What you don’t say is sometimes just as important as what you say. Nonverbal communication, or body language, speaks volumes without uttering a word. Nonverbal communication can serve to repeat or contradict a verbal message. Sometimes gestures are used to accent or reinforce spoken words. At other times, a nonverbal message--such as the look in someone’s eyes--actually acts as a substitute for language.
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Your face can express a myriad of emotions and can readily be understood by anyone, even someone who does not speak your language. Unlike gestures, which may vary from culture to culture, facial expressions such as happiness, sadness and fear are universal, according to HelpGuide.org.
Although some people gesture more freely and expressively than others, most people would find talking without gesturing at all to be difficult. Gesturing is useful not only to help your listener understand, but you may find that hand movements actually help you express yourself verbally. Gestures vary from culture to culture, and a hand movement commonly used in one country may be considered inappropriate or offensive in another, according to Andrews University.
The posture of both the speaker and the listener convey a message to the same degree as the words being spoken. The way you sit or stand shows others whether you are interested or bored, attentive or distracted. Sitting or standing with erect posture and facing a person when you speak or listen shows that you are receptive. Behaviors such as slouching, looking the other way or staring at the ceiling can be interpreted as rude and disrespectful. Leaning away from someone indicates a negative attitude, according to Stockton College.
No matter what you are saying verbally, your eyes show how you truly feel. People tend to look at the people to whom they are speaking or listening, and your eyes can give away your feelings of attraction, boredom, hostility, affection or disgust. Eye contact is an important part of back-and-forth talk. People engaged in conversation use eye contact to pace their speech and measure how the other person is responding.
Touch can carry a great deal of information. Touch, such as a tap on the shoulder, can serve to simply get someone’s attention. Certain kinds of touch can convey positive emotions--such as an affectionate pat on the arm, a friendly slap on the back or a warm hug. But touch is not always welcome, such as an controlling grip on the arm or an inappropriate sexual advance.
The amount of space between two people is also a form of nonverbal communication and often depends on the degree of intimacy or comfort between them. People who stand too close when speaking to you, particularly if you do not know them well, can make you feel uncomfortable. Space or the lack of it can convey either affection or aggression.