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MAC 111






3.0Main Content

3.1Characteristics and Functions of Non-Verbal Communication

3.2Types of Non-Verbal Communication

3.3Other Channels of Non-Verbal Communication

3.4Differences between Verbal and Non-Verbal




6.0Tutor–Marked Assignment

7.0References/Further Readings


This unit gives a detailed description of non-verbal communication. It examines the three major components of Non-Verbal communication in terms of:

1.The Characteristics and Functions of Non-Verbal Communication

2.Types of Non-Verbal Communication and;

3.The basic differences between Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication


At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

understand the Characteristics and Functions of Non-Verbal Communication

explain and identify types of Non-Verbal Communication

understand the basic differences between Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication.



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What is Non-verbal communication?

Non-verbal communication is any information that is communicated without using words. It is often referred to as “untalk communication or silent language”. Non-verbal communication is a powerful arsenal in the face-to-face communication encounters, expressed consciously in the presence of others and perceived either consciously or unconsciously. Much of non-verbal communication is unintentionalpeople are not even aware that they are sending messages.

3.1Characteristics of Non-Verbal Communication

1. Non-Verbal Communication is Culturally Determined

Non-verbal communication is learnt in childhood, passed on to you by your parents and others with whom you associate. Through this process of growing up in a particular society, you adopt the traits and mannerisms of your cultural group.

2. Non-Verbal Message May Conflict With Verbal Message

Non-verbal communication is so deeply rooted, so unconscious, that you can express a verbal message and then directly contradict it with a nonverbal message.

3. Non-Verbal Message are Largely Unconscious

Non verbal communication is unconscious in the sense that it is usually not planned nor rehearsed. It comes almost instantaneously.

4. Non-Verbal Communication Shows Your Feelings and Attitudes

Facial expressions, gestures, body movements, the way you use your eyesall communicate your feelings and emotions to others.

3.1.1 Functions of Non-Verbal Communication

1.Complementing: Non-verbal cues complement a verbal message by adding to its meaning. You can pat someone you offended at the back as you say sorry to him or her.

2.Regulating: To regulate verbal communication. E.g. Kicking the car while still talking with someone outside shows you are ready to go.


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3.Substituting: Can substitute for verbal message. Waving hands at someone instead of saying goodbye.

4.Accenting: Can be used to accent, emphasise or reinforce what you’re saying.


How functional is non-verbal communication to man?

3.2Types of Non-verbal Communication

1. Vocalics (Paralanguage)

This deals with the extra-linguistic aspects of communication. It concerns voice rather than words. E.g. Yawning to indicate tiredness or boredom; belching after food or drink to show one has eaten to his fill.

Paralanguage also include such vocal characteristics as rate (speed of speaking), pitch (highness or lowness of tone), volume (loudness) and quality (pleasing or unpleasant sound). Any or all of these added to words, modify meaning.

2.Kinesics (Body Language)

1.Emblems are body movements that directly translate into words e.g. holding your fingers to show how many of something you want.

2.Illustrators: they accent, emphasise or reinforce words e.g. pointing down the road with finger when giving direction to someone.

3.Regulators: control the back-and-forth flow of speaking and listening. e.g. when a teacher points at the student who should speak next in the class.

4.Displays of feelings: show through facial expressions and body movements, how intensely a person is feeling.

5.Adaptors: are used to adjust to communication situation. They vary and are specific to each person’s own needs and the communication situation. These make them difficult to classify or describe generally. For example you have rented an apartment, and your mother comes to visit you. While she is there, she spends time moving objects and furniture around. This may mean that you are not very tidy. On another level, she may be saying you are still her child and that she, your mother, is still in charge.


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3.Oculesics (Eye Language)

Messages are conveyed through the eyes by way of contact, blinks, eye movement and pupil dilation.

The eye is used to:

1.give the “greenlight” or declare the communication channel open.

2.seek and provide reaction in form of feedback

3.signal the intention to be involved or included in a discussion.

4.gaze at, or probe into, and provoke anxiety in others.

5.indicate disavowal of all social contacts and “put others off”

6.show excitement at getting a gift you want.


Describe the type of non-verbal communication you normally use.

3.3Other Channels of Non-Verbal Communication

The Human Body

Through human body, some kinds of communication can take place. This is done through inscription and drawing of symbols on human flesh. The inscription which has symbolic meaning could be in terms of tattoos, brands, piercing, and scarifications. In Nigerian campuses, members of secret cults use this kind of non-verbal communication to speak to themselves.

In Western societies, at least, there appears to be widespread dissatisfaction with one's own body. Plastic surgeons cater to this discontent. In the U.S. alone, there are an estimated 750,000 cosmetic surgery procedures annually. The most frequent cosmetic procedures for women are (in order): liposuction, breast augmentation and collagen injections. For men, the most common procedures are nose reshaping, eyelid surgery, and liposuction.

Where do images of the "perfect" body come from? During the last century, the image of bodily perfection in Western nations has grown progressively thinner. This seems particularly true for women. Current female models are tall, extremely thin, and also large-breasted--and this combination is so rare as to be nearly impossible for most women.

Long after prejudice about religious, ethnic, and racial groups has become socially unacceptable, the overweight are still openly ridiculed and insulted. It may be that "weightism" is the last socially acceptable


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prejudice. There are people who have experienced cruelty and humiliation solely because of their size. These public embarrassments are common for larger people and the pain is unforgettable.

Human bodies carry enormous significance--for others, and also for ourselves. Preferences and prejudices about the body can lead us to attempt dramatic--but not always wise--alterations of what we look like. Images of the "ideal" body vary dramatically across cultures, and also over time. This means that current images of the "ideal body" reflect arbitrary preferences--and not universal, timeless standards of beauty.

Human Face

The face is one of the most powerful channels of nonverbal communication. Large number of messages and cues can be 'read' from this powerful channel of human communication. Topics include the difference between true emotions and acted emotions; how the face serves as an important 'identity document;' how pupil size affects attractiveness; facial cues that police departments use for detecting drug or substance abuse; dynamic changes in the face as it ages; plastic surgery and other modifications of the face to enhance its attractiveness; cultural differences in beauty standards; the significance of changes in hair length and style; and important mythology about the face over the centuries.

Human Voice

Human voice are said to be ‘beautiful’, ‘attractive’ and ‘sweet’. Geographic clues are only one of many messages contained in our voices. Our vocal paralanguage consists of all cues other than the text of the words we use. Everything else is vocal paralanguage and this includes a very large number of potentially important clues: pronunciation, national accent, regional accent, fluency or dysfluency, standard or non-standard speech, whether the language we speak was our native tongue, emotion, charisma, indications of our relationship with the listener, sarcasm, deference, contempt, truth or deception, etc.

Human voice communicates important clues about who we are and what we feel - and these clues slip out whether we want them to or not. Vocal paralanguage is extremely subtle, but the clues in our voices are clear and legible. This makes vocal paralanguage one of the most powerful 'channels' of nonverbal communication.


Gesture means a lot in communication. The unfortunate thing is that what a gesture means in one culture is different from its meaning in


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other culture. In other words, there are international differences in gestures, and cultural differences in nonverbal communication generally. There are angry gestures, obscene gestures, friendly gestures, warning gestures, gang gestures, secret gestures, and embarrassing gestures.

Below are several fascinating questions about gestures and nonverbal communication that need to be answered before one could have a good understanding of gesture:

1.Is there a 'universal language' of gestures?

2.At what age do children first learn about gestures, and when do they become fluent at performing them?

3.Do all cultures have at least one obscene gesture?

4.Does the same gesture have radically different meanings in different cultures?

5.Can gestures serve as secret messages or as signals of group membership?

6.Do some cultures have a unique category of gestures-one that expresses an idea found in no other society?


How does the human body communicate?

3.4 Differences










Hybels and Weaver II (2001) identify eight important ways in which verbal and non-verbal communications differ:


In contrast to verbal communication, non-verbal communication can take place when you are not around for people to form an impression of you directly e.g. the room you live in, poster on your walls, where you eat, etc.


Verbal communication begins and ends with words, non-verbal continues.



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Non-verbal communication often uses more than one channelcan combine sound and sight.


Non-verbal communication gives a lot of feedback.


While you can control verbal communication, you do not always have control over non-verbal communication especially emotional responses.


Verbal communication uses words, while non-verbal communication uses sensessense of taste, touch, sight, smell.


Non-verbal communication does not follow a planned sequence because much of it occurs unconsciously. For example, you do not plan to cross your legs when you are speaking with someone. Unlike verbal communication which has a grammar that determines how you build your sentences, nonverbal communication lacks formal structure.


Many verbal communication rules are taught in formal environment. Much of non-verbal is not taught; you pick them up imitating others.


In one sentence, differentiate between Verbal communication and Nonverbal communication


It must be stressed that sign languages and writing are not classified as nonverbal communication because they make use of words. Verbal communication is that which concerns the use of words and as such, "verbal communication" cannot be used as a synonym for oral or spoken communication. Nonverbal communication is usually understood as the


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process of communication through sending and receiving wordless messages. Such messages can be communicated through gesture; body language or posture; facial expression and eye contact; object communication such as clothing, hairstyles or even architecture; symbols and infographics; prosodic features of speech such as intonation and stress and other paralinguistic features of speech such as voice quality, emotion and speaking style.


The unit has attempted to discuss non verbal communication by emphasizing the fact that writing and sign language do not belong to non verbal communication but verbal communication. It emphasized that nonverbal communication can occur through any sensory channel — sight, sound, smell, touch or taste. The unit also examined the types of nonverbal communication which include Vocalics (Paralanguage), Kinesics (Body Language), Oculesics (Eye Language).

According to the unit, the characteristics of non-verbal communication include culturally determined, Non-verbal message may conflict with verbal message, Non-verbal Message are largely unconscious, Nonverbal communication shows your feelings and attitudes.

Differences between verbal and non verbal communication could be understood in terms of Environment, Continuity, Channel, Feedback, Control, Senses, Structure and Acquisition


Sign language and writing are not oral communication since they do not require mouth and tongue, yet they are said to be non verbal form of communication. Discuss


Burgoon, J. K., Buller, D. B., & Woodall, W. G. (1996). Nonverbal Communication: The Unspoken Dialogue (2nd ed.), New York: McGraw-Hill.


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Guerrero, L. K., DeVito, J. A., Hecht, M. L. (Eds.)(1999). The Nonverbal Communication Reader. (2nd ed.), Lone Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press.


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