Nonverbal ways of communicating

Part 1, Part 2

In Part 1 of this article I've listed some of the most common and well-known non verbal communication methods. On this page, we'll take a brief look at body language, and we'll start exploring ways in which you might begin learning how to interpret non verbal communication.

Communicating non-verbally with body language

For an overview of movements of the body, visit my page on Body Language Signs.

Body language too is a type of non verbal communication.

Thought you weren't any good at reading body language? Think again ... watch the super video from Urban Theory Films on my page on Interpreting Body Language. Not a word spoken, but so much being 'said'.

Nonverbal signs of a 'nervous breakdown'

How would you know that someone is 'not doing very well' and is perhaps on the verge of a mental breakdown or burn-out?

10 Signs of a person on the edge of a breakdown

There are many nonverbal indicators of a person who is on the edge of a nervous breakdown, for example they may:

  1. have hunched-over shoulders
  2. look either quite 'blank' and in a trance or as if they’re being 'chased'
  3. be fidgety or restless
  4. cry easily (well ... that might just be very verbal!)
  5. become easily irritated and angry
  6. be 'jumpy'
  7. have stress 'written all over their face'
  8. display markedly changed body-language from what you would normally observe in them
  9. show weight loss or weight gain
  10. seem 'in trance' or 'not with it' much of the time

Making the most of your body language

Communicating with someone close does not only involve talking and listening.

You communicate your love for your partner or spouse nonverbally with your body, by:

  • making and holding eye contact
  • holding hands
  • smiling, laughing
  • winking
  • touching, stroking, cuddling, embracing
  • kissing
  • making love and so on

Interpreting nonverbal ways of communicating

This can be a minefield! 

Now that you've read about the various different types of non verbal communication, it's important to know the pitfalls of interpreting any signs you might think you've noticed in other people around you.

The danger of interpreting nonverbal communication

Body language in particular can potentially provide additional information about thoughts and feelings. It may reveal an incongruence between what’s being said and what’s really going on inside. For instance: someone may say "yes", whilst shaking their head.

Feelings may not be expressed verbally, but they can ‘leak out’ and ‘morph’ into body movements, often without the individual being at all aware.

Use what you observe as a ‘sign post’ and make a mental note. You may want to return to what was discussed some time later. Do it gently though - you wouldn’t want to bulldoze through their defences.

It’s wise to avoid making assumptions - you could be so wrong! Our brain makes thousands of minuscule observations that never reach our conscious awareness. Can you really be sure that the nonverbal signs you consciously observe are not connected with another process?

Ask yourself what other train of thought, feeling or impulse may have sparked that nonverbal signal?  Are you sure that you’re not looking for what you would really expect or want to see?

The meaning of nonverbal communication

And he looked at me, and he said: "Your arms and legs are closed. You're closed to new ideas."
And I looked down at my legs and I said: "That's not where ideas go in, I don't think!"

Richard Bandler

It’s not helpful to attach a ‘fixed meaning’ to particular movements or holds. It used to drive me bonkers when I heard colleagues say the client was or felt this or that, because he folded his arms or she crossed her legs!

It’s important to take note of all aspects of body language, so here’s a little more detail on this subject…

The types and signs that make the body 'dance'

There is constant movement in your body. It changes from moment to moment with the meaning of what you’re thinking and what you’re trying to say out loud in company.  

The body is seldom static.  Really learning to pick up on all the nuances and all types of non verbal communication takes practice and time.

Over time you’ll find yourself noticing more and more detail as you progress from any stage between being consciously incompetent to being unconsciously competent.

Close up of couple, smiling, noses against each other

The research on nonverbal communication

Much of the commonly quoted research on nonverbal communication is incorrect.  Do follow the link below and read the article - the author describes exactly how the misconceptions came about.

The myth

Communication is made up of:

• 55 % body language

• 33 % tone of voice

• 12 % words


The role of 'expectation' in nonverbal communication

Can you really be sure that you correctly match what you observe on the outside with what’s happening on the 'inside' of that person - regardless of which type of nonverbal communication we are talking about?

Remember too that you’re likely to have an expectation. You may be hoping for a particular sign, such as an indication of interest or love. You may be vigilant and watch out for a potential signs of danger, for example if you live in an environment where there is a threat of violence.

Having an expectation may:

  • set you up for disappointment
  • cause a surprise
  • sharpen your awareness and protect you
  • cause you to filter out other signs
  • be observed in your body language
  • be picked up by the other person
  • be misinterpreted

Rather than to take a risk by taking a shortcut, it’s far better to take the time to really get to know someone and/or look for other signs to confirm your expectations. 

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Part 1, Part 2

Related Articles

Body Language Signs
Interpreting Body Language
List of Emotions and Feelings
Relationship Communication
Warning Signs of a Break-up
Signs Indicative of Possible Infidelity
Signs of a Nervous Breakdown

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