Why is nonverbal behaviour so important in understanding what is really being communicated?

Nonverbal communication forms the majority of our communication, with researchers suggesting that the nonverbal component of our communication is 60%, at a bare minimum. Some studies have shown it can be as high as 93% in some contexts. I would argue that it can be as high as 100%, as there are plenty of times when we aren't speaking, but still communicating. Think of these situations:

  • Lovemaking. I need say no more.
  • Driving: Lights and sounds can indicate and warn, but even without those we know when a car is coming forward, going backwards, turning- quickly or slowly, because we can see (and hear) the movement of the car and therefore the intentions of the driver. Think of that in terms of the movement of individuals...
  • Navigating their way through a crowded street. If someone is walking straight towards you, do you step to the side signalling their right of path? Or do you stay put and signal they need to accomodate you? Or do you both do a dance on the spot (and giggle), because you both accommodate each other?
  • Flirtatious signals, back and forth, between two strangers across a bar.
  • The shopper that continues to chat on her phone as she hands her card to the cashier, completing the process without words (to the cashier).
  • That 'look', from a wife/husband, mother/father, child. 

There are clear messages being signalled without the need for words. 100% nonverbal communication. 

And, if you're anything like me (not a morning person), your communication within the first half hour of waking may, like mine, consist of a series of grunts, gestures and expressions, with no words. My grunts, gestures and expressions usually say:

"I'm tired"
"Love you"
"you too" (in response to have a good day)

The grunts are delivered in the same way (tone, etc) I'd deliver the words. But my mouth doesn't open. And words don't come out. Yet I'm understood. 

Even when we are communicating with words, nonverbal communication is still the majority component of our communication. I occasionally meet people that disagree with this, if you're one of them...

Yes, we do have words which can communicate a lot of complex theories, thoughts and feelings, and yes we communicate with words a lot of the time. Here's the caveat:

  • All of us have the ability to filter and adapt our words to conceal our true emotions, or convey the message we want the receiver to hear.
  • Some of us, those that understand nonverbal communication cues, have the ability to filter and adapt our body language, expressions and vocal delivery to convey the message we want to convey.
  • None of us have the ability to conceal involuntary nonverbal cues that signal how we really feel.

And let's face it, by the time we're adults most of us have learned how to conceal how we really feel, by dumbing down our expressions and gestures. In the name of protecting others from the truth, protecting ourselves from consequences or to make ourselves look better. Look a little closer and you'll see elements of the expressions and gestures that the communicator attempted to conceal. Or, you'll see specific nonverbal cues that signal misalignment between words and behaviour, or lack of confidence in their spoken words. 

These nonverbal cues are received primarily on a subconscious level. They give us a gut feeling about a situation and the resulting emotion drives our behaviour. We may hear words that make sense, but we don't quite trust the person who spoke them. Why? Because their behaviour was a little off. Most people don't know specifically which nonverbal cues they picked up on, but their subconscious was busy interpreting the whole of the interaction, while their conscious brain was mainly listening to the words. 

If you'd like to learn more about nonverbal communication, my alCOM.y offers professional development training sessions, including:

First Impressions Count
The Power of Gesture & the Halo Effect
Empowering Women
Formidable You!
Identifying Negative Nonverbal Signals




Sophie ZadehComment