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Understanding Links Between Verbal & Nonverbal Messages

Instructor: David White
Communication is a complex exchange that involves different signals working together to send a message. In this lesson, you'll gain insight into how verbal and non-verbal communication work together and explore some examples of their relationship.

Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication

Imagine you and your friend have just gone to see a play at a local theater. After leaving the theater, you ask your friend what she thought and she rolls her eyes. She says ''oh, I was really impressed'' in a sarcastic tone. Despite the words that came out of her mouth, your friend's tone and eye roll suggest that she means the exact opposite.

This example illustrates the important relationship between verbal communication and non-verbal communication. Verbal communication is the words and sounds that come out of our mouths when we're speaking, including tone of voice and things like sighs and groans. Non-verbal communication, on the other hand, is the signs and messages that we communicate using things like body language, gestures, and facial movements.

Had your friend not used a sarcastic tone or rolled her eyes, you would interpret her response as honest and positive. Yet her use of non-verbal communication dramatically changes the meaning of her words. Most people use a combination of these two types of communication when they interact. Knowing how to recognize both types can significantly improve your ability to interpret messages.

Body Language

Although we often rely a great deal on the words a person uses to convey their message, body language can be an equally important communication tool. In general, body language refers to the ways in which a person communicates with gestures, positions, or movements. For instance, when your friend rolled her eyes in the previous example, she used her body language (non-verbal communication) to communicate that she was exasperated and her words were not to be taken seriously.

Body language is one of the most important ways that we communicate with others, either on its own or to augment a verbal message. Imagine being introduced to a new person, who enthusiastically extends their hand, makes eye contact, and smiles at you. Without saying a word, they have conveyed to you that they are friendly or polite and they're pleased to meet you.

Macro expressions are obvious and easily recognizable expressions.
macro expressions

Adding verbal communication to the mix, that person could enthusiastically shake your hand while telling you how happy they are to meet you. The verbal message (''pleased to meet you'') matches their enthusiastic body language, which suggests their message is genuine and can be trusted. Easily recognizable expressions like a broad smile are known as macro expressions, which are intended to be seen by others and communicate a particular message or emotion. Conversely, had they told you that they were pleased to meet you, but kept their arms crossed while looking away; the verbal communication doesn't match the non-verbal, which should indicate that something isn't quite right.

Unconscious Non-Verbal Communication

Although either type of communication can be used effectively on its own, they are generally used together to convey a message. However, while we are often very much in control of our verbal communication, our non-verbal communication can be unconscious.

In some cases, these can be a quick gesture that we make without thinking, like throwing up your hands when someone cuts you off in traffic. Other times, though, they can be much smaller non-verbal cues that most people wouldn't notice if they didn't know what to look for. The latter of these two is known as a micro expression, which is a very brief, involuntary expression that a person makes when they are attempting to suppress or repress something.

Imagine that you're interrogating someone who you suspect of robbing a bank. When you ask where he was on the night the robbery was committed, he informs you he was at home asleep, but you notice that, right after he speaks, a grimace flashes across his face. You might wonder why, if he is telling you the truth, a negative facial expression crosses his face.

In general, we are socially conditioned to believe that telling lies about important things is bad. Therefore, when the suspected criminal lies about his whereabouts on the night of the robbery, his face reflects a very brief negative response to having violated the social convention that lying is bad.

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