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2.3: Non-verbal Communication

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    In 1967, a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) study found that more than 90% of face-to-face communication between people is non-verbal (Mehrabian and Ferris, 1967). Non-verbal communication is communication without words. That’s why it’s often referred to as “body language.” It includes facial expressions, gestures, body movements, posture, and eye contact.

    Often a person’s body language reveals his or her thoughts and feelings more directly than spoken words. Generally, when people are feeling confident, their stance is strong and they easily make contact with others. When people are flirting, they can be seen playing with their hair, arching their bodies, and standing close to another person. How you use body language can attract or detract from the message that you want to communicate.

    Some elements of body language are discussed below.

    Facial expressions

    The most obvious indicator of emotions is facial expressions. By observing a smile, laughter, tears, a frown, or even the level of eye contact, you can tell much about how a person is feeling.


    Figure 2: Your facial expressions can often convey more than your words.


    Your personal appearance also communicates an impression. The clothes and accessories you wear, the colours and styles you choose, as well as the piercings and/or tattoos you have all communicate a message about who you are and what you value.

    Personal space

    The distance you maintain between yourself and others will vary with the nature of the activity and the emotion involved. For example, people tend to communicate in close proximity if they are affectionate or angry, but at a distance if they are afraid or have a dislike.

    Culture also plays a role in determining personal space. In North America, people tend to keep each other at arm’s length. In some other cultures, individuals stand very close to one another; in others they put significantly more distance between them.

    Misinterpreting body language

    Body language, like verbal communication, can be misinterpreted. You might see a woman stomping her foot and think she must be angry. But maybe she’s just trying to get mud off her shoe! Or perhaps you think a co-worker you are talking to is upset with you because his arms are crossed, but maybe he’s just cold.

    You shouldn’t focus on just one non-verbal signal and think you’re interpreting effectively. You need to look at the whole package of both verbal and non-verbal cues to better understand what’s being communicated.

    Cultural differences

    Body language also varies from culture to culture and even from region to region in some countries. The smile may be the one and only gesture that can be understood worldwide.

    On large job sites or in other countries, you may be working with individuals from several different cultures, and body language displayed by your supervisors and co-workers may differ from your own. As already noted, North Americans usually converse about an arm’s length apart, but people from other cultures may keep more or less space between them. As well, while maintaining direct eye contact is considered positive for most North Americans, people from other cultures may view it as being confrontational or a sign of disrespect, and therefore they avoid eye contact, particularly with persons of authority.

    An understanding of body language is something you will need to acquire when working with others. If your work or travels take you to other countries, understanding the differences between cultures can greatly improve your working relationships and reduce conflict on the job site.

    This page titled 2.3: Non-verbal Communication is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Camosun College (BC Campus) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.