I have here a huge list of various types of nonverbal communication.
Whilst my website is largely about verbal communication in couples relationships, it would be incomplete without a page on the non-verbal stuff.
Nonverbal communication is most often linked with talking and – more importantly – listening.
Your listening skills – and therefore your responding skills – will really improve if you supplement listening with observing someone’s body language and other non-verbal communication.
Spend time sharpening your awareness of body language and other non-verbal stuff and everyone around you will benefit from your upgraded communication skills.
And when it comes to your intimate relationship, you’ll get better at picking up signs from your partner that could otherwise easily go unnoticed! If you communicate (read: listen and watch) well, not only will everyone around you benefit, but you’ll increase your happiness for sure.
Just in case this page doesn’t have what you’re looking for, hop over to my article: Body Language Signs.
Types of nonverbal communication: an overview
There’s a whole variety of ways in which we communicate meaning. Some kinds of nonverbal communication are more obvious than others.
You could argue that the following sign languages are technically a verbal way of communicating. Although there are no sounds, the languages are made up of a combination of words, expressions and often mouthing words or meanings as well as gestures.
There are 5 types of sign language:
- Sign language for the deaf
- Sign language for people who are deaf and blind
- Sign language for children and adults with special needs and communication problems, such as Makaton (see link further down)
- Sign language for babies – a most fabulous way to understand and communicate with your hearing baby before he or she can speak!
- Sign language for communicating with animals, e.g. dogs and dolphins
Visit this fantastic page on sign languages of the world for links to other sign languages.
7 other forms of nonverbal communication – body language
- Accidental body language – all the different types of movements, postures and facial expressions
- Intentional body language – empathetic movements and touch, postures and facial expressions
- Intentional body language – violent/abusive movements and touch, postures and facial expressions
- Observance and use or abuse of personal space
- Dance (have a look at the incredible video further down)
- Vocal sounds without words: laughter, crying, expression of pain, sounds like: “Mmmmm”, “Aha”, “Ugh!” etc. These all express wordlessly a variety of feelings, such as surprise, disgust, happiness, anger, sadness and so on.
- Touch too is a nonverbal way of communicating
3 new types of non-verbal communication
- Emoticons in emails and texts are the newest addition to this list
- Deliberately posting photos on Facebook and other social media to provoke a reaction
- Digital manipulation of images to cause a particular reaction
Silence, respect and disrespect
Of course, not saying anything when there’s an expectation that something should be said is nonverbal communication too. Interpreting this kind of non-verbal communication requires careful exploration, understanding of the context and most probably additional information.
Respect or disrespect for cultural differences also communicates meaning.
All of the above types of nonverbal communication overlap, of course. Intentional body language and types of nonverbal communication constantly leak unintentional stuff.
Dance – the most beautiful way of communicating non-verbally
Make yourself a hot drink (or cool one!), sit somewhere comfortable, kick your shoes off and watch this extraordinary video by the dance company Pilobolus. The dance is called “Symbiosis”.
This is a great piece for discussing dance as a type of nonverbal communication – perhaps on a course or for your studies. See the highs and lows of this couple’s relationship literally unfold before your eyes. It is rated as “jaw-dropping” on TED.com. Enjoy!
Other art forms as examples of nonverbal communication
Verbal communication paints a different picture that ‘sounds’ or feels different for each one of us. That can get very tricky because the truth as you see, hear or feel it may not be the same truth as that of the next person! And often what you communicate is a representation of what you saw, heard or felt and it may just come across differently than you had intended. No wonder then we so often misunderstand each other!
But here are some fabulous ways to communicate without words! These art forms can express so much more clearly what you truly think and feel:
- sculpture, etc.
Although art too can, of course, be misinterpreted, so approach with an open mind!
8 indirect, nonverbal ways of communicating
This is where an understanding of psychology is helpful. As a counsellor, for instance, I get a lot of information from the following ways people communicate non-verbally. Together with what’s being verbalised, it helps to build a fuller picture of what’s actually going on:
- Forgetting a date that’s important to someone else
- Not arriving for a date/occasion/appointment when you’re expected
- Ignoring someone
- Using someone
- Not helping someone when you could
- Going out of your way to help someone
- Removing or exhibiting signs of your rank before talking to someone of a lower (or higher) rank
- Dressing up or dressing down for an occasion or event – to fit in, impress, stand out or disrespect
There are lots of other things that give out information about yourself, including…
- The kind of books you read
- The way you dress
- The programmes you watch
- The magazines you subscribe to
- The websites you visit
- The organisations you belong to
Your possessions – or things you’d like to own – also communicate without you uttering a word. Things like your house, your car, your gadgets, your furniture… generally, your taste in pretty much everything!
9 types of nonverbal communication used by professionals
Nonverbal communication plays a key role in lots of professions too, including…
- Morse code
- Use of flags
- Signing used by referees
- Tic-tac – used by on-course betters on horses in the UK
- Trading signals
- Wearing a rank specific uniform
- Service and Regiment specific uniforms
- Wearing a uniform of any kind
- Size or site of an office
…to name but a few!
Making the most of your body language
Communicating with someone close doesn’t 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
- touching, stroking, cuddling, embracing
- making love and so on
The danger of interpreting nonverbal communication
Body language, in particular, can potentially provide additional information about thoughts and feelings. It may reveal a discrepancy 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 signpost and make a mental note. You may want to return to what was discussed sometime later. Do it gently though – you wouldn’t want to bulldoze through the other person’s 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 something else altogether?
Ask yourself what another 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!”
It’s not helpful to attach a fixed meaning to particular movements or gestures. 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 of being consciously incompetent to unconsciously competent.
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 because 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. Read more…
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’re talking about?
Remember 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 potential signs of danger, e.g. 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.
I hope this overview of the types of nonverbal communication has given you a good insight into what is actually a vast topic!
There’s plenty more to learn, and if you’re studying to become a mental health counsellor or related profession, be sure to also read my article What is counselling/therapy all about.
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