People communicate using language or verbal communication but a large area of communication which goes unnoticed is nonverbal communication. These methods of communication are fundamental to transmitting and receiving messages properly. Both methods are important to understand because they can impact the quality of communication. Nonverbal communication is defined as any form of communication “that is not verbalized or written” (Gallaher, 1992 pg. 133). This form of communication involves a number of methods such as: eye movements, bodily gestures, facial expressions, hand movements and other forms of movement (Gallaher, 1992 pg. 133). This form of communication is used constantly but it is not consciously considered in most instances which can make it detrimental when it is broadcasting negative messages (Gallaher, 1992 pg. 134). Another feature of nonverbal communication is that is strongly influenced by culture. An obvious example of this can be seen in the fact that Americans will use nonverbal signs such as two fingers to express peace which may be considered offensive in other cultures (Gallaher, 1992 pg. 135).
In contrast to nonverbal communication, verbal communication is understood to be any type of communication that is spoken or written (Gallaher, 1992 pg. 133). This form of communication mostly includes speaking but it can include grunting and other forms of oration which convey ideas. Verbal communication has cultural features also such as idioms which can be confusing to people from other cultures such as when an American says something such as “work smarter not harder”. The translation of these concepts can often be confusing.
Understanding nonverbal communication can help me become a better communicator because understanding that movements and facial expressions are expressing concepts, allows me to send more coherent messages. Having an awareness of this communication allows me to control it more and change may expressions and movements to be more aligned with my verbal communication. This is especially important when communicating in a diverse cultural environment.
In order to improve communication a proactive approach to listening is needed. According to Fichten et al (1992), “nodding, repeating back phrases and taking notes can be productive strategies for increasing active listening skills.” By developing a plan that emphasizes actively listening methods one can create a more effective communication process. The steps involved in this would include:
1. Pay attention- remain focused on the speaker. Maintain eye contact with the speaker. When important points or details are presented, one should make mental notes or paraphrase the concepts in order to retain the information.
2. Show that you’re listening- use body language to show that you are paying attention and have interest, e.g., nod, smile, and other facial expressions.
3. Provide feedback- Ask questions, paraphrase what has been said. One should show an interest in what is being related.
4. Defer Judgment- Because one thinks faster than one speaks it is necessary to put aside criticism and rebuttals. Wait until after the person is done speaking to form an opinion.
5. Respond Appropriately- Be honest but be aware of tone. Tone is an important issue. Tone refers to the manner in which one communicates information. Being too professional or detached from a communication can result in the tone of the communication sound cold or mean. It is important that one responds in a positive manner to the person speaking. A negative tone can immediately turn a potential client or pear away. Tone is an often overlooked aspect of communication both in written and oral communications mediums (Owl Purdue University, 2014).
Fichten, C., Tagalakis, V., Judd, D., Wright, J., & Amsel, R. (1992, December). Verbal and nonverbal communication cues in daily conversations and dating. Journal of Social Psychology, 132(6), 751–780.
Gallaher, P. (1992, July). Individual Differences in Nonverbal Behavior: Dimensions of Style. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 63(1), 133–145.
Owl Purdue University. (2014, January 25). What is Tone? Retrieved from Owl Purdue University: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/652/01/