Department of Communication



Nonverbal Communication

Chapter 7

The Importance of Nonverbal Messages--

The importance of nonverbal communication cannot be overstated. Mehrabian’s estimate of 55% (Birdwhistell says 65%) of social meaning is a direct result of facial and physical messages. And 38% of meaning comes from our paralanguage; vocal tones but not words, themselves. The actual percentages are secondary to the fact that more meaning comes from our nonverbal messages than from our verbal messages. Nonverbal messages are always present when two or more people are communicating. Receivers place primary emphasis on nonverbal messages. And when verbal and nonverbal messages conflict we will typically put more faith in the nonverbal signal on the belief that we have a harder time faking our nonverbal behavior than we do our words. In short, we are better liars with words than we are with our bodies.

(Jay Heinrichs) The choice of medium can make or break a persuasive message. Say the right thing at the right time with the right kind of nonverbal support and you greatly increase you chances of success. Do the opposite and expect failure much more often. Always take into consideration the factors of ethos (character), pathos (emotion), and logos (logic) when crafting your message.

Sound is the most rational sense in regard to the speaker’s voice, although the voice can carry a lot of ethos. When the sound is music, the element of pathos takes over.

Smell is the sense that is most filled with pathos. Certain smells or odors can evoke strong emotions from the very pleasant to the repugnant.

Sight leans toward the pathetic because we tend to believe what we see. And Aristotle said that what we believe determines how we feel. But sight can become almost purely logical when it encounters type on a page.

Touch and Taste are pathos, quite naturally.

E-mail is a medium that conveys logos for the most part with a bit of ethos on the side. It’s very bad for expressing emotion since the audience cannot see your face or hear your voice. The feelings become disembodied. Humor is very hard to accomplish via this medium since timing is so much a part of humor. Avoid e-mail message heavily laden with pathos. It is a very bad medium for emotional messages.

Seven (7) Categories of Nonverbal Communication

Any and all of these categories have the potential to affect the outcome of a rhetorical message and the perceptions of the receivers.

Proxemics—refers to the way we use space in our communication. Interpersonal distances will vary between cultures and even within cultures at times. Not only when standing but when seated we see spatial needs exerting themselves. Logically, we interact with those we can make easy eye contact with and those seated to our immediate sides. Space not only communicates a message but it also will impact whether people will communicate with each other. Territory our possessive space-conscious needs is also an aspect of proxemics. Consider the physical locale for a speech…room size; seating arrangements, space between seats and speaker, etc.

Chronemics—how we use time when we communicate. Our use of pauses, and selective use of silence to send a message. Extended or frequent use of silence or long pauses will usually cause discomfort in American culture; but not so elsewhere. Not only pauses and silence, but time is also a major impact when we are kept waiting for a person. Americans are not comfortable waiting beyond the scheduled starting time. The longer we are forced to wait for someone, the less likely we will listen to them when they arrive. Arrival time for meetings is another key aspect of this. The particular event and the individual will dictate the proper response. Being on time for our superiors or bosses is vital. Waiting for the boss is irritating but more accepted than waiting for an employee or subordinate. Violate this and you’re in trouble. Time when we communicate is a big factor. Speaking late in the day just before a weekend is not the same as delivering the same message at 9:00 am on a Monday morning. We can’t always control time, but we can always adapt to it. We need to learn the best times to get our messages out to a certain audience. Experience allows us to learn this. When to speak to the boss; when to ask for a favor, etc.

Oculesics—refers to the use of eye contact in communication. Direct eye contact indicates interest; an absence of it indicates lack of attention or interest. Most people are quite adept at using this nonverbal behavior; and it is closely linked to the culture we live in. Eye contact is often used as a way to control the flow of communication; either to encourage or discourage it. Looking at others when we finish speaking is a clear indication that we expect them to respond in some manner.

Haptics—refers to the use of touch to communicate feelings and emotions. Even though there are general trends for cultural use or expectations for touch in America, it can vary considerably within each person. Potentially significant problems can emerge with touch between intercultural exchanges. But Americans, as a whole, seldom touch one another. When they do it is usually for warm, interpersonal reasons.

Kinesics—refers to body movement in communication. Any movement of our arms, head, legs, etc. Often hard to control all aspects of body movement but gestures are perhaps the most natural or innate element of kinesics. As is true for other factors of nonverbal communication, this is also highly influenced by the culture we were raised within. While the body does, in fact, send out many messages, they are easily misinterpreted and can result in embarrassment is not verified before acting upon.

Objectics—refers to both the use and choice of objects in nonverbal communication. Often times a very conscious choice of what we surround ourselves with to help create our message. May be formal or informal. In Texas, politicians like to show rugged outdoor scenes, often hunting or on horseback to create an certain image of themselves. The clothes we wear; business attire or very casual. Sometimes can make a big impact on our audiences. President Carter once did an FDR version of the fireside chat while wearing a cardigan sweater. The public didn’t like it; too informal and not the right image the voters wanted from her Chief Executive. And the objects we hold or have in sight can influence the audience. Pens or other items are likely to work against us if they become the center of attention rather than our message. Bottom line: objects can be influential so choose them wisely.

Vocalics—refers to the use and quality of the human voice in communication. There are a number of elements that make up vocalics…inflection, speaking rate, pitch, quality of voice, etc. We often make significant judgments about speakers based on the tone of their voices. Radio DJ’s often are perceived one way only to be viewed very differently after we see them for the first time. Speaking rate is another major aspect of this category. A slightly more rapid rate is normally preferred as far as extroversion and persuasion ability. But too fast can be detrimental as it becomes hard to follow and understand. Key point to remember: the effect of voice in producing nonverbal messages in communication is that your voice often tells more about oneself than one really wants known. And it may often tell things that are not correct. We often see others through their voices; sometimes accurately but oftentimes not.