Non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication does not require the use of words. Although one may consider verbal communication as a more important way of communicating thoughts and ideas, it is, in fact, the non-verbal mode of communication that does half the job even before a word is spoken. Hence the importance of non-verbal communication cannot be denied. Let’s figure out what exactly non-verbal communication means and what are the types.

Non-verbal communication is in its essence the communication of ideas and thoughts as well as feelings without using words. Interestingly, even when we turn off the flow of verbal communication, the non-verbal mode still speaks. It communicates volumes with just facial or physical expressions. Sometimes even the silence over certain matter or issue speaks loudly about the probable displeasure or perhaps deep thinking over the issue. Therefore, we can refer to this mode as a very useful as well as quick way of conveying thoughts and feelings. In fact, it is easier for the receiver to understand and judge the situation.

The various forms of non-verbal communication:

  • Body language
  • Signs, symbols and logos
  • Physical objects

There are various types of non-verbal communication methods through which thoughts, ideas, feelings, etc. are conveyed. We will try to see in what way the various types of non-verbal communication help to convey our thoughts.

Body language

Turning red when you are angry, or blushing when you are complimented, are some of the wordless cues out of the many hundreds that we use in our day to day life. Non-verbal communication is the oldest form of communication and it was there much before even the first word was uttered. Body postures and movement usually convey the unspoken words in a rather accurate way. J. Fast, in his famous book, Body Language, has reiterated the fact that body language can speak volumes. He has called the study of body language as a science and called it ‘Kinesics’. He has tried to define the various ways a human being emotes or speaks through body language through various expressions.

Gestures and facial expressions

While putting finger on the lips is a gesture for keeping quiet, smiling is a gesture of conveying acceptance or happiness. A single gesture can speak a lot about what exactly is going on inside our minds. Moving the head from side to side could be considered a sign of denial or disapproval while crossing of arms could be denoted as non-agreement or defensive attitude. A small child always tries to understand as well as convey through gestures before they learn to speak. The child always looks at the gestures and facial expressions to see whether they have been understood. This is a very small example of what our expressions can really convey.

Head and Face signals

The nodding of the head in agreement, or shaking in disagreement, or tilting head to one side when listening to something in rapt attention, as well as slouching of the head when bored, are all various types of non-verbal communication. Even our facial expressions betray our emotions much before we speak. It is often believed that making eye contact while speaking denotes sincerity of the speaker, while shifting eyes here and there suggest that the person may be lying or unsure about what he is saying.


In many cultures, physical contact such as a handshake or a hug is considered to be signs of friendliness, while the same are not acceptable across many others. Thus, contact may denote warmth in some places while at other places people may actually get offended by it.


Everyone has a concept or notion about their own personal space although this can vary between cultures. Any intrusion signifies a potential threat and the reaction is in accordance with the action. For example, a heated argument may result in people shouting at each other in close proximity and this proximity may result in further aggression. A mother may cuddle her child when the child is frightened, this will immediately soothe the child. Thus, proximity is a form of non-verbal communication which can either comfort or threaten a person’s personal space.


For a person who is conveying his thoughts, the most important thing is to generate the right amount of interest about their ideas in his audience. This can be accomplished by facing the audience. Orientation is thus a very important way in which you can convey your thoughts by simply leaning your body. For example, when a person is discussing a matter of interest or passion, they will lean their body slightly towards their listener.


The posture of a person is their basic stance. For example, a person standing with folded arms may display a defensive attitude and someone with open arms, the opposite, and may show interest in new ideas. Posture may be also defined as the general way in which a person conveys an interest in the activities around them. A person with slouched shoulders may convey boredom as well as tiredness. Someone who walks with confidence may show that they are in control of the situation and are happy. However, one has to very careful while reading the posture as perceived differently by different people.

Movement during speech

It is sometimes believed that a lot of movement or fidgeting during a speech or conversation is a sure sign of nervousness as well as impatience. The individual has to try their best in maintaining a very calm demeanour, which should convey that their thoughts and actions are completely in their control, and that they are completely confident about themselves.


Punctuality is very important in all walks of life as time is considered very important in most (but not all) cultures. This is especially true for business as well as official transactions. Being late for an important occasion may convey a casual attitude. Habitual latecomers or people unable to meet deadlines may not be offered responsibility.

Dress and personal grooming

It is very important that the person dresses as per the occasion. A formal occasion such as an official meeting may demand what are seen as smart clothes. On the other hand, formal or official clothes will look completely out of place in a casual evening party. However, every occasion has its own uniqueness and therefore demands special attention.

Signs, symbols, and logos

When you meet a red signal, you habitually stop. Similarly, the green signal prompts you to keep driving. You will surely notice a signboard for a noise free zone near a school or hospital or a sign for one-way traffic. Most of the signs and symbols are used widely and have a universal identity. These offer directions and also suggests a change in the way one is driving.

Logos belong to various brands, companies, as well as government institutions. Logos identify a brand. The idea of branding with a logo is an important issue in marketing, but essentially it is to differentiate the product or service and to imply a series of attributes or associations.

Physical objects

The physical objects which we see in our day to day lives denote various degrees of self-worth of importance. For example, a large house in a posh locality signifies wealth and influence. Similarly, a small, unrepaired and broken house denotes poverty.

Thus, physical objects such a house, car, jewellery, dresses, shoes, watches, etc. denote various degrees of affluence. It is human nature to display physical objects to denote their affluence and importance.

Non-verbal communication makes any discussion much more interactive. Imagine two people talking without any visible gestures or facial expressions or postures. It would seem pretty monotonous as well as robotic. Human beings are capable of millions of expressions as well as ideas with which they can express themselves. Nonverbal communication speaks well before we speak. Our body language may sometimes even contradict our words. We may say we are excited about a particular project while our posture and facial expression may betray the real emotions.

However, while it is important to understand non-verbal communication, it is also important to appreciate that someone yawning may just be very tired and not bored with the conversation! Similarly people who are autistic can struggle to understand non-verbal communication. An appreciation of non-verbal communication will help you with your personal relationships, but be careful and look at all the clues together to understand the whole situation.


Fast, J. (1971). Body Language. PAN Books.

Hinde, R. A. (1972). Non-Verbal Communication. Cambridge University Press.

Payrato, L. (2009). Non-Verbal Communication. In J. Verschueren, & J.-O. Östman, Key Notions for Pragmatics. John Benjamins Publishing.

Stanton, N. (1990). Non-Verbal Communication. In Communication (pp. 32-49). Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Thompson, N., & Campling, J. (1996). Non-Verbal Communication. In J. Campling, People Skills (pp. 93-103). Macmillan Education UK.

Woolcot, L., & Unwin, W. (1983). Non-Verbal Communication. In Mastering Business Communication (pp. 188-193). Macmillan Publishers Limited.