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The Functions and Channels of Nonverbal Communication

L.N. Bunina

Источник статьи: Вісник ЛНУ імені Тараса Шевченка № 16 (179), 2009. Cc. 11-16.

The article highlights the peculiarities and role of nonverbal communication. The main Channels and Functions of Nonverbal Communication are described and analyzed.

В статье автор анализирует основные функции невербальной комуникации как одного из основных способов передачи информации в жизни человека. На основе примеров, автор описывает и рассматривает различные каналы, через которые осуществляется невербальная коммуникация. Автор сосредотачивает внимание на культурных особенностях, которые должны учитываться во время невербальных коммуникативных актов.

 

Nonverbal communication is communication without words. People communicate nonverbally when they gesture, smile or frown, widen eyes, wear jewelry, touch someone, raise vocal volume, or even they say nothing. In face-to-face communication people blend verbal and nonverbal messages to best convey their messages. There are five ways in which nonverbal messages are used with verbal ones [1].

Nonverbal communication is often used to accent or emphasize some part of a verbal message. A person can raise the voice to underscore a particular word or phrase, bang his fist on the desk to stress commitment, or look longingly into someone’s eyes when saying the words of love.

Nonverbal communication may complement or add nuances of meaning not communicating by verbal message. Thus, a person might smile when telling a story (to suggest that he finds it humorous) or frown and shake the head when recounting someone’s deceit (to suggest disapproval). A person may deliberately contradict verbal messages with nonverbal movements – for example, by crossing the fingers or winking to indicate that someone is lying.

Movements may be used to regulate, control, or indicate a desire to control, the flow of verbal messages, as when a person purse the lips, lean forward, or make hand gestures to indicate that he/she wants to speak. A person may also vocalize the pauses (for example, with “um” or “ah”) to indicate that he/she has not finished and is not ready to relinquish the floor to the next speaker.

People may also use nonverbal communication to substitute or take the place of verbal messages. For instance, he/she can signal “OK” with a hand gesture. A communicator can nod his head to indicate “yes” or shake it to indicate “no”, or glance at the watch to communicate his concern with time. The goal of the article is to describe channels and analyze the functions of nonverbal communication.

Nonverbal communication is probably most easily explained in terms of the various channels through which messages pass. They are: body, face, eyes, space, artifactual, touch, paralanguage, silence, time and smell. Nonverbal researches identify five major types of body movements: emblems, illustrators, affect displays, regulators and adaptors [2]. Emblems are gestures that directly translate into words or phrases, for example, The “OK” sign, the thumbs-up for “good job” and “V” for victory. People use these consciously and purposely to communicate the same meanings as the words. But emblems are culture specific.

Illustrators enhance the verbal messages they accompany. For example, when referring to something to the left, a person may gesture toward the left. A person can also use illustrators to communicate the shape or size of objects. Affect displays include movements of the face (smiling or frowning) as well as the hands and general body (body tension or relaxation) that communicate emotional meaning. Regulators are behaviors that monitor, control, coordinate, or maintain the speaking of another individual.

Adaptors are gestures that satisfy some personal need. Self- adaptors are self-touching movements (rubbing a nose, moving hair out of the eyes). Alteradaptors are movements directed at the person with whom a person is speaking (removing lint from somebody’s jacket, straightening a person’s tie). Object-adaptors are gestures focused on objects (doodling on or shredding a Styrofoam coffee cup).

Throughout interpersonal interactions, our face communicates many things, especially our emotions. Some researchers in nonverbal communication claim that facial movements may express at least the following eight emotions: happiness, surprise, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, contempt, and interest. Others propose that in addition, facial movements may also communicate bewilderment and determination [3].

Research on communication via the eyes shows that these messages vary depending on the duration, direction, and quality of the eye behavior. In every culture there are strict, though unstated, rules for the proper duration for eye contact. With eye contact person send a variety of messages. One such message is a request for feedback. In talking with someone, we look at her or him intently, as if to say, “Well, what do you think?”

Another type of message informs the other person that the channel of communication is open and that he or she should now speak. We see this regularly in conversation when one person asks a question or finishes a thought and then looks for response.

Eye contact may also send messages about the nature of relationship. For example, if we engage in prolonged eye contact coupled with a smile, we will signal a positive relationship. If we stare or glare at the person while frowning, we will signal a negative relationship.

Our use of space to communicate – an area of study known technically as proxemics. Edward Hall distinguishes four distances that define the type of relationship between people and the type of communication in which they are likely to engage:

1. Intimate distance, ranging from actual touching to 18 inches, the presence of the other individual is unmistakable. Each person experiences the sound, smell, and feel of the other’s breath. We use intimate distance for lovemaking, comforting, and protecting. This distance is so short that most people do not consider it proper in public.

2. Personal distance defines our personal space, ranging from 18inches to 4 feet. At this distance we conduct much of our interpersonal interaction; for example, talking with friends and family.

3. At social distance, ranging from 4 to 12 feet, we lose the visual detail we have at personal distance. We conduct impersonal business and interact at a social gathering at this social distance. The more distance we maintain in our interactions, the more formal they appear.

4. Public distance, from 12 to more than 25 feet, protects us. At this distance we could take defensive action if threatened. At this distance we lose fine details of the face and eyes, we are still close enough to see what is happening [3]. Members of different cultures treat space differently. For example, those from northern European countries and many Americans stand fairly far apart when conversing; those from southern European and Middle Eastern cultures tend to stand much closer.

Artifactual messages are those made by human hands. Thus, color, clothing, jewelry, and decoration of space would be considered artifactual. Color communication also influences perceptions and behaviors.

People’s acceptance of a product can be largely determined by its packaging, especially its color. Even our acceptance of a person may depend on the colors worn. Our socioeconomic class, our seriousness and attitudes (whether we are conservative or liberal), our sense of style, and even our creativity will be judged in part by the way we dress. The way we decorate our private spaces speaks about our personality. Touch communication, or tactile communication, is perhaps the most primitive form of communication. Touch develops before the other senses. Researchers in the field of haptics – the study of touch – have identified the major meanings of touch:

· Positive emotion. Touch may communicate such positive feelings as support, appreciation, inclusion, sexual interest or intent, and affection.

· Playfulness. Touch often communicates our intention to play, either affectionately or aggressively.

· Control. Touch may direct the behaviors, attitudes, or feelings of the other person.

· Ritual. Ritualistic touching centers on greetings and departures; for a example, shaking hands to say hello or goodbye or hugging, kissing, or putting our arm around another’s shoulder when greeting or saying farewell.

· Task-relatedness. Task-related touching occurs while we are performing some function, such as removing a speck of dust from another person’s face or helping someone out of a car [2]. The term paralanguage refers to the vocal but nonverbal dimensions of speech. It refers to how we say something, not what we say. Significant differences in meaning are easily communicated depending on where the speaker places the stress.

In addition to stress and pitch (highness or lowness), paralanguage includes such voice qualities or vocal characteristics as rate (speed), volume (Loudness), and rhythm as well as the vocalization we make in crying, whispering, moaning, belching, yawning, and yelling.

Paralanguage cues are often used as a basis for judgments about people; for a example, evaluations of their emotional state or even their personality. A listener can accurately judge the emotional state of a speaker from vocal expression alone, if both speaker and listener speak the same language. Paralanguage cues are not so accurate when used to communicate emotions to those who speak a different language.

Like words and gestures, silence, too, communicates important meanings and serves important functions [4]. Silence allows the speaker time to think, time to formulate and organize his or her verbal communication. Some people use silence as a weapon to hurt others. We often speak of giving someone “the silent treatment”. After a conflict, for a example, one or both individuals may remain silent as a kind of punishment. Sometimes silence is used as a response to personal anxiety, shyness, or threats. We may feel anxious or shy among new people and prefer to remain silent.

The study of temporal communication, known technically as chronemics, concerns the use of time – how we organize it, react to it, and communicate messages through it. The time orientation we develop depends on our socioeconomic class and personal experience.

Different time perspectives also account for much intercultural misunderstanding, as different cultures often teach their members drastically different time orientation. For example, people from some Latin cultures would rather be late for an appointment than end a conversation abruptly or before it has come to a natural end. So the Latin may see lateness as a result of politeness. But others may see this as impoliteness to the person with whom he or she had the appointment [5].

Smell communication, or olfactory communication, is extremely important in a wide variety of situations and is now big business today. The most important messages scent seems to communicate are:

· Attraction messages. Humans use perfumes, colognes, aftershave lotions, and the like to enhance their attractiveness to others and to themselves. When the smells are pleasant, we feel better about ourselves.

· Taste messages. Without smell, taste would be severely impaired. For example, without smell it would be difficult to taste the difference between a raw potato and an apple.

· Memory messages. Smell is a powerful memory aid; we often recall situations from months and even years ago when we happen upon a similar smell.

· Identification messages. Smell is often used to create an image or an identity for a product. Much attention is paid to this aspect in advertising and manufacturing. There is also evidence that we can identify specific significant others by smell [6].

To sum up, nonverbal communication is very important in people’s life and can be either effective or not. It has its special functions and channels through which we can send and exchange different messages. What is more, it is heavily influenced by culture. Cultural variations in nonverbal communication are great. Different cultures assign different meanings to facial expressions and to colors, have different spatial rules, and treat time very differently.

Because culture permeates all forms of communication, it’s necessary to understand its influence, how interpersonal communication works and master interpersonal nonverbal communication skills. The principals for communicating information and for changing listeners’ attitudes will vary from one culture to another. If we are to understand nonverbal communication, we need to know its principles vary and how the principles must be qualified and adjusted on the basis of cultural differences. And of course people need cultural understanding in order to communicate effectively in a wide variety of intercultural situations.

 

Bibliography

1. Knapp, Mark L. Nonverbal behavior in human interaction / Mark L. Knapp. – New York: Holt, 1996. – 127 p.

2. Ekman, Paul Communication through nonverbal behavior: A source of information about an interpersonal relationship / Paul Ekman. – New York: Springer, 1985. – 259 p.

3. Leathers, Dale G. Successful nonverbal communication: Principles and applications / Dale G. Leathers. – New York: Macmillan, 1997. – 168 p.

4. Jaworski, Adam The power of silence: Social and pragmatic perspectives/ Adam Jaworski. – CA: Sage, 1993. – 257 p.

5. Hall, Edward T. Hidden differences: Doing business with the Japanese / Edward T. Hall. – New York: Doubleday, 1987. – 97 p.

6. Kleinfield, N. R. The smell of money / N. R. Kleinfield // The New York Times. – October 25. – 1992. – P. 1 – 8.

 

 

 
 

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communication without words, communicate nonverbally, Nonverbal communication, verbal message, functions of nonverbal communication, Особенности невербальной коммуникации на английском языке, interpersonal interactions, facial movements, Eye contact, Public distance, Personal distance, Paralanguage, temporal communication, intercultural misunderstanding, невербальная коммуникация, функции невербальной коммуникации, каналы невербальной коммуникации