Mayville State University Professor Rhonda Nelson

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Nonverbal Communication

Jamie Olson

Nonverbal Communication

Jamie Olson

Mayville State University

Professor Rhonda Nelson

Table of Contents

Definition of Nonverbal Communication and Its Importance 3

Senders and Receivers 3

Intonation 4

Tone 4

Vocal Noise 5

Posture 5

Gestures 5

Facial Expressions 5

Pause 6

Space 6

Understanding Nonverbal Communication 6

Definition of Nonverbal Communication and Its Importance

Nonverbal communication is communication that is expressed without words. Nonverbal communication can change the meaning behind a message you are trying to send or receive. If you tell someone you are happy to see them but during the course of the conversation you tap your foot and check your watch you are contradicting what was said. Most people put more emphasis on nonverbal actions than what a speaker says because many times nonverbal actions are unconscious. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”

Nonverbal communication also helps to make the receiver understand the message the speaker is trying to say more clearly by emphasizing the message, embellishing, stressing and clarifying it. There are many examples of nonverbal communication some of which are intonation, tone, vocal noises, posture, gestures, facial expressions and eye movement, and pause.

Senders and Receivers

Communication needs a sender and receiver. The sender chooses the appropriate channel for communication. This is an important first step because if the message is not effectively received it loses its value. When the sender encodes the message that it wants the receiver to get it includes nonverbal communication as well. Most channels of communication include forms of nonverbal communication. When the message is conveyed over the phone things like tone, pitch, pause and vocal noise can affect how a message is decoded. When the receiver decodes the message this is where the receiver interprets the message. Nonverbal communication plays an important role in how a message will be perceived by an audience. It is important for a sender to be aware of what type of nonverbal communication they are sending and how it can be interpreted.


Intonation is the pitch that a speaker uses when sending their message. It can tell the receiver if the sender is making a statement or asking a question. If the sender is asking a question the pitch will rise at the end of the sentence. If they are making a statement their pitch will fall at the end of the sentence. Intonation also can put emphasis on a particular word in a sentence to make it stand out. The speaker may not even be aware that they are doing it.


The tone a speaker uses can tell the person listening how the speaker feels about the message they are giving. A speaker uses tone to control an audience’s reaction. Some of the most common examples of tone are aggressive, nervous, monotonous and enthusiastic.

Vocal Noise

Vocal noise is sounds that are made but are not considered language. Some examples of this are laughter, sighs, screams and grunts. When someone is speaking and they sigh before making the statement it can tell the people listening that they are annoyed or agitated. If the listener sighs it can tell the speaker they are not interested in hearing what they have to say.


Posture is the state of a person’s body, more specifically it is the position a body is in not the movements it makes. It describes if a person sitting, standing, slouched, and has their legs or arms crossed and if they are standing erect. It can tell someone how a sender or receiver feels about a message. How a person is standing or sitting gives the speaker an indication on how receptive their audience is.


Gestures are movements made by people’s bodies, typically their limbs. Gestures are typically used with oral communication to express or emphasis feelings. There are gestures that need no verbalization to understand the meaning. Some of these gestures are waving, thumbs up and the middle finger. When it comes to gestures you have to be aware of whom you are using them. Gestures can be done without even realizing they are being done. Gestures differ between cultures and one gesture may mean okay in one country and have a vulgar meaning in a different culture.

Facial Expressions

Ones face is where emotions are displayed. You can tell how a person feels or what their intentions are. A smile, frown, smirk or wrinkled brow can tell you if a person is happy, unhappy, made or frustrated. Eye movement is the most important part of facial movements. Wide eyes, rolling eyes, direct stare or downward glance shows surprise, annoyance, respect or self-consciousness. Eyes can give someone that is trying to be deceitful away because they show what the sender is feeling. Eye contact is also essential to keeping the flow of conversation. One unique thing about facial expressions is they are universal; they have the same meaning across cultures.


A pause can give away a person’s uncertainty or hesitation. A pause can show a positive feeling or negative feeling. Pauses sometimes can be read wrong because their meanings can have such variances in meaning.


Space is the closeness in proximity that a person stands. When someone stands to close it makes others uncomfortable. The problem with this is what is considered to close depends on the intimacy of the people and differs between cultures.

Understanding Nonverbal Communication

In a landmark study, UCLA Professor Albert Mehrabian found in face-to-face communications, 55 percent of the message comes from body language, 38 percent from how the message is delivered (tone, rate of speech, volume) and only 7 percent from the words used. Words can mislead: but the body does not lie.”1

If a speaker understands how to use nonverbal communication when delivering their message it will make it more effective. Part of this is schooling habits. Some habits are inherent referred to as genetic habits. An example would be posture due to an anatomical reason. Other habits are learned habits. These can be imitated from watching others.2 When using nonverbal communication to emphasis a message it is important to realize that more than likely more than one type is needed to be perceived as believable. There are two categories for nonverbal communication positive and negative. Positive signals show comfort and openness. Negative signals show discomfort and indifference.

Not only is it important for the sender to understand and utilize nonverbal communication but it is just as important for the receiver to understand it. They need to be able to read the signals that the sender is putting out to know how to react to the message.

Works Cited

Segal, Jeanne, Ph.D., Smith, Melinda, M.A., Boose, Greg and Jaffe, Jaelline , Ph.D. Nonverbal Communications. Feb 2014. m. Feb 24, 2014.

Besson, Chantal, Graf, Daria, Hartung, Insa, Kropfhäusser, Barbara and Voisard, Séverine. The importance of non-verbal communication in professional interpretation. Jan 2005. AIIC. Feb 18, 2014.

Schwartz, Andrew E. Communication: The Relationship between Information Sender and Receiver. Jul 26, 2005. Ezine Articles. Feb 15, 2014.

Rush, Morgan. Benefit of Nonverbal Communication in Business. 2014. Chron. Feb 20, 2014.

What is Communication? 2011-2014. Skills You Need. what-is-communication.html. Mar 3, 2014.

Adler, Ronald B, Elmhorst, Jeanne, and Lucas, Kristen. Communicating at Work. 2013. New York: McGraw Hill.

Schnurman, Mark. 2014. The Key Is Understanding Nonverbal Communication. Commercial Observer.

Poyatos, Fernando. 2002. Nonverbal Communication Across Disciplines. Amsterdam : J. Benjamins Pub. Co. Mar 4 2014.

1 Schnurman, Mark. 2014. The Key Is Understanding Nonverbal Communication. Commercial Observer.

2 Poyatos, Fernando. Nonverbal Communication Across Disciplines. 2002, 5.

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