Basic Channels of Non-verbal Communication

It is interesting to note that non-verbal communication or body language accounts for more than 70% of our communication while words account for just about 10%. Thus, non-verbal communication is very important in human interaction.

All of us are aware that we act differently when we are happy or sad. People tend to behave differently when experiencing different emotional states. Let us understand how precisely our inner states show up in our behaviour. This brings us to the basic channels through which such communications take place and there are five basic channels.

  1. Facial expressions
  2. Eye contact
  3. Body language
  4. Body movement
  5. Touching and proxemics.

Facial expressions 

More than two thousand years ago, the Roman Orator Cicero stated ‘’The face is the image of the soul’’ by this he meant that human feelings and emotions are often reflected in the face. Without speaking a word, a facial expression can convey a great deal of information to others. But are these facial expressions universal? Early research suggests that facial expression are universal but the result of the more recent study, indicate that although facial expressions are indeed universal, our judgements of these emotions may also be affected by the context and various situational cues.

Eye contact

As in the case of the face, it is also said that ‘’our eyes are windows of the soul’’. If someone is talking to you and staring at you constantly, you will feel uncomfortable. Also when someone does not maintain eye contact’, you may feel that the person is hiding something. Similarly, have ever had a conversation with someone wearing very dark glasses, if so, you may be in an uncomfortable position and would wonder what the other person is hiding from you? 

Human eyes are indeed a very powerful ‘cue’ in reflecting our feelings and we do often learn much about others feelings from their eyes. While a high level of eye contact with others is usually interpreted as a sign of liking or positive feelings, a stare is often interpreted as a sign of anger or hostility and many people find this non-verbal cues very disturbing.

Body language (Gestures, postures and movement.)

Our emotions are always including physiological arousal and changes. Every emotion has a relatively same set of physiological reactions which have come to us by evolution.

For example: when you are angry, your face becomes red, your fists are drawn together and you are ready to attack. When you are afraid, your legs start shivering but you are ready to run or faint. When you are sad, your face becomes pale, and you have a drained down feelings.

These postures, gestures and body movement together are termed body language. Body language often reveals other’s emotional states. Do you have a pet (dog or cat)? if yes, when happy, how does a pet behaves-rubbing its body, sitting close to you, licking you, clearly indicating its happiness?

Straight body position is usually taken to indicate ‘rigidity’, whereas a ‘leaning forward’ body position indicates ‘warmness’ and ‘interest in the other person’. The related finding indicates that large scale body movements or postures can sometimes provide important information about their apparent traits.

Body movement

More specific information is also provided by gestures. Gestures fall into several categories; the most important are emblems- body movement carrying specific meaning in a given culture. These movements have a clear and definite meaning in one culture but in other culture, they may not have any meaning. People have to be careful with their gestures while travelling in different cultures as you might offend others without meaning to do so.

Touching and Proxemics

A lot depends on the meaning you assign to the nature of this physical contact and the context in which it occurs. Existing evidence indicates that when the touching is considered appropriate, it often produces positive reactions in the person being touched. One acceptable way in which people in many different cultures touch strangers is through a handshake. Many books on etiquette suggest that handshake reveal much about others. Person’s personality traits- assertiveness, humbleness, submissiveness etc.

The practical applicability of these non-verbal cues is recognising deception or lie detection. When people lie, subtle changes often occur in their facial expressions, body posture or movements and certain non-verbal aspects of speech.

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