The way we communicate with one another stretches far beyond the words we say and how we say them. While written and verbal communication helps us express what we need to say, our nonverbal communication tremendously impacts our words’ delivery. Depending on which study you read, experts agree that anywhere from 70 to 93 percent of our communication is nonverbal—and there are many different types of nonverbal communication.
So, what is nonverbal communication anyway? Nonverbal communication refers to the transfer of information without the actual words themselves. Nonverbal cues involve many different parts of the body, which might be intentional or unintentional actions on behalf of the communicator and profoundly enhance how our messages come across to others.
Understanding the types of nonverbal communication can further improve one’s self-awareness and interpersonal skills. Here are seven types of nonverbal cues to be aware of and what some of your cues, whether intentional or unintentional, may say about the delivery of your message.
7 Types of Nonverbal Communication
Kinesics (Body movements and gestures)
Body movements include anything from swaying back and forth, to using your hands while you talk, to nodding your head, and everything in between. Certain body movements, such as using your hands while you speak, may express your enthusiasm in talking about a subject.
In contrast, other actions, such as swaying back and forth during a presentation, can distract and take away from the message you want to convey. Your body movements may occur unconsciously, but be mindful of how your actions might affect your listener.
Arguably one of the most important forms of nonverbal communication is holding firm eye contact. Though it may feel uncomfortable at times, especially if you’re new to establishing and maintaining eye contact, this is a great way to let someone know you’re interested in what they’re saying.
Think about it, if you’re having a one-on-one conversation with someone, and they break your gaze or look at something else entirely, what might you assume? A lack of eye contact generally implies disinterest or distraction. Enhance your nonverbal communication by learning how to look someone in the eyes when they speak.
Your posture speaks volumes about how you present yourself and how you are responding to others in conversation. When conversing while standing, consider holding your head high and rounding your shoulders back to communicate that you are confident in what you’re saying. When sitting, be mindful of sitting up straight, eliminating any arch in your back, slouching in your chair, and crossing your arms.
While sitting, any combination of these postures may suggest that you are uninterested or non-receptive to the message. Bad postural habits often occur naturally as we seek comfortable positions, especially when having long conversations. To reverse any bad habits you possess, consider changing your posture by examining your stance and body in the mirror regularly.
Proxemics (Personal space)
Personal space, or proximity to one another, is a nonverbal cue that can impact your message’s delivery in conversation. Avoid standing too close and invading someone’s personal space during a conversation as it may feel uncomfortable. At the same time, ensure you don’t stand too far away and have to raise your voice.
Be mindful of “personal bubbles,” and adjust your proxemics based upon your relationship with the individual. For example, many of us may stand farther away from a manager at work than we would a family member. Keep in mind that cultural differences may also impact one’s understanding of comfortable proximity to one another.
One key aspect of nonverbal communication is touch. From hugs to handshakes, touch-filled interactions play a large role in the conversations we share. But similar to proximity, it’s necessary to be mindful of how you communicate through touch to avoid making others uncomfortable.
Unsolicited forms of contact can be a cause of concern, which is another reason why it’s crucial to be mindful of cultural differences in this area. When appropriately used, touch can strengthen bonds and create a sense of trust.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Your face says it all”? It’s true, and sometimes our facial expressions reveal our true feelings on our behalves, even without our permission. Facial expressions may show emotions and thoughts that we aren’t quite ready to express, such as unhappiness about a situation through an eye roll.
While it’s valuable to say how you’re feeling, your facial expressions may say something other than your verbal message. Be attentive to your facial expressions and others’ in identifying how they genuinely feel about a particular conversation.
Paralanguage, otherwise referred to as vocalics, describes not what you say but how you say it. Tone, pitch, and volume are paralanguage examples that can completely alter the message we’re trying to get across. For example, has someone ever asked you a question that came across as snarky when that wasn’t the desired tone?
An improper tone, pitch, and or volume can change the feel of a message entirely. Consider the point you are trying to make and how you want it to come across to your listener when adjusting your tone, pitch, and volume.
If you want to develop strong communication skills, it’s essential to focus on the nonverbal cues that accompany your speaking and writing ability. Having an awareness of your nonverbal cues will give you an advantage in leveling up your overall communication style.
Which type of nonverbal communication are you going to focus on improving?