The most basic form of communication is nonverbal. This includes body language and facial expressions.
It differs from verbal communication in fundamental ways. For one thing, it is less structured, which makes
it difficult to study. A person cannot pick up a book on nonverbal language and master the grammar of
gestures and a vocabulary of expressions that are so common in our culture. Nonverbal communication also
differs from verbal communication in terms of intent and
spontaneity. We generally plan our words and are
fairly careful with what we say. But when we communicate nonverbally, we sometimes do so unconsciously.
We do not mean to raise an eyebrow or blush, but these actions more often than not come naturally. Often
without our consent, our emotions are written all over our faces.
Although nonverbal communication is unplanned, it may have more impact than verbal
communication. Nonverbal cues are especially used in conveying feelings. They account for ninety five
percent of the emotional meaning that is exchanged in any interaction. In fact, nonverbal communication is
so powerful that it actually releases mood-altering chemicals in the sender as well as in the receiver.
Smiling makes us feel happier, whereas guarded gestures tend to make us hostile and less receptive. This
fact was confirmed by an experiment involving two groups of college students who attended the same
lecture. One group, the experimental group, was told to listen to the lecture with their arms tightly folded
across their chests and their legs uncrossed - like a barrier; the second group was told they could listen to
the lecture in any way they pleased. Most of them sat relaxed and listened to the lecture. When tested after
the lecture, the experimental group retained nearly 40 percent less information compared to the second
group who had been more relaxed.
One reason for the power of nonverbal communication is its reliability. For instance, most people can
deceive us more easily with words than they can with their bodies. Words are relatively easy to control; body
language, facial expressions and vocal characteristics or tone of voice are not. By paying more attention to
verbal cues, we can detect dishonesty or affirm a person's honesty. Not surprisingly, we have more faith in
nonverbal cues than we do in verbal messages. If a person says one thing but transmits a conflicting
message nonverbally, we almost invariably believe in the nonverbal signal. To a great degree then, an
individual's credibility as a communicator depends on nonverbal messages his body is transmitting.
If you can read other people's nonverbal messages correctly, you can interpret their underlying attitudes
and intentions and respond appropriately. Successful people generally share this ability. A recent study
involved 1000 schoolchildren who were tested on their ability to determine whether people were happy, sad,
angry and so forth on the basis of their expressions. The students who scored the lowest on the test were
among the least popular in their class and were also less successful academically, even though their
intelligence rating were just as high as the other children. The inability to read other people's reactions
prevented them from adjusting their behavior to improve their relationships.
Nonverbal communication can be efficient from both the sender's and the receiver's standpoint. You can
transmit a nonverbal message without even thinking about it, and your audience can register the meaning
unconsciously. At the same time, when you have a conscious purpose, you can achieve it more economically
with a gesture than you can with words. A wave of the hand, a wink, a pat on the back, a lift of the eyebrows
are all efficient expressions of thoughts. Although nonverbal communication can stand alone, it frequently
works hand in hand with verbal language. Our words carry part of the message and nonverbal signals carry
the rest. Together, the two modes of communication make a powerful team, augmenting, reinforcing and
clarifying each other.