great importance today. While constructing, builders and architects take care to follow Vaastu-shastra or Feng shui Rules to bring in positive energy to the building. 

We appreciate the ambience and decor of some houses, offices and hotels while we are uncomfortable in some others. This only proves that arrangement; design and colour speak much more about than the premises. 

Non – Verbal Aspects of Written Communication

Non-verbal communication occurs mainly through visual symbols and auditory symbols. Visual symbols are those which are seen and auditory symbols are those which are heard. Our other senses like smell, taste and touch also take in meanings and can be used for non-verbal communication. 

For example, the fragrance in a room, the feel of the plush covering on furniture, the taste and aroma of the coffee served in the visitors’ room of an office, make significant impressions. 

Non-verbal aspects of written communication 

A document has an appearance which is the consequence of font size and style, margins, spacing, quality of the paper.

Written communication can be enhanced by using various symbols and graphics. Written communication implies a document, and the paper (or synthetic plastic paper, or cloth or other material as for invitation cards) on which it is printed has characteristics like size, thickness, quality, and colour. 

The print also has characteristics like colour, font type and size, spacing, margins and general layout. The appearance and feel of a document convey impressions about the status of the sender and also make it more readable and attractive to the receiver. 

A company’s letter is carefully designed with attention to its visual aspects and the impression it conveys. 

Besides, other visual symbols can be created and used to enhance the quality of written communication. 

1. Colour: 

Colour is an important and powerful means of communication. Matters of life and death, as in traffic signals, are conveyed by colours. 

It is also used for classification and identification of different products and materials in industries; the cosmetics industry uses colour to make products attractive as well as to classify and differentiate types. 

Carbon copies of documents are on different coloured paper to distinguish copies meant for different departments. 

Teams have colour in their uniform to identify their members; countries have their colours on their flag. Colour gives an added dimension to maps, charts and graphs, and makes it possible to convey a greater amount of information within the same visual/graphic representation. 

Colour is used in clothing, design, decoration and to enliven a dull environment. Colours are associated with different moods and feelings like, white with peace and purity, red with danger and black with death and sorrow. 

Colour also has psychological effects. The state of mind of employees is influenced by the colour of their surroundings. 

Pleasant, cool colours in the workplace have a good influence on workers; black, dark, gloomy colours are known to reduce productivity; very bright, gaudy colours may be disturbing and over-exciting; softly blending colours are pleasant and soothing. 

2. Pictures: 

Pictures, from simple drawings to coloured photographs, are used in brochures, posters and advertisements. Pictures can be combined with a very few words for persons who cannot read well as in posters. Besides, pictures are universally understood, more easily remembered and make an immediate impact because they are easier to “take in”. 

Reading requires practised eye movement, while a picture may be tackled in any order. Pictures are used extensively in advertising because they attract the eye and convey instantly even when the reader just glances at them. 

3. Diagrams: 

A diagram is a figure consisting of-simple line drawings made to accompany and illustrate the parts and the operation of something. 

4. Graphs and Charts: 

Graphs and charts of different kinds represent statistical information. Special skills are needed to prepare and to understand a chart or a graph. Information presented in a chart or a graph allows the overall situation to be seen at a glance; the relationships between the figures are also seen easily. 

Every chart or graph must be properly titled to show what information it represents; it must have labels and a scale/ key to explain the symbols used and to indicate what the different bars or parts stand for. Every chart or graph must show the date of the information. 

Charts can be made in many ways. There are bar charts and multiple bar charts. The use of colour can make charts more informative as well as attractive. 

A line graph compares two variables. Each variable is plotted along an axis. A line graph has a horizontal axis (x-axis) and a vertical axis (y-axis). If you want to graph the height of a ball after you have thrown it, you could put time along the horizontal x-axis, and height along the vertical y-axis. 

The line graph is used for showing trends in data. It enables the viewer to make predictions of possible future results. 

A pie chart or pie graph is a circular diagram for displaying percentages. It is used to compare different parts of the same whole. The circle of a pie chart represents 100%. Each portion that takes up space within the circle stands for a part of that 100%.

The percentage values are represented as proportionally-sized slices of a pie. In this way, it is possible to see how something is divided among different groups.

Flow charts are used for indicating procedures in which alternative actions have to be taken depending on the result of the previous step.

5. Maps: 

Maps are representations of territory and are used for conveying the space relationships between places. 

They can convey geographical information like transport routes, climatic conditions, distribution of population, crops, animal life and vegetation; sociological factors like religion, literacy, health and nutrition. Maps of small areas are used to give information about routes and to locate places. 

A map has labels to show the four directions; it must have a key to explain the meaning of the symbols used, and a scale to show how many kilometres are represented by one centimetre. 

6. Signs and signals: 

A sign is a mark used to represent something; for example, + for “plus”, skull and cross bones for “danger.” It has a fixed meaning. 

A signal is a previously agreed movement which serves to warn, direct, or command; for example, the coming on of a green light is a signal to go ahead; the firing of a gun salute signals the arrival of a VIP. A signal may be visual or auditory. 

Signs and signals used by members of a group may be made with hands, lights, cloth, smoke, drums, whistles or anything that can be seen or heard at a distance. 

7. Auditory symbols: 

Sounds have very limited use as symbols; they can convey only very simple information. Sounds are used mainly for warning, like sirens to warn about enemy air raids in war-time or in factories to warn of fire or accident, and by police vehicles. 

Whistles are used by sport directors, the police/army to call members to assemble. Trains and ships use it as a signal for departure and for warning. 

Bells and buzzers are used to indicate the starting and ending of work periods; bells and beepers are also used by special vehicles like the fire engine and the ambulance, to warn other road users to give way. A bell with a pleasant sound is used to call the faithful to prayer in many religions. Beeps are used by most electronic gadgets. 

Tunes are often used as an identification mark. Programs on the radio/ TV have a signature tune; advertisements on these media have their tunes. Secret organisations whistle/hum tunes to identify and recognise members.

Nonverbal Communication and Different Culture

Historically, we have emphasized the verbal aspects of intercultural communication, and have minimized the nonverbal components. Burgoon strongly argues the need to integrate verbal and nonverbal communication for more effective intercultural relationships. 

While some important elements of nonverbal communication—such as subtle voice intonations, slight facial expression changes, or flamboyant clothing—have relatively clear meanings to us, the meaning may be missed or misinterpreted in other countries. Some of the areas of nonverbal communication that can be misused are color, time, distance, voice, body movements, and clothing. 

Many assume that the impression or image associated with certain colors crosses cultural boundaries. Actually, the interpretation of colors varies extensively. For example, while red means danger to us, it may be associated with festive occasions in China; mourning is symbolized by black in our culture but by yellow in the Philippines. 

The American use of time is not universal either. We tend to set and respect deadlines and appointments. However, Latin Americans, for example, do not feel as compelled to stick to time schedules. Efforts to impose our standards of time on others can elicit opposition or anger. 

The spatial relationships among people in the United States are approximately in the middle of a spectrum of behavior for other countries. For example, our speaking distance in business settings is typically about two feet; this distance would generally be too close for the British and too distant for those from the Middle East. 

The voice—even as it delivers English that is to be translated into another? language—carries meaning. From the viewpoint of those from many cultures, Americans tend to speak too loudly and too much. They often do not give adequate time for a reply and fill uncomfortable silences with words. 

In some cultures, such as the Japanese, silence is not negative, but rather may be a time for introspection. In some countries, the custom may allow men to speak loudly and in a gruff voice, and women—if they speak in business settings at all—are to sound quiet, reserved, and perhaps childlike. Indeed, attitudes toward women in business across cultures, for vocal and other reasons, can vary dramatically. 

The various body movements that are comfortable to us may be inappropriate in other settings. Normal social gestures in the United States, such as the way we cross our legs, may be offensive elsewhere. 

We tend to look a speaker in the eyes, perceiving the action to be one of openness and honesty. In another country, such conduct may be interpreted as far too aggressive. 

American business attire is widely defined even in the United States, where we stereotype the appearance of such professionals as bankers, advertisers, accountants, or artists. 

Even those stereotypes may be hazardous when we encounter “business casual.” When we wear our usual clothing in another country, we may find the colors too flamboyant, the weight uncomfortable for local conditions, or the length of a skirt or the absence of sleeves noticeably incorrect. 

Given these pitfalls of cross-cultural communication, how can you prepare for international business? 

The answer lies in these steps: 

  1. Undertake thorough and unhurried research and preparation; 
  2. Maintain a nonjudgmental mind open to new ideas; 
  3. Cultivate a desire to achieve maximum understanding and complete communication; and 
  4. Avoid assuming that the U.S. culture is the only correct or dominant one.