What is nonverbal communication and body language?
When we interact with others, we continuously give and receive wordless signals. All of our nonverbal behaviors—the gestures we make, the way we sit, how fast or how loud we talk, how close we stand, how much eye contact we make—send strong messages. These messages don’t stop when you stop speaking either. Even when you’re silent, you’re still communicating nonverbally.
Oftentimes, what comes out of our mouths and what we communicate through our body language are two totally different things. When faced with these mixed signals, the listener has to choose whether to believe your verbal or nonverbal message, and, in most cases, they’re going to choose the nonverbal because it’s a natural, unconscious language that broadcasts our true feelings and intentions in any given moment.
Why nonverbal communication matters
The way you listen, look, move, and react tells the other person whether or not you care, if you’re being truthful, and how well you’re listening. When your nonverbal signals match up with the words you’re saying, they increase trust, clarity, and rapport. When they don’t, they generate tension, mistrust, and confusion.
If you want to become a better communicator, it’s important to become more sensitive not only to the body language and nonverbal cues of others, but also to your own.
Nonverbal communication cues can play five roles:
- Repetition: they can repeat the message the person is making verbally.
- Contradiction: they can contradict a message the individual is trying to convey.
- Substitution: they can substitute for a verbal message. For example, a person’s eyes can often convey a far more vivid message than words do.
- Complementing: they may add to or complement a verbal message. A boss who pats a person on the back in addition to giving praise can increase the impact of the message.
- Accenting: they may accent or underline a verbal message. Pounding the table, for example, can underline a message.
Source: The Importance of Effective Communication, Edward G. Wertheim, Ph.D.