The most important thing in communication is hearing what is not said, Peter F. Drucker.
Communication is both verbal and non-verbal. According to Mehrabian, just 7% of any message is verbal communication, i.e., it is conveyed through words; the pitch, volume, intonation, etc. account for 38%, and body language, such as facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, posture, etc., for the remaining 55%.
Non-verbal communication is the first communication we receive from and give to another person. It gives us insights into the thoughts and feelings of a person, a more accurate information that can be used to interpret messages and meanings embedded in them.More specifically, it can emphasize, complement, substitute, or contradict verbal messages.
Some examples of non-verbal communication are:
Eye Contact. It indicates attention, interest, trust, and self-confidence. On the contrary, lack of direct eye contact signifies boredom, disinterest, dishonesty, low self-esteem and self-confidence, shyness, or even fear.
However, excessive and prolonged eye contact without blinking is usually counter-productive because it can bring discomfort and uneasy for the receiver. This may be considered disrespectful, rude, and even hostile.
Blinking rate is also important. It usually increases when people are thinking hard, feeling stressed, anxious, or angry. Besides, dilated pupils show a favourable response, people are interested, paying attention, and willing to interact.
Personal space. There are typically four levels, namely:
Public distance. It is considered to be at least 12 feet (three and a half metres) between a teacher or lecturer and his/her audience. It is reserved for strangers and large audiences, such as speeches, lectures, and theatre.
Social distance. It is observed amongst formal acquaintances, working colleagues, business associates, consumers and shop assistants, and strangers and casual friends in the workplace, doctor’s office, shopping mall or school. It goes from 4 to 12 feet (1.2 to 3.6 metres).
Personal distance. It ranges from about 1.5 feet (0.45 metres) to around 4 feet (1.2 metres). It is used for talking and interacting with family and close friends.
Intimate distance. This is our private space, it is typically used for very confidential and close communication. It is reserved for good friends and romantic partners. Making love, hugging, kissing, shaking hands, etc. are all performed at this close distance.
A closer distance shows more confidence, friendship, and intimacy. Be careful to be in the right place and never to invade personal space, because by doing so people will feel uncomfortable, uneasy, defensive, vulnerable and even angry - this situation will take the focus away from the conversation. If you need to invade this private space, for example in an elevator, be very cautious: avoid looking at other people, try not to move, keep an expressionless face, etc.
External appearance: physical appearance (height, body complexion, weight, facial features, make-up), clothing (clothing, shoes, accessories, jewellery, scarves, gloves, bags, etc.), hair (it should always be neat, clean, and well groomed), shaving (bearded, shaved face), personal hygiene, tattoos, piercings, etc.
Although “the habit does not make the monk”, many believe that outward appearances reflect inward reality. They affect almost every aspect of our lives, how we are perceived and judged daily, how we feel about ourselves, etc. People make negative assumptions based on a disheveled appearance.
Appearances impact first impressions, and thus, the effectiveness of subsequent communication relies heavily upon them. For example, attractive people are more effective sellers and more persuasive communicators than less attractive people. A sexy outfit can signal promiscuity and sexual availability.
For instance, punks reject the dominant culture and “seek to outrage others with the highly theatrical use of clothing, hairstyles, cosmetics, tattoos, jewellery and body modification (Wikipedia, Punk subculture).
Facial expressions. They usually show emotions and feelings. A smile expresses joy and happiness; on the contrary, a frown indicates sadness or anger, raised eyebrows show surprise or fear, etc.
Paralanguage. Volume: loud volume expresses anger, confidence, aggression, and excitement. On the contrary, low volume may indicate shyness, patience, lack of self-confidence, fear, etc. The accent identifies a speaker’s origin, his/her ethnicity, social class, etc. Prosody is the rhythm, stress, and intonation of speech. For instance, if you speak too slowly with long pauses, people will likely get bored and you may appear to them as being insecure and lacking in self-confidence.
Try not to talk in a monotone voice, but speak clearly, use a natural pace, and vary the pitch and speed of your voice for emphasis and effect as you talk.
Body movement. Awkward and excessive body movements show nervousness, stress, worry, and low confidence, stiff movements indicate formality, etc.
Gestures. Natural gestures are usually spontaneous, they can be classified into:
Emblematic gestures are culturally specific, unambiguous, and easily recognisable. They usually have a clear and precise meaning. They include a beckoning first finger to mean “come here,” a waving hand for “hello” or “goodbye,” the ‘OK’ sign with the thumb and index finger forming a circle or the “thumbs-up” gesture to signify a job well done. To give someone the finger is one of the most universal obscene hand gestures, it is a very rude and offensive insult.
Illustrator gestures are used to enhance, clarify, emphasize, or illustrate what is being said verbally. Examples of illustrators are: pointing to the direction being described, using hands to show an object’s size or shape, etc.
Affect displays express our emotions, how we feel at a given moment. For example, we cover our eyes with our hands when we feel ashamed. They include facial expressions, such as smiling, laughing, crying, smirking, or frowning.
Regulators are gestures that synchronize, adjust, or control the flow of speech. They are culture-specific. For example, we shake our heads in order to encourage others to keep talking. We raise our hand to show others that we want to speak and/or reply. We yawn and look at our mobile phones when we are bored and not interested in the conversation.
Adapters are personal and unconscious gestures that are used to satisfy some personal needs. They are used to release tension, to feel better or to perform a specific physical function. For instance, scratching an itch, shifting position while sitting, adjusting spectacles in a tense situation, playing with a ring or pen, smoking, etc.
Actions of courtesy and kindness. Actions speak louder and truer than words. Actions significantly influence communication and the quality of our relationships. They are not words, but they speak volumes about us and predispose the receiver to a proactive, positive, and responsive communication.
Some examples include: giving something to someone without expecting anything in return, letting the other person talk first, greeting everyone with a smile, giving way to others, picking up the phone and calling someone who has suffered a loss, visiting someone in the hospital, etc.
Other elements: a cry of alarm or pain, coughing to silence a voice, gasps of surprise, voluntary throat-clearings to attract someone’s attention, an irate “Hum!,” silences, body odor, etc. The environment where communication takes place may provide familiarity and privacy. It influences the outcome of the interaction, too.
The silent treatment or the cold shoulder is something to be avoided at all costs. People stop talking for long periods of time while growing increasingly distant and indifferent.