Monday, August 9, 2010



"Learning is acquired by reading books,
But the much more necessary learning,
The knowledge of the world, is only to be
Acquired by reading men, and studying all the various editions of them."
                             - (Letters to His Son: Lord Chesterfield)

Nonverbal communication is anything other than words that communicates a message. In other words, nonverbal communication is word-less communication received through the medium of gestures, signs, body movements, facial expressions, tone of voice, colour, time, space, style of writing, and choice of words.

Charlie Chaplin and many other silent movie actors were the pioneers of nonverbal communication skills, as this was the only means of communication available on the screen. When talking films became popular, non-verbal aspects of acting were given less emphasis. Many silent movie actors faded into obscurity and only those with good verbal and nonverbal skills survived. The most influential work on nonverbal communication was Charles Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, published in 1872, but this work tended to be read mainly by academics. However, it spawned the modern studies of facial expressions and body language, and many of Darwin's ideas and observations have since been validated by researchers around the world. Albert Mehrabian, a pioneer researcher of body language in the 1950s, found that the total impact of a message is about 7% verbal and 38% vocal and 55% non-verbal.

"It's how you looked when you said it, not what you actually said."
                 - (The Definitive Book of Body Language: Allan Pease and Barbara Pease, p. 9)

Professor Ray Birdwhistell pioneered the original study of nonverbal communication — what he termed 'kinesics'. He made some similar estimates of the amount of nonverbal communication that takes place between humans. He estimated that the average person actually speaks words for a total of about ten or eleven minutes a day and that the average sentence takes only about 2.5 seconds. Professor Birdwhistell also estimated we can make and recognise around 250000 facial expressions. He also found that the verbal component of a face-to-face conversation is less than 35% and that over 65% of communication is done nonverbally. Sigmund Freud, an Austrian psychiatrist, once noted that while a patient was verbally expressing happiness with her marriage, she was unconsciously slipping her wedding ring on and off her finger. Freud was aware of this unconscious gesture and was not surprised when marriage problems began to surface. All these researchers generally agree that the verbal channel of communication is used primarily for conveying information, while the nonverbal channel expresses true feelings more accurately than the spoken or written language because it is instinctive in nature. Nonverbal communication is less deliberate and conscious as most expressions and gestures are mostly unconsciously expressed. It complements verbal communication and makes it more effective. On scientific analysis, it is found that nonverbal communication speaks much louder than words.

"A cry of agony is powerful than a tale of woe."
                  - (Business Communication: M K Sehgal and Vandana Khetarpal, p. 63)


In Ramayana, which is one of the twin epics of ancient India, there are many instances of nonverbal communication, out of which one from Sundara Kanda can be analysed, where Hanuma comes to Lanka and sees Seetha. Seetha does not know anything about Hanuma. When Hanuma proclaims himself to be the messenger of Rama, Seetha wants to confirm. She asks Hanuma to describe the various characteristics of Rama and Lakshmana. Hanuma describes in detail to Seetha the appearance and qualities of Rama and Lakshmana. Hanuma also gives an account of how friendship developed between Rama and Sugreeva, the Lord of monkeys. He narrates his own life-story from the time he was born till his role as a minister of Sugreeva. Even after the narration, which runs to many lines, Seetha has a lingering doubt in her mind. Hanuma then gives Seetha the signet ring given by Rama in order to strengthen her confidence and now after seeing the ring Seetha feels very happy and praises Hanuma for his arrival to Lanka after having crossed the sea. In this episode, it is implied that sometimes nonverbal indicators play a significant role in communication.

In Mahabharata too, there are many illustrations of nonverbal communication. For example, one day Karna and Dhuriyodhana's wife play a board game and after playing for a while the lady wants to run away without finishing the game, Karna totally engrossed in the game tries to catch her by grabbing her pallu and the pearl strings gets ripped and roll on the floor. Karna realises the gravity of the situation and gets flustered, as Dhuriyodhana enters the room, sees the picture. What does Dhuriyodhana do next? He starts collecting the pearls from the floor and asks them to continue with the game. It is a touching scene and more than words Dhuriyodhana's behaviour communicates a lot about his character and his trust.


Nonverbal communication can be classified into the following categories:
• Kinesics
• Proxemics
• Chronemics
• Paralanguage
• Semiotics

'Kinesics' literally means 'body movements'. We can define kinesics as the study of the body's physical movements. In other words, it is the way the body communicates without words that is through various movements of its parts. Body language is an important factor in the process of communication, especially in face-to-face communication, as here the message is communicated by a number of factors like facial expressions, eye movements and gestures. You communicate just by being. By nodding your head, blinking your eyes, shrugging your shoulders, waving your hands, and making other such physical movements, you send messages to others. Watzlawick's statement applies especially to kinesics as we have defined it. When we study body language, we are looking at symbols of meaning that the body's physical movements are communicating. We are searching for attitudes, perceived status relationships, moods, deception, warmth, needs for interaction, and the like as body symbols and activities express them. Outward body movements reflect true inner conditions of meaning.

A number of body movements have come to be identified as a substitute for verbal expressions.

Nodding the head up and down - "Yes" or "I agree"
Patting the adjacent seat - "Sit beside me"
Pounding fist on a table - "I'm angry"
Yawning - "I'm bored" or "I'm not interested"
Cupping hand behind ear - "I can't hear you"
Clapping hands - "I approve"
Placing forefinger on lips - "Be silent"
Circling the first finger parallel to the side of the head - "That person's crazy"
Forefinger held high above an athlete's head - "Number 1"
Forming the first and second finger in the shape of a "V" - "Victory"

Positive Gestures

Eye contact
Weight on both feet
Relax your shoulders
Use open double hand gestures with your palms showing
Be pleasant

Negative Gestures

Scratching head
Biting nails
Crossed arms or legs
Drumming fingers
Covering the mouth with hand while speaking

American anthropologist Edward T. Hall was one of the pioneers in the study of man's spatial needs and in the early 1960s he coined the word 'proxemics', from 'proximity' or nearness. His research into this field led to new understanding about our relationships with each other. Every country has its own territory staked out by clearly defined boundaries and sometimes protected by armed guards. Within each country there are usually smaller territories in the form of states and counties. Within these are even smaller territories called cities and towns, within which are suburbs, containing many streets that, in themselves, represent a closed territory to those who live there. In the theatre, it's an armrest where we do silent battle with strangers who try to claim it. As a sitting passenger in a bus when the bus gets crowded more and more, we tend to lose territorial ground. So we feel enraged and get frustrated. Another example, when we walk briskly another unknown person catches up and walks along parallely. How long will this continue? Most likely for a few seconds. After that one or the other would quicken up the pace and leave the other behind. Here again a person claims the space around him as if it is an extension of his body. Each person has his own personal territory, which includes the area that exists around his possessions, such as his home, which is bounded by fences, the inside of his motor vehicle, his own bedroom or personal chair.

Chronemics or use of time is also an important non-verbal method of communication. Time conveys a message. Time speaks. It is a mode of interpersonal communication. It is an important factor which is precious. In these days of busy living, in business and social relations, time can be saved, wasted, given and taken. Punctuality or delay speaks pleasant or unpleasant feelings and attitudes. Tardiness is considered as an insult in some cultures. Time is very valuable in group activities in any organization. In certain circumstances, arriving at an appointed place on or before time communicate something. A telephone call at 1 AM or 2 AM communicates urgency or emergency.

Paralanguage is defined as a type of nonverbal communication that includes articulation, pronunciation, rate, pitch, volume, pauses, and other vocal qualities. While verbal communication consists of the 'what' of the content, paralanguage involves the 'how' of a speaker's voice or the way in which he speaks. The voices of Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, our Central Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, our own chief minister Kalaignar and our former chief minister MGR are all unique and by assiduously modulating their tone and effectively using diction they all succeeded and the uniqueness in the quality of their voice has given them an identity.

From time immemorial, man has been using signs and symbols mutually understood between at least two persons, and more usually among people belonging to a group, tribe or trade. These signs, symbols, signals and indicators have generally been of two types - visual and audio signals. That is why we have a Chinese proverb, "a picture is worth a thousand words". Paintings, murals and engravings found on the walls of ancient caves, temples and other buildings have a lot of communicative value. Today, posters, pictures, drawings, cartoons, caricatures, statues, etc. are used as tools for symbolic communication. Traffic signal lights and ambulance light act as effective tools for communication. The national flag is also a symbolic representation. Audio signals are also part of the communication system in many ways. There are various kinds of alarm signals, including fire alarms, ambulance alarms, bell ringing, etc.

In sum, to become an effective communicator, one needs be sensitive to the nonverbal aspects of communication. The effectiveness of a communicator can be improved by observing and analyzing both the physical environment of communication and the body language, appearance, gestures, vocal cues, eye contact, etc. This article is only a cursory exposure to the world of nonverbal communication.


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  2. very valuable !!!!!!!!!!!!