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Non-Verbal Communication Definition

Intercultural communication involves plenty of nonverbal communication. Rather than what is stated, how something is said often helps us understand what is being communicated. Additionally, certain cultures place a lot more value on cultural context?or what is not said?than on actual words.

Non-Verbal Communication Definition

Nonverbal communication refers to components of interaction that involve speech, such as body language, distance, facial expressions, posture, and vocal traits. In other words, everything other than words constitutes nonverbal communication.

There is a lot of nonverbal communication. It is constantly taking place all around you. You are communicating when you chuckle, smile, clap, point, whistle, or snap your fingers. Nonverbal communication can occur intentionally or accidentally. It's critical to remember that verbal and nonverbal communication convey meaning and are symbolic, but significant differences exist in other areas.

Principles of Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal Communication Uses Multiple Channels

When we speak, we communicate information through one channel at a time using words. The verbal channel is determined by words, whether we speak, read, type, or listen to them.

When I speak to a buddy, I try to understand their meaning using nonverbal cues such as voice intonation, facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, and sometimes even touch (many channels). Or I can put on my most attractive outfits, cologne, or perfume, style my hair, and laugh along with their jokes to show that I'm interested in them as a potential romantic companion.

Nonverbal Communication is More Ambiguous

In contrast to most verbal communication, nonverbal communication and its meanings are primarily picked up unintentionally.

Friendliness, comfort, anxiousness, and sarcasm can all be conveyed through a smile. Just as capturing someone's sight might, depending on the circumstance, express closeness, comedy, or a challenge. This ambiguity can make it challenging to interpret messages, especially when doing so across cultural barriers. You have likely encountered misunderstandings or ambiguities in language frequently. Even more difficult to decipher is the meaning of nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication can sometimes reveal what individuals say, but no "dictionary" can reliably understand nonverbal signals.

Some nonverbal skills are acquired as part of cultural socialization. When greeting someone new in a formal setting, we commonly shake hands in the United States. In professional situations, greetings like "Hi, I'm Karen," and a firm handshake are typical. It was so great meeting you, as well as a second solid handshake upon parting.

Nonverbal Communication has Fewer Rules

Because there are fewer laws governing nonverbal communication than verbal communication, it needs to be clarified.

There are thousands of rules governing grammar, spelling, pronunciation, usage, meaning, and other aspects of verbal communication, and nonverbal exchanges do not. Your parents may advise you, "It's not polite to stare at people." Still, most of these statements are examples of appropriate conduct rather than rules that specify what constitutes a communication act.

Nonverbal Communication is Continuous

There is constant nonverbal communication. When conversing face-to-face, nonverbal communication starts before the speech and continues after the speech is finished. If nothing else, your physical appearance will always be a means of nonverbal communication. Using an email or Instagram platform, you can communicate through usernames, avatars, images, word choice, and more.

Although you can stop speaking, you can never cease communicating non-verbally.

Nonverbal Messages Communicate Emotions, Meaning, and Relationships

When we converse with people, we monitor more than just their words to interpret what is being said. What line separates a wink from a nod? Nonverbal communication involves not only what is not said but also how it is not stated, the full body, the area it occupies and rules, the time it interacts, and all of these factors. Nonverbal communication almost easily transitions from one idea to the next, imbuing the recipient with the intention of meaning.

Before we even realize what, we are thinking or feeling, nonverbal communication can reveal our thoughts and emotions?more than we ever intended to be seen or heard by others. Your nonverbal communication consists of both deliberate and involuntary signals. Still, because everything happens so quickly, unintentional signals may conflict with what you intend to say or how you intend to react.

When people transmit contradicting meanings through verbal and nonverbal behaviors or mixed messages, our reliance on nonverbal communication increases. As nonverbal behavior is said to function at an unconscious or semi-conscious level in such situations, we nearly always trust it more than verbal communication. Nevertheless, we frequently misinterpret nonverbal cues and give them deliberate meanings when this is the case. Status and authority are also conveyed non-verbally.

Use of space and territory, touch, posture, gestures, and power distribution in a relationship are all reliable markers of the benefits of status.

Nonverbal and Verbal Communication Work Together to Create Communication

Together, verbal and nonverbal means of communication produce meaning. As communicators, we experience and communicate them collectively to produce meaning rather than separately. Nonverbal cues, including tone of voice, facial expressions, and gestures, frequently define how you understand the verbal meaning. Nonverbal communication can support, oppose, and even replace verbal communication. Still, it can never be the words themselves since we require the words to give the meaning and emotions being expressed a focus.

Nonverbal Communication is Influenced by Culture

True intercultural communication is challenging because culture and nonverbal communication are closely related. Some nonverbal clues can be learned, but as nonverbal communication is ambiguous and subject to fewer constraints than verbal, it typically requires years of cultural immersion for most people to completely comprehend the nuanced meanings embodied in that culture's nonverbal communication.

When Barak Obama, then president of the United States, met the Japanese emperor in 2009, he bowed unusually low in welcome.

While former vice president Dick Cheney felt that "there was no reason for an American president to bow to anyone," US conservative pundits referred to the gesture as "treasonous." The 45-degree bend, or "seikeirei" bow, was deemed by the Japanese press to be overly dramatic even though it was regarded as a gesture of respect.

Misconceptions about Nonverbal Communication

Dispelling some commonly held myths regarding nonverbal communication is vital to be an effective international communicator.These myths are so deeply ingrained in our thinking that it may be difficult to accept that they are untrue.

People can read nonverbal communication

Popular culture is rife with allusions to "body language" and guarantees that, by the conclusion of the article/tweet/video, you'll be able to read your boss/lover/parent/friend like a book. It would be hard to teach a universal shorthand for deciphering how people convey attitudes and feelings through their bodies since nonverbal communication is ambiguous, has fewer rules, and co-creates meaning with verbal communication. No common code may be called a "language of the body."

Although nonverbal communication is given meaning, much like verbal communication, nonverbal communication does not use language and cannot be read. The specialists who assert that they can "read people like a book" are typically no more adept than anyone else at deciphering nonverbal cues.

Deception can be accurately detected through nonverbal communication

People frequently hold this belief, along with the notion that nonverbal communication can be accurately comprehended, that they can "spot the lie." If this assumption were accurate, no one could pull a bluff in a game of poker, elected officials would always speak the truth, teenagers wouldn't make up stories to their parents about where they've been, and romantic partners wouldn't feel the need to hide their weight gain.

No nonverbal behavior?an individual's eye movements, facial expressions, vocal cues, or anything else?consistently indicates deceit. According to decades of trustworthy research, there is an equal likelihood of guessing as trying to identify liars through nonverbals.

Types of Nonverbal Communication Codes

Non-Verbal Communication Definition

Humans use various behaviors, physical characteristics, and environmental cues to express meaning, which is why nonverbal communication is rich in information. The various information transmission methods are called nonverbal communication codes by academics.

Kinesics, vocalists, proxemics, haptics, chronemics, physical appearance, artifacts, and environment are the seven available codes for nonverbal communication. To better comprehend the wide range of nonverbal behavior in humans, cultural patterns encoded in nonverbal codes should not be utilized as stereotypes for all individuals of a certain culture. Instead, they should be used as rough recommendations or examples.


When it comes to the ability to convey a message, kinesics is considered to be the best nonverbal communication. The term "kinesics" refers to the study of movement and covers aspects such as posture, eye contact, gestures, and facial expressions.

Facial expressions

Facial expressions convey a seemingly unlimited range of emotions, and we can infer other people's feelings by observing their features. This kind of kinesics is crucial, as we utilize emoticons to convey attitudes and emotions in electronic media. Some academics contend that facial expressions come first among all communication types.

Cultural norms frequently regulate facial expressions. Although you may have been taught that smiles are contagious, that is untrue.

Most people can smile, yet different cultures value and interpret smiles differently. In other words, a smile sometimes indicates different things. For instance, in Russian, smiling is frowned upon since it is perceived as silly or possibly devious and manipulative. Even in family photos, adults frequently have stoic or blank expressions. Many Hispanic cultures value an elegant and proud facial expression, which excludes smiling. In Japan, smiling is a sign of deference or a technique to mask your emotions. In the United States, we smile to make others feel good about themselves, communicate joy and thanks, and even when anxious. We also tend to grin when we want to get along with others.

Eye contact

Making eye contact has several benefits. We employ our eyes to communicate our feelings, control the dialogue, and demonstrate attentiveness, respect, status, hatred, and aggression toward others. Eye contact habits differ greatly between cultures. In America, eye contact is typically regarded as positive. In crowded, impersonal settings like walking along a busy street or riding a crowded bus, people frequently avoid eye contact, even though it can indicate attention, confidence, and boldness (all positive traits). But in France, it's ok to watch someone interesting on the street and purposefully create eye contact to show interest. Direct eye contact is less prevalent and generally inappropriate in the Middle East, although in Asia, avoiding eye contact is frequently seen as respectful and regarded as courteous.


Gestures are hand and arm motions used in speech. We must consider at least four types of gestures: symbols, artists, controllers, and adapters.

  • Emblems are gestures that convey a particular verbal meaning and can be used in place of or in addition to words. You can easily communicate meaning without using words if you are traveling down a major highway in the United States and another vehicle suddenly changes lanes in front of your automobile, causing you to press the brakes. While gestures and spoken meanings are interchangeable with emblems, they also have distinct cultural meanings. If the driver who abruptly changed lanes is from a different culture, they could not understand your logo.
  • Illustrations serve as a nonverbal cue that helps us convey our message clearly and support our argument. When describing the fish he just caught, your grandfather could hold his two hands 36 inches apart to demonstrate its size.
  • Regulators are nonverbal cues that guide, support or limit interaction. For instance, if someone is conveying a message to you that is perplexing or unpleasant, you can ask them to stop by utilizing the well-known technique of holding up your hand.
  • Adaptors make us feel at ease or convey feelings or moods. You may use an adaptor to satisfy your desire for security by, for instance, playing with your hair or cuddling up to yourself for warmth.


The final kinesic on our list is posture. Humans can lean forward or backward, round or slump their shoulders, tilt their heads, and stand up straight or slouch. People used to think that stance conveyed authority and urgency.

  • The degree to which you find someone intriguing and beautiful is called immediate. Americans typically face the person they find beautiful when speaking to them, keep their head high, and lean in. At the same time, they might glance away and lean back in response to someone they don't like.
  • The capacity to affect others or events is known as power. High-status communicators often adopt relaxed postures in the United States, but the converse is true in Japan. Japanese people exhibit power by standing tall and firmly on the ground.


Vocalics or paralanguage are vocal traits we employ to convey nonverbal messages. Aspects of speech that affect meaning verbally and non-verbally include tempo, pitch, tone, volume, intensity, halting, and even silence. As was previously said, silence or vocal pauses might convey doubt, the need for a moment to collect one's thoughts, or a desire to be respected. Sometimes what someone does not say can teach us just as much as what they do say, if not more.


Proxemics, which derives from the Latin proximus, which means "near," describes communication that uses physical separation or Space. In a nonverbal setting, we refer to the area between things and people as "space." Space is a crucial communication component and is frequently linked to social status. Who gets the executive suite? Why is the person at the head of the table there?

Different normative space expectations may exist among people from different cultures. If you are from a big city, you may be used to people standing close to you, and someone can stand "too close" for comfort and not realize it if they come from a society where people expect greater Space.

Edward T. Hall, an anthropologist, participated in World War II as an engineer. He saw that people in various nations maintained varying distances from one another as he traveled from place to place, and they were closer to one another in France than in England. Hall (1963) speculated why this would be and developed a spatial linkages and boundaries theory.

The first factor is what Hall called "territory," which concerns control. You may have painted your room your favorite color or hung up posters of your passions or things you think to make you special as a way to take control of your Space. The territory is the area you claim as your own, are in charge of, or are prepared to defend.

Conversation distance, or the "bubble" of space around each person, is the second characteristic Hall emphasizes. We understand the fundamental necessity for personal Space, but cultural norms for space differ widely. Intimate Space in the US spans from 0 to 18 inches. Our personal Space, which can be anywhere between 18 inches and 4 feet, is what we occupy when we are with friends. With strangers or in social circumstances, many people employ social Space, which can be anywhere between 4 and 12 feet. The separation stretches from 12 feet and beyond in public areas. Most cultures, notably those from Latin America and the Middle East, use Space far more sparingly than North Americans, which might come across as aloof or remote.


Haptics, derived from the ancient Greek word "happen," is the study of touch in interpersonal communication. Touch can have different effects depending on how long it lasts, what part of the body it touches, and how hard it makes contact.

How people utilize and perceive touch is greatly influenced by cultural conventions. For instance, Hispanic cultures typically embrace more than European ones do. Puerto Ricans touched each other on average 180 times per hour in outdoor cafes in London, England, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, compared to 0 times for British people.

According to Hall, the employment of proxemics and haptics within a culture blend to form what academics now refer to as contact and noncontact cultures. People in contact cultures speak louder, make more direct eye contact, touch more frequently, and stand closer to one another when conversing. South America, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe are regions with high levels of cultural contact, with the Middle East being the most prevalent.

People converse while standing wider apart, making less eye contact, and using less physical contact in noncontact cultures. The cultures of Japan, the United States, and Great Britain are some instances of noncontact cultures.


Chronemics is the study of terminology and temporal perception. The emphasis on time varies greatly among cultures, yet circumstance can also be very important. The adage "Time is money" is used frequently in societies where time is highly valued. Time frequently shows social rank and power in social environments. For whom are you prepared to wait? When you're ill, a doctor for an office visit? An interviewer for a possible employer? Your children or your significant other?

Poly and monochronic

Accept an invitation from some Mexican American friends to a barbecue at 8. You will be the first person there because it is customary for parties to begin after 9 o'clock. In France, a party invitation that says it starts at 8 p.m. might be taken to suggest you should arrive at 8:30, but in Sweden, 8 p.m. is seen to mean 8 p.m., and latecomers may not be welcomed.

In the US, we think of time as linear and moving in a straight line. We completed one task, are working on another, and have more plans for the future. Time is a commodity in monochronic time orientation. Building and maintaining personal relationships may not be as crucial as being on time, completing duties, and adhering to deadlines.

Time has a more comprehensive and circular nature with a polychronic time perspective. Numerous events are anticipated to occur simultaneously, and progress is made due to human connections rather than despite them. In Germany, the Euro Railways trains are known for always leaving and arriving on time. When traveling by rail in Argentina, though, you'll discover that the schedule is more of an estimate of when the train will depart or arrive. The schedule is affected by engineers, conductors, and even passengers, not by a clock.

Past, Present, and Future

How different cultures view the past, present, and future also varies. The Value Orientation Theory by Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck referred to this query.

The future is emphasized in some societies. This may reflect the hopeful notion that things will change or be "new and improved" in the future. Such cultures could focus more on modernization or updating than preserving "historical" structures. It's common to have calendars or appointments that span several years. The US is particularly focused on the future.

The importance of living in the present is valued in cultures that place a strong emphasis on it. The current situation has a lot of potentials. Spain, Greece, and several African nations tend to emphasize the present. Some nations, like Russia and Mexico, strongly emphasize the present while still acknowledging the impact of the past.

Many Asian and European civilizations give great importance to the past. They think that history, rather than the present, has had a greater impact on what has occurred to us. What occurs to us in the present is fate or karma from the past.

Physical appearance

Outward characteristics like hair, dress, body type, personal care, jewelry, spectacles, backpacks, briefcases, and handbags significantly influence our communication encounters. In other words, your appearance can reveal just as much about you as your words. Across cultures, people give physically attractive people more credit for their knowledge, persuasion, poise, friendliness, warmth, power, and employment success than physically unattractive ones. (The halo (positive) or horns (negative) effect is what communication experts call the propensity to generalize about someone based on one characteristic. Beauty is subjective, as physical attractiveness varies throughout cultures and is continually redefined.


Artifacts are the things we own that impact how we view ourselves and that we utilize to communicate who we are to other people. In addition to company names and logos, they can incorporate jewelry like rings and tattoos. What we choose to surround ourselves with says something about who we are, from our clothes to our cars, watches, briefcases, purses, and even our eyeglasses. They might convey a person's gender, role or position, class or rank, personality, or affiliation with a particular group.


We can also communicate non-verbally through our surroundings. Environment refers to the tangible components of our surroundings. The setting is a crucial component of the dynamic communication process, more so than the desks and chairs in an office. One's perspective of their surroundings affects how one responds to them. For instance, Google is renowned for its work environment, including areas designed for physical activity and 24-hour in-house food service. Although the cost is unquestionably high, Google's actions speak for themselves. The outcomes generated in a setting that promotes creativity, engagement, and collaboration are worthwhile.

Other codes of interest

Smell and aroma are another nonverbal communication method, albeit they have yet to be as well studied as the other codes.Lemon is connected to health and cleanliness; thus, you can utilize cleaning products with a lemon aroma. In the US, toothpaste and other hygiene products contain mint to combat odors, and German medication frequently uses root beer flavoring to mask the bitterness. Foreigners rarely consume stinky tofu in China due to the food's overpowering odor.

A powerful nonverbal statement that transcends cultural barriers is the use of color. In diverse civilizations, colors can have unique associations and relationships. In the US, yellow is frequently connected to cowardice, and red has positive connotations in Chinese culture. In the West, purple is linked to monarchy; in Brazil, it is linked to mourning. In North Africa, the color green is linked to corruption.

Cultural Space

Many intercultural communication experts see value in the concept of cultural Space since it combines culture, environment, and identity, even though it needs to fit into the category of nonverbal codes cleanly. Michel Foucault, a French philosopher and social theorist, is where the concept first appeared. Because of the claim that culture is dynamic and constantly redefines itself from generation to generation, many academics are now using the metaphor of cultural Space to describe this large field of study. The social and cultural environments in which our identities are established are called cultural Spaces.

Non-Verbal Communication Definition

The household is one of the earliest cultural settings that people encounter. Home may be a powerful source of identity, frequently conveying social class, customs, and safety and security. Home is not the same as the place it resides; rather, it is the emotions it evokes. Home can be an exact place, a city, a state, a region, or even a whole country.

A neighborhood is a geographic location with unique cultural characteristics. Race and ethnicity can play a role in this area, and some cultural groups may decide who gets to reside where and under what conditions other groups must live. Different settlement patterns of cultural groups exist in the United States and worldwide due to historical causes and power dynamics. Many people have a strong sense of regional identity. Loyalty to a place that has cultural significance is known as regionalism.

Flying regional flags, donning distinctive attire, celebrating regional holidays, and engaging in other cultural pursuits are all symbolic ways to demonstrate this commitment. Protests or armed confrontations are some ways that this loyalty might be demonstrated. Social media has expanded cultural spaces by challenging definitions and limitations. In contrast to earlier ideas of Space, which were based on landownership and occupancy, as well as boundaries, colonies, and territories, new idea of fluid cultural Space is emerged.


Even if they can't understand your words, people will interpret them based on their accepted cultural norms. Could you take note of their remarks? When you are trying to communicate, it is vital to remember that it will be their perceptions that matter, not yours. These perceptions will be founded on the teachings and experiences of their culture, not yours. The concepts and theories discussed in the preceding paragraphs highlight how we view the frameworks of cultures, values, and communication. They also offer a framework for discussing and contrasting cultures, but it's crucial to remember that cultures are diverse and dynamic. No one size fits everyone. Even at its best, nonverbal communication is confusing.

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