Body Language in Nonverbal Communication: Importance, Types & Examples

Instructor: Orin Davis
While words can tell us a great deal, human beings are also able to enrich their communication through non-verbal cues like facial expressions, tone, and body language. These nuances can be so significant that they can give the same set of words two opposite meanings.

Introduction

Your coworker comes up to you and asks in an even tone when you plan to turn in the sales report. At first blush, it sounds like something you might just answer with a date and time. But then you look at your coworker and, instead of giving a date and time, you say, 'The boss won't have time to read it until next week, so why don't we both turn in our reports on Monday?' Your coworker thanks you profusely and heads off.

How did you know what to say to get such happy gratitude?

You probably noticed your coworker's down-turned mouth, drooping shoulders, and slouching stance, and realized that your coworker was tired and probably needed more time to submit the report. That information was not in your coworker's question, but it was in your coworker's body language.

Non-Verbal Communication

There is way more to what people 'say' to us than just the words. Features like tone of voice, facial expression, gestures, and stance (as in the example above) provide additional nuance and meaning to communication, and these non-verbal cues are crucial to understand for anyone who wants to interact with people effectively.

Example 1: Tone

Your boss just walked into your office and said the words 'lunch time.' Depending on your boss's tone, your response will vary significantly. With a flat tone, your boss is informing you that it is time for you to get up and go to lunch. With a rising tone, the phrase becomes a question, and your boss is asking if you would like to have lunch right then. The words are the same in both cases, but the tone makes the difference between telling you to go to lunch, and asking you if you want to have lunch at that time.

Example 2: Facial Expression

If you happen upon a friend who says 'I'm finished,' you might give that friend a sympathetic hug. Or, you might give the friend a high-five. A quick look at your friend's facial expression will tell you whether the person is stressed/sad (e.g., frown), in which case your friend may need a hug, or whether your friend is celebrating the completion of something (e.g., smile). Features like the narrowness/wideness of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, and the tautness of the cheeks can all be clues as to what a person means by the words (s)he uttered.

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