The Role of Non-verbal Communication in Effective Communication

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Nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication is the act of exchanging news, views, ideas and information between two or more parties without the use of oral or written medium. It generally includes body languages, signals, expressions etc. There are many times where words play very small role in a communication. For example, you went on a date with a new person and he/she is constantly on his phone for ages. However, while leaving, they tell you that they liked spending time with you, but you don’t believe it because you know he go bored even though he did not tell you anything. He/she as looking here and there every time, their body posture was uncomfortable, and they did not make any eye contact as well. So even though they said they enjoyed the time, you can say that they did not cause their body language and behaviour said another thing. This is nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication tends to become more trustable and honest that the verbal ones.

Talking about the types of nonverbal communication, there are 4 types of them, and they are:

  • Personal nonverbal communication
  • Cultural nonverbal communication
  • Universal nonverbal communication
  • Random nonverbal communication

Personal nonverbal communication

The way of expressing personal feelings and emotions through nonverbal actions. There are so many times when we can communicate without use of words. We just simply react to certain things or give response to them. For example: pitch of voice, expressing excitement, nervousness etc.

Cultural nonverbal communication

Communication can happen between people of two different culture, background and ethical groups. The way people behave, their body gestures, way of talking etc all are rooted to their cultural background. Cultural nonverbal communication is slightly different from personal communication as different people have different culture and meaning for the same behaviour. For example, patting on shoulders, loud voice, eye contact etc. It is a rule concerned behaviour learned unconsciously from others in behaviour.

Universal nonverbal communication

The communication that can be understood by all humans irrespective of their culture, language, background and nationality is known as universal nonverbal communication. It includes smiling, crying etc. It generally shows common and mutual feelings like happiness and sadness, anger, embarrassment etc.

Nonverbal communication can be more reliable that the verbal communications. Although cultural difference my lead people to misunderstand the information, universal communication can be exchanged worldwide. Communication is not just about words. Most of the time, the reality is much different than what is being said. Therefore we need to go deeper and observe the hidden meaning of the words. It can de done by observing body language, eye contact, environment, dresses, facial expressions etc.

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Being aware and informative about the nonverbal communication can help us to differentiate between what is being said and what the actual scenario is. For example, someone might tell you that they are totally comfortable with you but if you see them shaking their fingers or feet constantly then they might be waiting for time to pass fast. In this way the we can enhance our understanding by comparing their words and actions at the same time. Mehrabian (1971, p. 44) commented that a person’s nonverbal behaviour communicates feelings or attitudes more than words. His equation is:

Total feeling = 7% verbal feeling + 38% vocal feeling + 55% facial feeling

Also, Birdwishtel (1970) stated that 35% of the explanation of our information comes from verbal and the rest 65% is explained by nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication portrays relative cues with two parties, which goes along with the verbal communication. It adds or clarifies the meaning of actual words. According to the Edward G. Wertheim, author of The Importance of Effective Communication, there are five main effects that nonverbal communication can have and they are explained below:

  1. Repetition: It is re-expressing the spoken words. For example, waving hands while saying Bye. Both the words and action reflect same meaning.
  2. Contradiction: It is doing exactly opposite of what you are saying. For example, shivering and saying you are not feeling cold. It directly reflects that you are not saying the truth.
  3. Substitution: It is performing actions instead of words. For example, placing your index finger on your lips to ask another person to keep silence.
  4. Complementing: It is elaborating your words with your actions. For example, rolling eyes while talking to another person to show you don’t like them,
  5. Accenting: It highlights point in a message. For example, shaking head while saying no.

Every information shared in verbal way comes with expressions and body language, movements and environments. Nonverbal communication is generally true. While in a face to face communication, we can observe many nonverbal cues which will help us to find out what the other person means. Similarly, the body gesture of listener can also tell us how much he/she is interested in our conversation. If they are constantly checking their phone or looking here and there, then we can know that they are not interested. Even in a written communication, the format, choice of words, salutation, envelope, neatness etc can provide an overall impression about the sender (writer). Nonverbal communication can also help us to know about the class and occupation of the people from the way they dress. It can be also useful to convey information to a large group of people. For example, red light in traffic light indicates to stop and this rule is for everyone in the road. Nonverbal communication is the best key to communicate with illiterate and handicapped people. We can use different symbols, color, pictures, and movement of our body parts to exchange information between us. In this way, we can reduce the communication barrier and avoid any miss communication.

Nonverbal communication and speaking and listening skills

As indicated by social researchers, verbal relational abilities represent 7% of the message. The other 93% comprise of nonverbal and emblematic message and are called 'listening abilities.' Listening is one of the most important factors in communication. Active listening sets the establishment for strong relational connections. Active listening does not only mean hearing. It means interpretation and understanding of message when we hear something. Listening consists of 5 stage of response when we hear the message and they are:

  • Receiving
  • Understanding
  • Remembering
  • Evaluating
  • Responding

Active listening is evaluating the senders’ message and provides appropriate feedback as well. Having a proper listening and speaking skill is very important for an effective nonverbal communication. When you are a good listener, you can encourage the speaker to provide more information and disclose their opinions without pressurizing them. We can become a good listener by making eye contact, nodding head to indicate that we are listening, facial expression, open posture etc. We can also add short responses like ‘hmm, ok, I see, umm’ etc to show that we are really interested. When we are a good listener, we can get the information we want. Not only while listening, we can use nonverbal communication to persuade others while speaking too. Nonverbal communication can give extra attention to the speaker. For example, smiling and having eye contact with the audience can make a great impact at first. While speaking lean slightly towards your listeners so that they can feel focused. In this way we can capture their attention.


  1. (, L. (2019). Types of nonverbal communication: Listening Skills. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Sep. 2019].
  2. Knapp, M., Hall, J. and Horgan, T. (n.d.). Nonverbal communication in human interaction.
  3. Robinson, R. (2009). Picture This: Exploring Nonverbal Communication Through Self-Portraiture. Communication Teacher, 23(1), pp.62-65.
  4. (2019). PsycNET. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Sep. 2019].
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