Nonverbal Communication

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Nonverbal communication, just like language, varies across cultures. These differences can sometimes lead to misunderstandings. Nonverbal communication is communication through means other than language, i.e. facial expressions, personal space, eye contact, use of time, conversational silence and cultural space.

Both verbal and nonverbal communication are symbolic, both communicate meaning and both are governed by rules that are determined by particular contexts and situations. Nonverbal behavior sends relational messages about how you feel about a person. Nonverbal behavior communicates status or the position a person holds in an organization or social setting. Nonverbal behavior also communicates deception. Nonverbal messages can communicate and trigger prejudice. Such behaviors include:

Not looking at people when you talk with them.

Not acknowledging people’s presence, while making them wait as if they were not there.

Staring as if to say, “What are you doing here?”

Not listening or responding to what people say.

Drifting away to someone or something else.

Avoiding touching their skin when giving or taking something.

Watching them closely to see what they are doing.

Improving Non-verbal Skills

  • Become more conscious of your nonverbal behavior in diverse encounters.
  • Note the nonverbal behaviors of others, and check to see if their nonverbal communication is telling you that they understand or misunderstand you.
  • Become more aware of others’ nonverbal communication to determine what messages they are sending.
  • Check your perceptions of others’ nonverbal behavior to see if you are accurate or if you misread nonverbal cues.
  • Expand your nonverbal communication repertoire. Practice new nonverbal behaviors.
  • Be flexible and adaptable in your nonverbal communication in diverse encounters. Try synchronizing your behavior to that of others, which usually communicates that you feel good about your relationship.
  • Become more aware of your prejudicial assumptions based on nonverbal behavior. When you have a negative reaction to someone, determine the basis for the reaction.


Anderson, P. A. et al, (1987) Nonverbal Communication Across Cultures, Handbook of International and Intercultural Communication. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Johnson, A. G. (2005) Privilege, Power, and Difference. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Jones, S. E., & LeBaron, C. C. (2002) Research on the Relationship Between Verbal and Nonverbal Communication: Emerging Integration. Journal of Communication, 52, 499-521.

Knapp, M. L., & Hall, J. A. (1997) Nonverbal Communication in Human Interaction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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