Features of Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

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Communication is extremely important in our life. Due to the need for protection, companionship and nourishment, our ancestors had communicated and gathered to form a community. Effective communication, both verbal and nonverbal communication helped us to become successful as an individual and species. Business relationships, interpersonal relationships, and also our physical and psychological well-being are shaped by the verbal and nonverbal communication. To nurture relationships and enhance positive communication, we have to understand the different features of verbal and nonverbal communication.

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According to Lucas (2014), verbal communication includes many forms of communication, such as written, words, signed or spoken. The news we read in the morning, the text message send by parents are both verbal communication. Language is the one which enable us to communicate rather than merely sounds. Besides, technology also allows us to communicate although we are far from each other.

Verbal communication is often use to inform, either it is to impart knowledge or inform our needs. Besides, it is also use to correct a wrong. The words “I’m sorry”, is definitely more effective than action. Verbal communication deepens and creates new relationships and also provides an opportunity to debate. Robert M. Krauss, a professor in the Psychology Department at Columbia University had written an article with the title of “The Psychology of Verbal Communication”. In the article, he said that “A species’ survival depends critically upon its ability to communicate effectively, and the quality of its social life is determined in large measure by how and what it can communicate.” (Krauss, 2002)

While nonverbal communication consists of body language such as facial expressions, gestures, posture and eye contact. It is coexists along with verbal communication. “Bodily Communication”, a book written by Michael Argyle, stated that the five main functions of nonverbal communication are reflect personality, express emotions, support verbal interaction, communicate interpersonal relationships and also perform rituals. (Argyle, 1975)

Touch is a nonverbal communication that shows a person’s feelings, personal characteristics, as well as level of comfort. A timid handshake and a firm handshake; a warm hug and a loose pat on the back are both very different. The tone, pitch and volume of our voice are also nonverbal communication. Sometimes, the meaning of a person’s word is entirely different from the literal meaning, which is sarcasm.

When a man trying to attract a woman, a playful wink is always more effective than saying a well-thought sentence. According to the paper “The Importance of Effective Communication” written by Edward G. Wertheim, Ph.D, mentioned that how verbal communication interacts with non-verbal communication. We can substitute, emphasize, contradict, reinforce, and complement our verbal communication with non-verbal cues such as expressions, gestures and vocal inflection.

Baby use nonverbal cues while they still not able to speak. Belasco (2013) said that a 19-month-old baby, Matthew Orozco uses a few signs in American Sign Language (ASL) while communicating with his parents although he has no hearing impairment and has normal speech development. Signing is very important to children as it is the bridge to the verbal world.

Why are we more likely to believe nonverbal behaviours than words when the two conflict? People often send conflicting verbal and nonverbal messages. When a nonverbal message conflicts with the verbal message, people will always believe the nonverbal message. As the saying said actions speak louder than words. Dr. Albert Mehrabian had written an article titled “Silent Messages” which he analysed the messages people send. The messages are divided into three parts, which are verbal, vocal and nonverbal. The actual words we use in message is the verbal part. Then, the vocal part is the tone while we speak. The message will has different meaning when we speak in sarcastic tone or sincere tone. While the nonverbal part of the message consists the physical aspects such as gestures, expressions, eye contact and posture. Dr. Mehrabian estimates that there are 7 percent of a message is verbal, and vocal is 38 percent. So, it means that 55 percent of a message is nonverbal, and it involve in each message in a few ways. (Mehrabian, 1971)

Nonverbal cues have the functions of complement, regulate, repeat, replace, contradict, and accentuate our vocal and verbal messages.

A message is complement by nonverbal cues via adding reinforcement to it. The intended message is supported by the nonverbal cues, for example, the distance between people. Most of the employees tend to stand nearer to their colleague compare to their boss. This does not express the message much by itself, but when it is coupled with a simple sentence such as “How are you?” or “Good morning”, it does. This shows that the employee is respectful and responsive and is not challenging the authority of the boss.

Besides, by controlling the course of the discussion, nonverbal cues can regulate a conversation. For example, touching someone will be a signal that you wish to interrupt and wish to speak to that person.

When a verbal message could stand alone but nonverbal cue is added to it, it is repeating the message. For instance, when someone told you some information and you said “I do not believe it” and at the same time you rolled your eyes, then the message is repeated.

Actions speak louder than words; verbal can be replaced by nonverbal cues. For example, when an employee receives an unwanted assignment from the boss, the employee gives a few seconds of cold stares at the boss before returning to work instead of protest verbally or refuse the task.

Contradict happens when the nonverbal and verbal messages carrying a totally opposite meaning. An example will be when an employee is looking bored and distracted while his or her boss is discussing about a boring topic, but the employee gives a comment such as “How interesting!”

Accenting is used to punctuate part of a message, instead of giving the entire message a general support. It is different from complement a message. For instance, pounding fist on a table is accenting the verbal message. (College of DuPage, 1998)

Stewart (2011) said that nonverbal communication is bound to culture and sex. In detail, different cultures and nationalities have different relative value of talk versus action, silence versus speech, the social role of gossip or small talk, and the role of rhyme, animation and exaggeration in speech. While male and female are different in emotional expressiveness, vocalics, eye contact, appearance and the need of personal space. So, the study of verbal and nonverbal communication always been done within a cultural or social context due to these differences.

A study which carried out by the Buffalo State (n.d.) shows that nonverbal communication is separated into a few categories, which are kinesics, occulesics, proxemics, haptics, vocalics, chronemics, appearance, environments, artifacts, olfactics and synchrony.

Kinesics, also called as body language, deals with the movement physically. Traditional linguistics principles are applied in the study to the whole body or to specific parts of a body, mainly the hands, face and arms. The eye and facial expressions, such as rolling of the eyes or arching of eyebrows as well as the posture of sitting and standing are also included. Kinesics is different depends on the culture. For instance, a Japanese may act less excited compared to a person from Mediterranean culture when expressing anger. The person from Mediterranean culture may use extensive body gestures and hand movements while the Japanese may just have a slight movements.

Furthermore, usage of frowning, smiling giggling and others also included as kinesics, they are all different in different cultures. The sign language that counts on expressions and gestures is an alternative to spoken language, it is not kinesics. Kinesics is supported and reinforced by physical gestures and emblems to what is being said verbally. There are some emblems are universal, but some are differs in cultural, or even different interpretations between men and women. Uplifted shoulders and upturned hands that represents “I don’t know” which can be seen everywhere in this world is an example of universal emblem. An encircled thumb and forefinger would be an example of culture-bound emblem. In Japan, the gesture is interpreted as money; in France, it is interpreted as worthless; a curse in Arab; OK in United States; and in Brazil, Australia and Germany, it is an obscenity.

Occulesics is dealing with eye behaviour as part of communication. Part of the occulesics deal with a dynamic eye movement versus a fixed or static gaze. The interpretation of eye contact is very hard to predict as it is interpret differently in different cultures. Direct eye contact is very common in the western countries, they look into other people’s eye about 70 percent of the time while listening and 40 percent while talking. While it is more common to look at other people’s throat while talking in Japan. Direct eye contact is considered as bad manners in Indonesia and China, so they are practice to lower their eyes. In Hispanic culture, it is a form of challenge and disrespect when look into other people’s eyes. However, it is common for both listeners and speakers to have direct eye contact for a long period in Arab’s culture, it represents that they are interested in the conversation.

The usage of social space in a communication situation is termed as proxemics. The distance between people when they speak is one of the aspects of proxemics. The distance is from a public distance (more than 12 feet) to social or formal distance (4-12 feet) to personal or informal distance (18 inches to 4 feet), and intimate space (less than 18 inches). The effective use of space in social settings also being deal by proxemics, for example the arrangement of space in businesses and homes can encourage or inhibit communication.

Other than the above, haptics emphasize on touching as one of the elements of communication. Haptics also vary in different cultures, just like other elements of nonverbal communication. For instance, the culture in Middle Eastern, Latin America and Mediterranean include a lot of social touching in their conversation, such as hand holding and embraces. So, they are categorised as high-contact cultures. In Northern Europe and North America, they only touch occasionally, such as back slapping and handshakes. They are considered as moderate-touch culture. In Northern Asian cultures, which considered as low contact culture, social touching is not always happen. But, for example, people in the nation of Philippines include a lot of social touching in their conversation. Haptics may vary although is in the same culture. For instance, the strength and length of handshakes depends on the intimacy level of the two people shaking hands.

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Vocalics or paralanguage, deals with vocal, or more emphasize it is referred as the nonphonemic qualities of language. The loudness, pitch, accent, tempo, tone, cadence, nasality, insofar and even the rate of speech are included in vocalics, all these carrying different meaning. Vocalics also vary in different cultures. For example, the practice of belching is accepted in different ways depend on the cultures. Other than that, the vocal qualifiers such as pitch, volume, tempo and rhythm also associated with different cultures. Speaking loudly represents sincerity in Arab culture, but it is considered as aggressive in North America.

Chronemics is about the usage of time as a component of communication. Minutes, hours and days are categorised as formal time, while informal time includes seasons, lunar cycles and social customs. Chronemics includes specifics, for example the punctuality together with the forms of dominance or the deference during a communication situation. For instance, men are more likely to interrupt or dominate a conversation compared to women. Besides, chronemics also deals with arriving time to a social setting. Americans tends to arriving early for a business meeting but will be “fashionably late” for social activities. However, Sioux are very relaxed toward time as the word “late” is not even exists in Sioux language.

Chronemics are divided into monochronemics and polychronemics. Monochronemic is define as doing one thing at a time, and is stress on agendas and promptness; while polychronemic means doing several things at a time, it emphasis on relationships. In North America and Northern Europe, monochronemic conversation is common. While people are more likely to use polychronemic conversation in Asia countries, Middle East, Latin America and Mediterranean.

Appearance is dealing with a person’s physical appearance or look. It deals with the physical aspects such as hair colour, body shape, dressing which included accessories and clothing, skin tone and the use of appearance enhancement such as body tattoos and piercings. The public speakers in North and Western Africa are prefer to wear big sleeves and long robes so that they are able to raise their hands, they are looking bigger and more elegant as the extra sleeve cloth will slips through their arms and puffs up their shoulder.

Environment is also very important in nonverbal communication, for example the physical space such as location, room size and colour, and accessibility. In a company, there are significant meanings about the size of desk and the design or location of the office. For instance, the most important people in a company will locate his or her office at the highest floor of the building.

Furthermore, artifacts deals with the visible objects in communicative aspects, this may indicates a person’s status or even revealing the lifestyle of a person. For example, the choice of automobile is carrying much meaning about a person. However, artifacts always important in some cultures, for instance, rugs are prestigious in Arab.

Olfactics is dealing with smell, such as the use of perfume and spices. In communication, the smell is more likely to be relevant when the people are closer. It is normal that a person get close enough to smell other people during a conversation in high-contact cultures such as Arab and Samoan. According to the teaching of Prophet, smell nice for others is a charity. So, it is known that Muslims and Arabian like to use perfume.

Lastly, synchrony deals with the amount of coordination in the behaviour of people when their nonverbal cues are synchronise with another person, for example, mimicry, mirroring and also behavioural meshing.

Lucas (2014) also mentioned that to enhance a person’s verbal communication skills, he or she needs to be an affective listener. The person needs to understand the point of view of another person, it is not just hearing. So, takes time think before speak to ensure that the information that expressed is correct.

While to enhance nonverbal communication’s skills, a person needs to observe the facial expressions and intonations, body language, and also being aware of own feelings and physicality.


In a nutshell, communication is really significant in our daily life. Effective communication can only be achieve when all types of communication is proper used. No matter it is communicating verbally or nonverbally, both the sender and receiver need to understand the message. So, a sender should have good communication skills and the receivers should have good understanding and interpreting skills by understand the functions of both verbal and nonverbal communication.


Lucas, A., 2014. The Importance of Verbal & Non Verbal Communication. [online] Available at: http://www.livestrong.com/article/156961-the-importance-of-verbal-non-verbal-communication/ [Accessed on 20 June 2014]

Krauss, R. M., 2002. The Psychology of Verbal Communication. [online] Available at: http://www.columbia.edu/~rmk7/PDF/IESBS.pdf [Accessed on 21 June 2014]

Argyle, M., 1975. Bodily Communication. York: Methuen.

Belasco, J., 2013. Babies signing before speaking. The Star, 19 Sep. p.46.

Mehrabian, Albert (1971). Silent Messages (1st ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

College of DuPage, 1998. Communication. [online] College of DuPage. Available at: http://www.cod.edu/Course/Mgt100/mgtcomm.htm [Accessed on 22 June 2014]

Stewart,J., 2011. Bridges Not Walls. 11th Edition. McGraw-Hill.

Buffalo State, n.d.. Verbal and Nonverbal Communication. [online] Buffalo State, The State University of New York. Available at: http://faculty.buffalostate.edu/smithrd/UAE%20Communication/Unit2.pdf [Accessed on 22 June 2014]


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