Non-verbal communication – Concept, characteristics and examples

We explain what non-verbal communication is, what its characteristics and elements are. Also, how it is classified and examples.

Non-verbal communication
Non-verbal communication usually accompanies the use of verbal language to qualify it.

What is nonverbal communication?

When we speak of non-verbal communication we refer to all those forms of communication that do not use language as a vehicle and system to express themselves. That is, all those ways of transmitting a message that do not require words or verbal language.

We must not confuse non-verbal communication with non-oral communication, that is, that which does not pass through the spoken voice. One can write on paper or use a sign language (such as the language of the deaf-mutes) and be using the language but through different supports or systems of representation.

Non-verbal communication has to do with gestures, sounds, movements and other paralinguistic elements, that is, they usually accompany the use of verbal language to qualify and channel it. So much so that it is possible to transmit non-verbally a message contrary to what is expressed through words.

Animals also exercise certain types of non-verbal communication. Only the human being is capable, on the other hand, of a verbal language.

Characteristics of non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication
Non-verbal communication does not have a common or universal code to mediate.

Non-verbal communication does not follow the same basic rules as verbal communication, so it does not have a syntax (a specific order of appearance of the signs) but rather is articulated based on context and circumstances. There is a certain margin of conventionality in some cases, as in the movements of the head to indicate a “yes” or a “no”, but even these gestures are not universal and in some cultures they are interpreted the other way around.

On the other hand, it is a non-discretionary form of communication, which depends on the ability of the sender and receiver to capture and interpret the message appropriately, since there is no common or universal code that mediates. Non-logical aspects of our mind, such as emotionality and empathy, have a greater predominance in this type of communication.

Elements of non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication complies with the communication circuit of any kind: it has a sender, a receiver, a message, a channel and a certain code (since there is no conventional language to go to). That means that the messages are elaborated through other senses and using other parts of the body, such as:

  • Transmitter. He uses his eyebrows, his smile, his mouth (to make faces), his eyes and the direction in which he looks, his body posture, his frown, his distance from the other, if not his voice (rhythm and tone, nothing more) or your hand gestures.
  • Receiver. Whoever receives the message mainly uses his sight and hearing, although he does not receive words, but tones and sequences.

In that sense, non-verbal communication it is much more versatile than spoken, given that it has a freer set of meanings and signs to elaborate and can even incorporate contextual elements: pointing to an object or a direction, taking an object, or performing a mimicry or imitation of an action that wants to be transmitted.

Non-verbal language types

Non-verbal communication
Haptic language refers to the physical contact we make with those we communicate with.

When we talk about non-verbal language, we mean:

  • Gesturality. Hand movements, all limbs or head movements, which can be more or less complex and more or less specific, according to the intention. We often use them in conjunction with language as an accompaniment for precision.
  • Facial expressions There is a certain congenital conditioning in humans that allows us to recognize facial expressions from a very early age: a smile, a frown, an angry face. A whole range of emotions are expressed more or less instinctively in our countenance.
  • Body posture. Depending on how we position the body, we can also transmit emotions, sensations or inspire in the other a certain feeling. This also has evolutionary reminiscences, associating size with strength, submission to despondency, etc. Many animals communicate in this way.
  • Physical appearance. The complex code of fashion, clothing, accessories, haircuts and a whole communicative aspect (which in many cases can be unconscious) also constitutes non-verbal language.
  • Paralanguage. Non-linguistic sounds are classified here: not words or expressions of language but sounds that refer to sensations or information in a non-verbal way due to their tone, speed or volume, or to the emotional association that is made with certain sounds. The crying of a baby, for example, enters into these types of communicative acts.
  • Haptic It refers to the physical contact we make with those we communicate, either to reinforce a verbal message or to communicate something without having to say it. Touching is a strong emission of messages and not in all cultures it is well seen or allowed.
  • Proxemic. It refers to the management of the space between sender and receiver, through which intimacy, aggressiveness, passion and other information can be suggested.

Kinesic nonverbal communication

Kinesic or kinetic is another name for verbal communication through body language, that is, through movements of the limbs and torso that have an expressive, appellative or communicative meaning, and that can go along with the verbal language or in its substitution. In that sense, it belongs to paralanguages: the forms of non-verbal communication available to humans, which are more or less encoded in culture, without losing a certain instinctual sense.

Examples of non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication
Eye contact is part of non-verbal communication.

Some examples of non-verbal communication can be:

  • A tourist travels to China and decides to buy street food. Since he does not speak the language, he points to the seller the product he wants and shows him two outstretched fingers (the index and the ring finger). The seller understands how many he wants to buy.
  • The players of a soccer team win a match and, at the end, raise their arms and shout in unison. This is how they express their joy to each other, without having to say a word.
  • A woman tries to seduce a man in a bar and for this she encourages eye contact, smiles at him a lot and makes gestures that invite him to look at her. All of this is part of a non-verbal communication whose purpose is to promote romance.