The Role of Nonverbal Communication and Body Language
The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.
When the eyes say one thing and the tongue another, a practiced man relies on the language of the first.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
You are on a first date with a very attractive woman you met at work. While you are speaking to her, she yawns. You think to yourself, “she is bored with me.” You say nothing because you do not wish to embarrass her or yourself. Was she bored and tired after work or distracted by something else? By not asking, you will never know.
Communication is a two-way process conveying intentions, thoughts, information, and emotions. We equate human communication with the use of words. However, we transmit non-verbal signals through body language. It is equally important as words. Body language is an intricate system of conveying messages and emotions through facial expressions, body movements, posture, gestures, eye contact, tone of voice, and more.
Nonverbal communication can either corroborate what is said verbally, undermine the perceived meaning, or convey a different meaning from what is said. Most of us have experienced an upsetting situation in which a person denies feeling angry at us while smiling. The message in that smile is unmistakable. The real message is, “No, I’m not angry at you; I’m furious with you.”
Therefore, a clear dialogue comprises an amalgamation of spoken words, tone of voice, and body language.
Everyone knows the significance of the sneer. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a sneer is a smile or laugh with facial contortions that express scorn or contempt. For the target of the sneer, it is extremely unpleasant. Many parents of rebellious teenagers have complained about their child’s sneering attitude. It is interesting to note that the sneer expresses an attitude of sarcasm along with contempt.
The leer carries with it an entirely different meaning from the leer. The leer communicates an overt and offensive sexual desire. However, there is nothing flirtatious about the leer. It sends a promiscuous communication and degenerate in nature. Nothing is flattering or complimentary about the leer.
However, not every eye message is a leer. Eyes communicate attraction, warmth, and love. Depending on the context, the eyes may send a specific love. A parent smiling at their child sends one type of message; the same smile may be romantic in connection with their spouse.
A listener may verbally agree with what you are saying but have their arms crossed while avoiding eye contact. How can the speaker interpret the listener’s crossed arms and lack of eye contact? For most people, that body language is confusing. Does the listener truly agree? It is just as easy to misinterpret nonverbal communications as misunderstand verbal ones.
Body language holds immense sway in the effectiveness of our communication. When the body language aligns with the verbal message, it reinforces the information conveyed, increasing clarity and understanding. For instance, a strong handshake or confident posture at a job interview may reinforce the candidate’s capability and self-assurance.
Conversely, incongruent body language can contradict spoken words, leading to confusion about the speaker’s actual intent. While being interviewed for a job, posture may communicate confidence or fear. Suppose the applicant sits up, shoulder back, while making direct eye contact. A message of self-confidence is transmitted, increasing the chances of getting hired.
Body language shapes relationships, fosters trust, and promotes understanding as much as verbal language. Effective use of body language can establish rapport, boundaries of personal space, and conveyance of intimacy or power.