Elements of Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication involves numerous elements, such as gestures, intonation, proximity, volume, word choice, eye contact and many others. Andrews University says that nonverbal messages serve to repeat, accent, complement, regulate or substitute for a verbal message. Different cultures rely on disparate systems of nonverbal communication, making misunderstandings and faux pas common.

Two men playing around on a couch. (Image: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images)

Facial Expressions

The facial expressions you use during communication affect how the listener interprets your meaning. Extreme facial expressions, such as those that indicate anger or happiness, indicate that you have obvious feelings about your subject matter. Less obvious facial expressions, such as raising one eyebrow slightly or scrunching your face, may impart a variety of meanings, depending on context. For example, if you scrunch your face during a conversation, the other person might think you find something displeasing about the subject matter. If you scrunch your face when there is no conversation going on, an observer might think you are displeased about something nearby, such as a smell.

Body Posture

How and where you stand is an important element of nonverbal communication. For example, leaning toward a speaker indicates intense interest. Frequently looking away from the speaker indicates disinterest or impatience. The meaning of different body stances and positions varies among cultures, according to Andrews University. For example, in Thailand, showing someone the soles of your feet is offensive. Slouching or hunching over is disrespectful in Northern European cultures. In Turkey, putting your hands in your pockets is rude.


Every culture has hand movements and gestures that convey specific meanings, according to Andrews University. Some hand movements are innocuous in one culture but aggressive or insulting in another. For example, people in some cultures, such as the United States, use their index fingers to point. But in many Asian cultures, pointing with the fingers is rude.


Paralanguage is the culture-specific stylistic element that people use while speaking. Andrews University breaks paralanguage down into three groups: vocal characterizers, vocal qualifiers and vocal segregates. Vocal characterizers include things like yawning, laughing, crying and moaning, which convey meanings to an audience. Vocal qualifiers include such elements as tone, tempo, rhythm, pitch and volume. For example, speaking rapidly and in a high pitch indicates excitement in many cultures. Vocal segregates include such sounds as “uh-uh” or “mmmm,” noises which convey messages about internal feelings, such as dissent or pleasure.

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