Nonverbal Communication: Terms & Uses

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  • 00:00 Nonverbal Communication
  • 00:55 Conversation
  • 3:12 Impressions & Emotions
  • 4:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

You can say a lot without saying any words. In this lesson, we'll look at nonverbal communication, including what it is, the five functions of nonverbal communication, and examples of each type of nonverbal communication.

Nonverbal Communication

Chloe just had an odd experience. She was talking to her best friend Bryan, but she felt like something was wrong. Chloe asked if Bryan was upset and he crossed his arms, glared at her, and said, 'Nope.'

If you're like Chloe, you probably don't believe Bryan when he says he's not upset. He seems very angry! That's the power of nonverbal communication, or transmitting a message without words. This can happen with gestures, facial expressions, eye movement, physical movement, or a whole host of other types of nonverbal communication. For example, though Bryan says he's not upset, his crossed arms and glare are nonverbal messages that he is.

Let's look at some of the uses of nonverbal communication, including the role they play in conversation and the way they influence impressions and emotions.


When Chloe is talking to Bryan and asking if he's upset, she is having a conversation with him. Conversations almost always include verbal communication (that is, talking to one another), but they also often include nonverbal communication. Take Chloe and Bryan: when she asks him if he's upset and he says, 'Nope,' they are communicating, but his body language is also part of that communication.

Nonverbal communication can serve several purposes in conversation. The first important purpose it serves is integrating messages, or building upon the verbal message. For example, if Chloe is really excited about something, she might say, 'I'm really excited!' At the same time, she might smile and give a thumbs up, offering a nonverbal message that builds upon her verbal message.

Of course, in some instances, like Bryan, the nonverbal communication tears down the verbal message. He's saying that he's not upset, but his nonverbal message is that he is.

Another way that nonverbal messages can influence a conversation is through structuring conversation, or communicating important elements about the arrangement of a conversation. For example, if Chloe is listening to Bryan, she might nod and lean forward a little to show that she's listening. If she's speaking to a group, she might sit down at the end of her speech to show that she's finished speaking. Both of these things are part of conversation structure.

Chloe uses very different nonverbal communication with Bryan than she does with her principal. She might hug Bryan when she sees him, or playfully punch him on the arm when he's being ridiculous, but she'd never do that to her principal! Instead, she might shake her principal's hand in greeting, something that would seem very out of place when greeting her best friend.

These are examples of a third purpose that nonverbal communication can serve in a conversation: defining relationships, or communicating the status of a relationship through nonverbal messages. As we've seen, these can be formal (like Chloe shaking the principal's hand) or casual (like Chloe hugging Bryan), depending on the relationship.

Impressions & Emotions

Chloe's worried that Bryan is angry with her and so she's trying to be extra nice to him. She might say the same old things, like 'Hi,' and 'How's it going?' but she's smiling extra big at him and offering him more hugs than normal.

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