Thursday, 22 May 2008

Reading Nonverbal Communication Cues

A large percentage (studies suggest over 90%) of the meaning we derive from communication, we derive from the non-verbal cues that the other person gives. Often a person says one thing but communicates something totaly different through vocal intonation and body language. These mixed signals force the receiver to choose between the verbal and nonverbal parts of the message. Most often, the receiver chooses the nonverbal aspects. Mixed messages create tension and distrust because the receiver senses that the communicator is hiding something or is being less than candid.

Nonverbal communication is made up of the following parts:
1. Visual
2. Tactile
3. Vocal
4. Use of time, space, and image

This often called body language and includes facial expression, eye movement, posture, and gestures. The face is the biggest part of this. All of us "read" people's faces for ways to interpret what they say and feel. This fact becomes very apparent when we deal with someone with dark sunglasses. Of course we can easily misread these cues especially when communicating across cultures where gestures can mean something very different in another culture. For example, in American culture agreement might be indicated by the head going up and down whereas in India, a side-to-side head movement might mean the same thing.
We also look to posture to provide cues about the communicator; posture can indicate self-confidence, aggressiveness, fear, guilt, or anxiety. Similarly, we look at gestures such as how we hold our hands, or a handshake. Many gestures are culture bound and susceptible to misinterpreation

This involves the use of touch to impart meaning as in a handshake, a pat on the back, an arm around the shoulder, a kiss, or a hug.

The meaning of words can be altered significatnly by changing the intonation of one's voice. Think of how many ways you can say "no"-you could express mild doubt, terror, amazement, anger among other emotions. Vocal meanings vary across cultures. Intonation in one culture can mean support; another anger

Use of Time as Nonverbal Communication:
Use of time can communicate how we view our own status and power in relation to others. Think about how a subordinate and his/her boss would view arriving at a place for an agreed upon meeting..

Physical Space:
For most of us, someone standing very close to us makes us uncomfortable. We feel our "space" has been invaded. People seek to extend their territory in many ways to attain power and intimacy. We tend to mark our territory either with permanent walls, or in a classroom with our coat, pen, paper, etc. We like to protect and control our territory. For Americans, the "intimate zone" is about two feet; this can vary from culture to culture. This zone is reserved for our closest friends. The "personal zone" from about 2-4 feet usually is reserved for family and friends. The social zone (4-12 feet) is where most business transactions take place. The "public zone" (over 12 feet) is used for lectures.

At the risk of stereotyping, we will generalize and state that Americans and Northern Europeans typify the noncontact group with small amounts of touching and relativley large spaces between them during transactions. Arabs and Latins normally stand closer together and do a lot of touching during communication.

Similarly, we use "things" to communicate. This can involve expensive things, neat or messy things, photographs, plants, etc. Image: We use clothing and other dimensions of physical appearance to communicate our values and expectations Nonverbal Communication:
The use of gestures, movements, material things, time, and space can clarify or confuse the meaning of verbal communication. In the above example, factors such as Terry's tone, the time of Terry's call, will probably play a greater role in how the message is interpreted than the actual words themselves. Similarly, the tone of the boss will probably have a greater impact on how his message is interpreted than the actual words.

A "majority" of the meaning we attribute to words comes not from the words themselves, but from nonverbal factors such as gestures, facial expressions, tone, body language, etc. Nonverbal cues can play five roles:
1. Repetition: they can repeat the message the person is making verbally
2. Contradiction: they can contradict a message the individual is trying to convey
3. Substitution: they can substitute for a verbal message. For example, a person's eyes can often convery a far more vivid message than words and often do
4. Complementing: they may add to or complement a vebal message. A boss who pats a person on the back in addition to giving praise can increase the impact of the message
5. Accenting: non-verbal communication may accept or underline a verbal message. Pounding the table, for example, can underline a message.

Skillful communicators understand the importance of nonverbal communication and use it to increase their effectiveness, as well as use it to understand mroe clearly what someone else is really saying.
A word of warning. Nonverbal cues can differ dramatically from culture to culture. An American hand gesture meaning "A-OK" would be viewed as obscene in some South American countries. Be careful.

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