The World of Non Verbal Communication

What is non verbal communication?

Ever heard the phrase, “it’s not what you say, but how you say it”? This sentiment does not sound any truer than when you hear the scientific research stating that only seven percent of communication is considered verbal. This means, communication is predominantly “non-verbal.” So, how exactly do we define non verbal communication? It may actually surprise you how much is categorized under ‘non verbal.” According to Dictionary, the non verbal communication definition is, “those aspects of communication, Despite not using words, nonverbal communication can still occur through gestures and facial expressions as well as nonverbal components of speech (accent, tone, pace, etc.).

Different Types of Non Verbal Communication

Under this definition, non verbal communication is in fact, partly found in speech. However, it is not concerned with content of speech. For example, there’s a rather wide interpretive difference to saying, “I think you are a great person” sincerely, to saying it sarcastically. Thanks to social cues, most of us can determine by which vocal inflection we are complimented or mocked even though the content of the message is the same in each.

The other main category under the non verbal communication umbrella is the element generally known as ‘body language.’ Though not quite as blatant as vocal inflection, body cues can alter someone’s message. For example, if someone can tell you they are nervous without explicitly vocalizing, “I’m nervous.” In general, biting nails expresses nervousness.

According to the author of the research bookSilent Messages, Dr. Albert Mehrabian, messages are only conveyed through words seven percent of the time, through certain vocal elements 38 percent of the time, and 55 percent through non-verbal elements such as facial expressions, posture, and gestures. So much to say, over half of communication is deciphered without your voice at all, that is, explicitly “body language.” Should this influence what we look for when we interpret another person’s message?

Examples of non verbal communication

Even though each person is different, and expresses themselves through their own idiosyncratic set of gestures, there is a generalized list of bodily expressions with translatable meanings.  While most of the non verbal communication examples on this list you unknowingly and intuitively decipher on an everyday basis, some may surprise you:

  • Arms crossed over chest–indicates a person is defensive, or merely disagrees with the person with whom they are currently communicating.
  • Biting nails–expresses nervousness, stress of insecurity. It may even be compulsory, meaning they bite their nails without thinking about it.
  • Holding hand on cheek–demonstrates a deeper level of reflection, consideration, or concentration than usual. Typically, they are unaware of their surrounding, i.e. “lost in thought.”
  • Tapping fingers–usually expresses impatience.
  • Cocked head–indicates the person is intently listening, or is curious about what is being communicated to him or her.
  • Touching nose–indicates an assortment of things depending on the context, such as a sign of disbelief, or rejection. Other instances, it can be a demonstration that the individual is being deceitful in their communication.
  • Hand rubbing–displays an excitement or anticipation. Or they’re simply warming cold hands.
  • Touching the tips of fingers together–typically demonstrates a desire for control or authority
  • Open palms–demonstrate openness, honesty, or submission, probably derived from old customs where one showed others that he or she did not have any weapons.
  • Head in hands–expresses, dependent on the context, either boredom, or a state of being ashamed.
  • Locked ankles-communicates nervousness or apprehension.
  • Standing up straight–demonstrates self-confidence.
  • Ear pulling–expresses indecision, or inability to find a conclusion when facing a decision.

While these gestures typically express a certain attitude, they do not express directly to truth. For example, there has been a lot of psychological and pop-psychology literature on how to spot a liar by reading body language. The assortment of clues, including nose touching, mouth covering, eye closing and a high pitched voice, are said to all points of detecting deceit.

The truth is, all of these same “pacifying” indications can be triggered by nervousness, states of discomfort, and stress. According to Psychology Today, many police investigators, judges, and jurors have been misinformed by this myth. Really, it’s just an updated version of the tribe that found people guilty if an egg broke in their hands. Rather than accusing someone of lying because they touch their nose, use it as a clue to better understand their stress or potential deceit under the circumstances.

Beyond these isolated gestures, there are larger trends across body language called core patterns. Core patterns are general groups of body gestures, such as preening, expanding, or enacting, that usually display the base biological concerns. For example, preening is a ritual of cleaning or tidying oneself that is found all across nature. For humans, we straighten clothes, redo hair, or look in a mirror in order to deliberately make ourselves feel attractive, flirting to express attractiveness, or express vain obsessiveness with our looks.

Expanding is a way to indicate power, either as intimidation or a response to a threat, and takes the form of standing upright, straightening the head, thrusting the chin, flaring the nose, puffing the chest, or planting your feet wide, as if ready to fight. While it is born out of a physical response, people still use it to command a room, and express their superiority or wish to speak first. Core patterns demonstrate that it’s never just one gesture, but a collection, or trend of physical actions that make up non verbal communication.

More often, verbal and non verbal communication go hand in hand, meaning we intuitively use one to inform the other. For example, people who naturally bond with each other also subconsciously mirror each other. If you are having a good time with someone, you are likely to smile when they smile. According to neurologist research, there is a neuron in the brain responsible for face and facial expression recognition that also triggers the ‘mirroring’ reaction. There is a subconscious desire to express synchronicity with people in non verbal body language.

There are advantages of non verbal communication. You can use this information to develop your non verbal communication skills and create better opportunities for enjoyable engagement. For example, if you are on a date, try to subtly mirror your body position to theirs. This could potentially create a comfortable atmosphere and a level of mutual trust. Or, on a job interview, you can lean in, and cock your head to show interest when the interviewer is talking. Then, mirror his or her body position to achieve of level of camaraderie, or sameness. Only do this if they are not assuming an authoritative body language. If so, you will only appear arrogant or subordinate.

You can even use these body language techniques to induce a better personal experience. According to Psychologia, you can purposefully assume a physical position that in turn affects your emotional state. For example, if you want to feel happy, you can force yourself to smile, usually triggering the same emotion. If you are nervous, try assuming a confident body position, and you are more likely to develop feelings of confidence.


If you want to make sure you understand people better, intently listen to them, verbally and non verbally. Focus on being attuned to everything they are saying, and genuinely care about their message. It can help you provide support to a friend even if they are not verbally asking you for it. On the other end, you can use non verbal communication tips to understand how you come across to others. If people think you are arrogant, try mirroring their body position instead, lowering the volume of your voice, and of course, making sure you don’t say narcissistic things.  The insightful perception of non verbal communication allows you better understand others and yourself.

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