Friday, May 20, 2011

Nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication is the communication with your body. You communicate nonverbally, as well as with words. Nonverbal communication, tells your conversation partner how you feel about what you are saying, if you are telling the truth, and how you feel about the people you are speaking to. Important aspects of nonverbal communication are eye contact, expressions and gestures, body positions and movements, and the use of personal space. Other visual types of communication include clothing and body ornaments and hair style. Vocal aspects of nonverbal communication include tone and volume of speech and little sounds you make that are not really part of the idea you are expressing (i.e., um, uh, the word like or well used as a filler, etc.). Even before you open your mouth to speak, you have already communicated a lot to your conversation partner(s)!

Sometimes it is difficult for second language learners to understand and/or use nonverbal communication because gestures, body positions, eye contact, and personal space may be interpreted differently in different cultures. For example, in the United States, people normally stand at about an arm’s length (approximately one meter) from each other, while in many other countries, people stand much closer together. In most English-speaking countries, eye contact is a very important part of nonverbal communication. In some other cultures, people look down while another speaks to show respect.

What parts of the body are used in nonverbal communication the most?

One of the most important signs in nonverbal communication that you are actively participating and are interested in your conversation partner(s) is your use of eye contact. It is not polite to stare fixedly at a person without blinking, but it is also impolite to look away, down, or off into space behind or to the side of the person who is listening to you. A listener’s eyes should reflect understanding, empathy and interest, and a speaker’s eyes should be focusing on the listener’s (s’) apparent interest and understanding of the message.

Your facial expression and is also very important in the nonverbal communication. It should reflect the message that you are giving or receiving. If you are sad, your expression should be sad, and if you smile, your listener(s) will interpret that as a happy feeling. Do not cover your mouth when you smile or laugh; assertive people smile and laugh out loud freely. While you may frown because you are confused, your conversation partner(s) may interpret the frown to mean that you don’t like or agree with what you hear.

Your posture and body position communicate a lot, too. Try to face your listener(s) openly, and stand or sit with open, relaxed hands, head up, body leaning slightly forward. Don’t cross your arms or face away from your conversation partner(s) –a defensive position.

When you shake hands, this is also nonverbal communication. Women and men should both have a firm but brief handshake that communicates self-confidence.

Practice shaking hands, so that your handshake is neither limp and weak, nor too strong and overpowering. When you shake hands, take a step forward with your right hand extended, head up, posture straight, and greet the person or introduce yourself as you shake hands. Look him or her eye-to-eye, and smile during the handshake. It should be brief – about one to two times up and down and two to three seconds from beginning to end.

Since you and your conversation partner(s) may not use or understand nonverbal communication in exactly the same way, it is very important to clarify what you both understand. Ask questions, especially if what you see in nonverbal communication and what you hear in speech do not seem to be the same message. Summarize or paraphrase what you have heard; say your own ideas in another way to help your partner(s) understand you better. And make sure that your nonverbal communication and your verbal communication agree!