Nonverbal communication is a silent infiltrator, having broad influence over our social environment. It provides us with a mode for conveying messages without the use of verbal language. It may enhance or detract from a verbal communication. It regulates relationships by affecting the likelihood of introduction and continued interaction. We are able to infer emotion through nonverbal communication and influence other's perception of our competence, power and vulnerability. It also plays a role in the perception of the actual message we are trying to convey. It affects our lives in a myriad of ways from childhood throughout adulthood, and as long as we intend to communicate with others.
What is it about the internet that is so appealing? In the past year, people have flocked to the internet. According to estimates from 1994, 25 million people are communicating on the internet worldwide. Most people who have access to e-mail will tell you that they keep in touch with people better than they ever did before; but they can't remember the last time they actually "mailed" a conventional letter. Internet users even refer to the U.S. Postal service as "snail mail."
No doubt, part of the appeal, particularly e-mail and chat capabilities, comes from the "instant" gratification that comes with the internet. An e-mail can be sent around the world in a matter of seconds. Even better, real-time chat allows users living on different continents to communicate as if by phone, without face to face interaction. Computer-mediated communication (CMC) offers new paradigms for thought and communication and opens up new possibilities for human interaction.
Even internet "romance" is alive and well. People are now marrying their internet "loves." Other people just stick to the cybersex. Just about anything you can find "In Real Life" you can find represented on the internet. Important visible cues, however, are missing from the net. These nonverbal cues play a role in real life face to face communication, but are not represented equally on the internet. How does the lack of nonverbal cues affect communication on the internet?
Nonverbal communication is defined as the process by which nonverbal behaviors are used, either singly or in combination with verbal behaviors, in the exchange and interpretation of messages within a given situation or context. If communication is considered a type of matrix, there are distinctions between verbal and nonverbal behaviors that can be divided into vocal and nonvocal behaviors. The result is a matrix consisting of four potential sets of communication behaviors: verbal/vocal behaviors, verbal/nonvocal behaviors, nonverbal/vocal behaviors, and nonverbal/nonvocal behaviors.
Nonverbal communication is thought to comprise six functions in human communication. These functions consist of complementing verbal messages, substituting for verbal messages, accenting verbal messages, contradicting verbal messages, repeating verbal messages, and regulating verbal messages. Each of these functions of nonverbal communication are, for the most part, missing during the course of using the internet as a communication tool.
The complementing function of nonverbal communication includes nonverbal cues -- such as tone of voice, facial expression, gestures, or distance between people -- often serving to complement the verbal message and add to, clarify, or reinforce the meaning. The term "complement" indicates that the behavior alone would not communicate the intended message. "A complementing nonverbal message changes the meaning of the verbal message by adding additional insights or information". This function of nonverbal cues on the internet is missing in any message sent by e-mail or chat. If a person writes "I hate college" on the internet, we can't make an assumption on the truth of the statement without more information. They could be laughing when they say it, or frowning, or crying -- all of those nonverbal cues would make a difference in determining the meaning behind the words. Some internet users try to duplicate these nonverbal cues with "netiquette" -- by using smiley faces or words describing their feelings in parentheses. The message sender can reflect some of the missing nonverbal cues by sending the cues as written words.
It's kind of like the terrible two's. Where children are discovering what they can do with their own kinesthetics. This is a time where children like to touch everything they see. It doesn't matter what it is. If they see it, they want to have the experience of touching it. Often times you can find them totally lost in the moment, fully absorbed in whatever kinesthetic experience they are indulging in at that moment. It's like a moment frozen in time. As they sit there manipulating that object, time passes, but for them there is no awareness of time, only the moment.
When I was younger I often found myself being fascinated with how well some the animals who traveled with the circus's were able to understand their trainers. Also, I had a friend who trained attack dogs. He would often train the one that he considered the brightest, and that dog would help in training the others. What I found in common with my friend who trained the dogs, and animal trainers who worked with the animals in the circus, was their ability to use non-verbally coded methods of communication.
Communication is a complex dynamic system. It involves all modes of sending receiving and feedback. It appears at a young age and decoding ability increases with age. At times nonverbal cues may be used to emphasize a message we are trying to convey. On other occasions it replaces verbal communication. Communication is used in everyday life, from greeting a stranger to touching a lover. The nonverbal behavior an individual uses is a product of characteristics endowed at birth and socially learned norms.
Knowledge of the effects nonverbal communications introduce is needed, because our awareness may enhance favorable communication. Nonverbal cues may be unconsciously acted and reacted upon, regulating proximity, gestures, eye gaze and touch. Each component of nonverbal behavior affects our relationship and interpersonal environment in intricate ways. Nonverbal cues provide insight into affect states, influence another's perception of an individual's competence, persuasiveness, power, sincerity and vulnerability. In a new age where increasing population is decreasing personal space, it is imperative to understand cultural and personal communication differences and similarities.
• Leathers, D. (1997). (3rd. ed.) Successful Nonverbal Communication: Principles and Applications.
• Knapp, M. L., & Hall, J. A. (1997). Nonverbal communication in human interaction. (4th ed.)
• Segerstrale, U., & Molnar, P. (1997). (Eds). Nonverbal Communication: Where Nature Meets Culture.
• Malandro, L. A., and Barker, L. (1983). Nonverbal Communication. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.
Functions Of Nonverbal Communication
Communication is critical to continued human development throughout our life span. It is what allows us to share thoughts, feelings, wonderings, and knowledge with others. Whether you are a verbal or nonverbal communicator, the vast majority of communication we do is through nonverbal channels.
So if nonverbal communication makes up a substantial portion of our communicative experience, what does it involve? Many of us associate facial expression and gestures with nonverbal communication, but these are not the only two types involved. There are, in fact, eight different types of nonverbal communication:
This makes up the largest proportion of nonverbal communication. Large amounts of information can be conveyed through a smile or frown. The facial expressions for happiness, sadness, anger, and fear are similar across cultures throughout the world.
Common gestures include pointing, waving, and using fingers to indicate number amounts.
This includes factors such as tone of voice, loudness, inflection, and pitch. Tone of voice can be powerful. The same sentence said in different tones can convey different messages. A strong tone of voice may indicate approval or enthusiasm, whereas the same sentence said with a hesitant tone of voice may convey disapproval or lack of interest.
?Body Language and Posture
A person's posture and movement can also convey a great deal of information. Arm crossing or leg-crossing conveys different meanings depending on the context and the person interpreting them. Body language is very subtle, and may not be very definitive.
This refers to personal space. The amount of space a person requires depends on each individual's preference, but also depends on the situation and other people involved in the situation.
Looking, staring, and blinking are all considered types of eye gaze. Looking at another person can indicate a range of emotions including hostility, interest, or attraction.
This refers to communicating through touch. Haptics is especially important in infancy and early childhood.
Our choice of color, clothing, hairstyles, and other factors affecting our appearance are considered a means of nonverbal communication.
In part 2, I will explain how and when children begin to use nonverbal communication
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