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What is Nonverbal Communication?. No one definition Dr. A. O’Brien. Verbal and Nonverbal are. so intertwined that there’s a fuzzy line between them. The idea is…. there are categories of communication that overlap some aspects of each other. It’s not as simple as: WORDS NO WORDS.

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what is nonverbal communication

What is Nonverbal Communication?

No one definition

Dr. A. O’Brien

verbal and nonverbal are
Verbal and Nonverbal are

so intertwined that

there’s a fuzzy line between them.

the idea is
The idea is…

there are categories of communication that overlap some aspects of each other.

pioneer in nonverbal research ray birdwhistell
Pioneer in nonverbal researchRay Birdwhistell
  • defines nonverbal communication
    • ... the signals to which meaning will be attributed
  • some sounds are not vocal,
  • e.g., snapping one’s fingers, stamping a foot
  • …nv includes vocal and nonvocal phenomena
also other vocal phenomena
Also other vocal phenomena
  • more sounds than words e.g., zap...buzz
some nonvocal

Some nonvocal

made with the breath,

taking a small bit of air

onomatopoetic words - zzz

mehrabian uses




Mehrabian uses
categorizes implicit or non verbal behavior
Categorizes implicit or non verbal behavior
  • Immediacy
  • Status
  • Responsiveness
body motion kinesic gestures
Body Motion (Kinesic Gestures)

Movements of the:

  • Body
  • Limbs
  • Head
  • feet and legs
  • facial expressions
  • eye behavior
  • posture
Some movements provide information about emotions
  • Some give info about personality traits or attitude
ekman friesen
Ekman & Friesen

Classification of nonverbal acts


nonverbal acts with

a direct verbal translation

a word or two or a phrase... generally culture specific

  • Thumbs up OK
  • V with fingers peace
  • Finger pointed to temple suicide
  • Hand grasping throat choke
  • hand to mouth eating
  • tilt head, eyes closed sleeping
use of emblems a
Use of Emblems (a)
  • Insults
  • Directions come go stop slow down
  • Greetings
  • Departures
use of emblems b
Use of Emblems (b)

selected responses to questions yes no maybe I don’t knowphysical stateemotion triumphant angry sad

part of body associated with emblems
Part of body associated with emblems
  • Often the hands... but not exclusively
  • Nose wrinkle Disgust
  • Drop of the jaw and exaggeratedraising of the eyebrows Surprise
  • Upturned palms, shrugged shoulders Uncertainty
use of emblems 1
Use of Emblems 1
  • When verbal channels of communication are blocked
  • Sign language of the deaf
  • Gestures used by television production personnel
  • Gestures used by SWAT team
use of emblems 2
Use of Emblems 2
  • Signs between two underwater swimmers.
  • Motions made by people too far apart to hear each other well.
  • We choose emblems the way we choose words
  • We don’t think very much about it.
  • We generally don’t string emblems together.
  • directly tied to speech - movements that
    • accentuate a word or phrase
    • sketch a path of thought
    • point to present objects
    • depict a spatial relationship
    • depict the pacing of an event
    • draw a picture of the referent
    • depict bodily action

They may also be emblems used to illustrate verbal statements;but you leave the word out and use the emblem.

aware of the illustrators
Aware of the illustrators?
  • Less deliberate than emblems. (They seem to be within the realm of awareness, but we are not as aware of them as we are of emblems which we use much more deliberately.)
frequency of illustrators
Frequency of Illustrators
  • ...more in face to face situations
  • ...fewer over the intercom or telephone
  • ... in excitement and enthusiastic situations
  • ... when the receiver isn’t getting the message through words alone
  • ... when you can’t find the right word
affect displays
Affect Displays
  • Facial configurations that display affective states: sad tired ecstatic
  • Used to:
    • Repeat
    • Augment
    • contradict
    • can be unrelated to verbal affective statements.
affect displays1
Affect Displays
  • Can occur without our knowing it; (Once it happens we are aware of it.)
  • We may or may not want to communicate our affective state through such displays
regulators 1
Regulators 1

Non verbal acts

that maintain

and regulate

the interactions between two or more participants.

regulators 2
Regulators 2
  • They can tell the speaker to: continue hurry up become more interesting explain let the other talk
turn taking regulators
Turn-taking regulators

(the most studied kind) Head tilting Nods Eye contact

e.g. less eye contact if you want to terminate conversation.

status of regulators
Status of regulators
  • On the periphery of our awareness; hard to stop them.
  • Almost involuntary
  • We may not be aware of doing it ourselves, but are very aware when others do it to us.
  • Learned early in life
  • Less well documented
  • Less well understood
self adaptors

Manipulations of own body indicating increase in anxiety


  • holding
  • scratching
  • picking oneself
  • eye-cover contact - (might be shame or sadness)
alter adaptors

Related to interpersonal behaviors; probable holdovers from early aggression, fleeing, fighting


leg movements

looking over shoulder before gossiping

object adaptors
Object adaptors

Learned later in life - more socially acceptable

  • stroking a pipe
  • tapping a pencil
  • hands in pockets
  • twisting a ring
physical characteristics
Physical Characteristics
  • Not all nonverbal communication comes through movement and motion
  • Some are static self presentation characteristics
    • body height
    • Weight
    • Hair
    • skin color, tone
    • breath odor
touching behavior

Touching Behavior



guiding another’s motion

  • How - not what you say.
  • Speech behavior
    • Voice quality and pitch
    • Range and rhythm control
    • Tempo
    • Articulation
    • Resonance
    • Glottis control
    • Vocal and lip control
  • Non verbal sounds - not words, but convey a meaning.
  • Divided into three categories:
    • vocal characterizers
    • vocal qualifiers
    • vocal segregates
vocal characterizers
vocal characterizers
  • Laughing
  • Sighing
  • Crying
  • Belching
  • Inhaling
  • Excessive groaning
  • Whining
  • Yelling
  • Whispering
vocal qualifiers
vocal qualifiers
  • intensity (loud-soft)
  • pitch height
  • high-low
    • extreme drawl to extreme clipping
vocal segregates separators
vocal segregates (separators)

“um” “uh” “ah”

  • use and perception of social and personal space.
  • Small group ecology - seating arrangements spatial relationships related to leadership, communication flow

Personal space orientation variations sex, age, status, cultural orientation, etc..

Territoriality - term associated with our staking out a personal space we don”t want infringed upon.

  • When objects interact with persons to send nv cues clothes lipstick false eyelashes

wigs perfume

environmental factors
Environmental Factors
  • Associated with the communication event that impinge upon the human relationship, but not part of it.
    • furniture
    • architectural style
    • interior decorating
    • lighting conditions
    • colors
    • temperature

The End

based on Mark Knapp’s research in nonverbal communication from Bridges Not Walls: A Book About Interpersonal Communication, John Stewart, ed., McGraw-Hill Publishing Co., 1990.