FIU Nonverbal Communication in Different Cultures Essay


choose 2 cultures and evaluate the nonverbal communication using your textbook. 

This book is dedicated to Sherri, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.
Sara Miller McCune founded SAGE Publishing in
to support the dissemination of usable knowledge and
educate a global community. SAGE publishes more than
journals and over
new books each year,
spanning a wide range of subject areas. Our growing selection of library products includes archives, data, case
studies and video. SAGE remains majority owned by our founder and after her lifetime will become owned by a
charitable trust that secures the company’s continued independence.
Los Angeles | London | New Delhi | Singapore | Washington DC | Melbourne
An Applied Approach
Jonathan M. Bowman
Copyright ©
by SAGE Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted by U.S. copyright law, no part of this work may be reproduced or
distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without permission in writing
from the publisher.
All third party trademarks referenced or depicted herein are included solely for the purpose of illustration and are
the property of their respective owners. Reference to these trademarks in no way indicates any relationship with,
or endorsement by, the trademark owner.
SAGE Publications, Inc.
Teller Road
Thousand Oaks, California
SAGE Publications Ltd.
Oliver’s Yard
City Road
London, EC Y SP
United Kingdom
SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd.
B /I Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area
Mathura Road, New Delhi
SAGE Publications Asia-Pacific Pte. Ltd.
Cross Street # – / /
China Square Central

Printed in the United States of America
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
Acquisitions Editor: Lily Norton
Editorial Assistant: Sarah Wilson
Senior Content Development Editor: Jennifer Jovin-Bernstein
Production Editor: Gagan Mahindra
Copy Editor: Diane DiMura
Typesetter: Hurix Digital
Proofreader: Susan Schon
Indexer: Integra
Cover Designer: Janet Kiesel
Marketing Manager: Staci Wittek
About the Author
Chapter Nonverbal Communication Origins
Chapter Nonverbal Communication Features
Chapter Identity and the Nonverbal Codes
Chapter Kinesics: Engaging Motion and Gestures
Chapter Proxemics: Engaging Personal Space and Interpersonal Distance
Chapter Haptics: Engaging Physical Contact and Touch
Chapter Oculesics: Engaging Gaze and Other Eye Behaviors
Chapter Vocalics: Engaging the Voice and Other Vocalizations
Chapter Physical Appearance: Engaging Identity and Physical Features
Chapter Environmental Elements: Engaging Fixed and Semi-Fixed Features
Chapter Chronemics and Olfactics: Cultural Codes of Time and Scent
Chapter Nonverbal Communication Moving Forward
About the Author
Chapter Nonverbal Communication Origins
Models of Communication
Linear Model of Communication
Transactional Model of Communication
Defining Nonverbal Communication
Why Isn’t ASL Considered Nonverbal?
Nonverbal Communication Primacy
Primacy of Species
Primacy of Individual
Primacy of Interaction
Nonverbal Communication Channels
Channel Reliance
A Summary of Nonverbal Communication Origins
Closing Questions
Key Terms
Chapter Nonverbal Communication Features
Principles of Nonverbal Messaging
Nonverbal Messaging Is Ubiquitous
Nonverbal Messaging Functions in Many Ways
Nonverbal Messaging Is Widely Used
Nonverbal Messaging Impacts Meaning-Making
Nonverbal Messaging Has Primacy
Nonverbal Messaging Is Ambiguous
Nonverbal Messaging Is Accepted
Digital vs. Analog Representations
Message Processing
The Attention Stage
The Comprehension Stage
Dialogic Comprehension
Empathic comprehension
Analytic comprehension
The Memory Stage
Nonverbal Communication—Our Innate Ability
A Summary of Nonverbal Communication Features
Closing Questions
Key Terms
Chapter Identity and the Nonverbal Codes
Managing Identities
Sex and Gender
Other Identities
Identity, Relationships, and Nonverbal Codes
Prominent Nonverbal Codes
Physical Appearance
A Summary of Identity and the Nonverbal Codes
Closing Questions
Key Terms
Chapter Kinesics: Engaging Motion and Gestures
Communication, Movement, and the Face
Affect Displays
Neurocultural Theory
Ekman and Friesen’s microexpressions
Social signaling
Communication, Movement, and the Hands and Body
Body Orientation
A Summary of Kinesics: Engaging Motion and Gestures
Closing Questions
Key Terms
Chapter Proxemics: Engaging Personal Space and Interpersonal Distance
Intimate Zone
Personal/Casual Zone
Social/Consultative Zone
Public Zone
Proxemic Violations
Physiological Arousal
Perceptions and Expectancy Violations Theory
Threat Threshold
Interactional Motivations
A Summary of Proxemics: Engaging Personal Space and Interpersonal Distance
Closing Questions
Key Terms
Chapter Haptics: Engaging Physical Contact and Touch
Haptics and Human Development
Early Influences
The Harlow Monkey Experiment
Classifying Touch
Types of Touch
Functions of Touch
Ritualistic Touch
Positive Affect Touch
Control Touch
Playful Touch
Task-related Touch
Hybrid Touch
Diverse Attitudes Toward Touch
Affection Exchange Theory
Attachment Theory
A Summary of Haptics: Engaging Physical Contact and Touch
Closing Questions
Key Terms
Chapter Oculesics: Engaging Gaze and Other Eye Behaviors
Looking Toward
Mutual Gaze and Eye Contact
Eye Movement
Pupil Dilation
Oculesics and Emotional Displays
A Summary of Oculesics: Engaging Gaze and Other Eye Behaviors
Closing Questions
Key Terms
Chapter Vocalics: Engaging the Voice and Other Vocalizations
Vocal Characteristics
Vocal Properties
Vocal Qualities
The Use of Silence
Communication Accommodation Theory
Principles of CAT
Strategies of CAT
A Summary of Vocalics: Engaging the Voice and Other Vocalizations
Closing Questions
Key Terms
Chapter Physical Appearance: Engaging Identity and Physical Features
Identity and Self-Esteem
Theories of Identity
Group Membership
Identity Badges
In-Groups and Out-Groups
Appearance and Identity
Natural Features
Body Shape
Facial Attractiveness
Artifacts and Adornments
Body Modifications
Tie-Signs and Expressions of Uniqueness
A Summary of Physical Appearance: Engaging Identity and Physical Features
Closing Questions
Key Terms
Chapter Environmental Elements: Engaging Fixed and Semi-Fixed Features
Environmental Elements
Fixed-Feature Environmental Elements
Use and Volume of Space
Lines and Curves
Semi-Fixed-Feature Environmental Elements
Visual Continua
Environmental Noise
A Summary of Environmental Elements: Engaging Fixed and Semi-Fixed Features
Closing Questions
Key Terms
Chapter Chronemics and Olfactics: Cultural Codes of Time and Scent
Codes and Culture
Created by Culture
Creating Culture
Group Membership Revisited
Biological Chronemics
Conceptualizations of Time
Active Scents
Passive Scents
A Summary of Chronemics and Olfactics: Cultural Codes of Time and Scent
Closing Questions
Key Terms
Chapter Nonverbal Communication Moving Forward
Nonverbal Communication in Review
Communication Potential of the Codes
Absorbing Popular Media, Moving Forward
Examining Ethical Behavior, Moving Forward
Recognizing Diverse Perspectives, Moving Forward
Assessing the Self, Moving Forward
Applying Nonverbal Principles Across Contexts, Moving Forward
A Summary of Nonverbal Communication Moving Forward
Closing Questions
Aren’t you tired of treating a textbook like an optional feature of a course? I know I am! Nonverbal messaging is
one of the most exciting topics in the study of human communication, and yet the structure of most course
textbooks has students disinterested within the first few weeks. It’s not that the entire course is filled with dull
material; instead, the way that the nonverbal communication course has been constrained by texts has
underserved students by under-engaging them from the very beginning. As students, teachers, and scholars of
nonverbal messaging, we are likely familiar with scholarly literature that describes the importance of first
impressions. Why, then, are we subjected to texts that initially lead to disengaged students, when we know about
the importance of those first interactions with a course?
By choosing Nonverbal Communication: An Applied Approach , an instructor can scaffold learning to the pace of
their own course while taking advantage of the narrative style that keeps students interested. In addition, the
writing style meets the needs of current students who otherwise disengage with the very material that may aid in
better navigating those daily experiences in a diverse world. While the nonverbal communication course continues
to be taught as a foundational course at the advanced sophomore or junior level, most of the textbooks have been
written at the advanced undergraduate or graduate level and follow a formulaic style. Rather than being written by
teachers and scholars who have immersed themselves in the lived experience of students, many of these books
focus on the minutia of nonverbal codes to the exclusion of the relational contexts that best demonstrate an
application of nonverbal communication research. Indeed, often a text only gains momentum and finally becomes
a truly engaging read in the last couple chapters.
Rather than waiting until the end of the semester to get students’ and teachers’ attention, Nonverbal
Communication: An Applied Approach has taken a narrative style and applied approach that is informed by the
important theories and research-driven knowledge of our interdisciplinary area of study. At times, such a text may
need to sacrifice a focus on the minutiae of a particular researcher’s advanced theoretical assumptions and
comprehensive treatment of a theory in order to better convey the larger goals of that researcher’s work. To be
sure, most scholars teaching nonverbal communication long for a book that can better engage students and cut
back on unnecessary complications in what can be read as relatively parsimonious theories. In order for a
nonverbal communication course textbook to be seen as practical, applied, and worth purchasing, the text must
take complex course material and breathe life into the work, targeting material to the complex technology-driven
lives of today’s undergraduates. By covering the same synthesized scholarship with a new narrative style and a
more consistent structure, the material comes alive without losing the summative knowledge of decades of
interdisciplinary research.
The textbook Nonverbal Communication: An Applied Approach is aimed primarily at sophomore- and junior-level
courses in nonverbal communication, regardless of the specific discipline in which the course is taught (e.g.,
communication studies or psychology). In addition, honors-level faculty could also assign a weekly scholarly
reading from among the chapter references to supplement the text. Such a course typically has an introductory
human communication course as a prerequisite that not only introduces human communication but also previews
the exciting content in nonverbal communication courses, depending upon the institution. At the same time, this
book is written in such a way as to highlight the needed foundational material so that it can even be taught as a
stand-alone core or general education course with great facility. Regardless of institution or discipline, the
nonverbal communication course is typically taken by a major or minor in communication (one of the faster
growing majors at colleges and universities in North America) or a major or minor in psychology, or perhaps even
by a student with an interest in marketing or advertising because of the added value of understanding some
nonverbal communication patterns across contexts.
While the switch to Nonverbal Communication: An Applied Approach should completely change the level of
student engagement with the material, the structure of the book is consistent enough with the overall nonverbal
communication market so as to not require a complete reworking of instructors’ lesson planning. Indeed, the book
starts off with an overview of both nonverbal messaging and the communication contexts and human behaviors in
which this universal form of messaging occurs. Moving next to the most significant nonverbal codes, theory-driven
conversations begin to emerge as students discover those codes in applied situations that they are likely to
encounter in their own lives. Finally, a few intentional relational contexts at the end of the book allow the student to
really explore the application of nonverbal course materials in a narrative way.
The main pedagogical devices for Nonverbal Communication: An Applied Approach include integrated box
features found in each chapter of the book that highlight important content for the work (rather than serving as
additional extraneous information, as so often occurs in many academic textbooks). The foci of these boxes will
include the important application and integration of material, designated by a specific action verb often used in
nonverbal messaging research. Each chapter includes a box called Measure that focuses on the measurement of
a nonverbal construct, using methods from nonverbal research to illustrate operationalization. An important series
of boxes in each chapter that focus on issues of diversity and social justice content are titled Engage, highlighting
nonverbal communication by including practical, real-world examples of nonverbal communication in diverse
contexts. Next, a feature in each chapter called Examine includes opportunities for personal reflection as well as
the consideration of the ethics of nonverbal communication as it relates to each chapter. To illustrate course
material using modern applications, the Absorb feature references YouTube video clips from current television or
film to explore a nonverbal communication behavior in an example from recent media. Finally, each chapter
includes Apply scenarios that help students consider how to practice content related to each section within their
own social worlds, encouraging students to become more fluent in navigating unique contexts.
In addition to these newer and innovative pedagogical features, many tried-and-true textbook features are also
included in Nonverbal Communication: An Applied Approach to ensure that students are able to successfully
navigate such important course content. These include the use of learning objectives and guiding questions at
the start of each chapter following an application-based opening vignette, many key terms throughout each
chapter, an end-of-chapter summary with closing questions, a glossary, and finally, line drawings or
photographs that help to illustrate essential course content or show contexts in which that content emerges.
I’d like to thank my beautiful family (Sherri, Michael, and Nala) who always offer encouragement and prayer
support. They mean the world to me. I’d also like to thank the incredible team at SAGE led by my editor, Lily
Norton, and all the people who have made my time at SAGE so lovely: Jen Jovin-Bernstein, Sarah Wilson, Monica
Eckman, Terri Accomazzo, Gagan Mahindra, and the rest of the group that has been working so diligently behind
the scenes. Finally, I’d like to acknowledge the hundreds of students both current and former who have made my
career so incredibly joyful over the years. I can’t wait to see what we accomplish for the world together!
Many scholars and teachers came together to ensure that this text more than met the needs of students and
instructors as they come together to learn about nonverbal communication. Your work and commitment to our
discipline is without peer. Thanks to the following individuals for their comments on earlier drafts of Nonverbal
Communication: An Applied Approach:
Raymond Blanton, The University of the Incarnate Word
Maria Brann, IUPUI
Stellina M. A. Chapman, State University New York at New Paltz
Monica L. Gracyalny, California Lutheran University
Trey Guinn, The University of the Incarnate Word
L. Jake Jacobsen, University of Nebraska at Kearney
Lynn Meade, University of Arkansas
Sara N. Morgan, Old Dominion University
Diana Karol Nagy, University of Florida
Kekeli K. Nuviadenu, Bethune-Cookman University
Naomi Bell O’Neil, Clarion University of Pennsylvania
Jillian K. Pierson, University of Southern California
Robyn Rowe, Missouri State University
Sheida Shirvani, Ohio University–Zanesville
Lisa J. van Raalte, Sam Houston State University
Robin N. Williamson, University of St. Thomas-Houston
Cheryl Wood, The George Washington University
Jonathan M. Bowman, PhD,
professor of communication studies, teaches courses in human communication processes and the methods
through which we obtain that knowledge about communication. He is heavily involved in the National
Communication Association where he currently serves as the chair of the Nonverbal Communication Division.
Bowman’s research focuses on communication processes associated with intimacy and close relationships, with
publications addressing nonverbal messaging, male friendships, and small-group communication. He has
authored, coauthored, or edited four books, and his most recent book Masculinity and Student Success in Higher
Education can be purchased anywhere books are sold. He was the recipient of the National Communication
Association Ecroyd Award for Outstanding Teaching in Higher Education, the highest teaching honor in the
discipline internationally, as well as the national Western States Communication Association Distinguished
Teaching Award. Bowman has also received a Keck Faculty Fellowship for his focus on undergraduate research,
an Innovations in Experiential Education Award for his commitment to high-impact practices, as well as an
Outstanding Preceptor Award for excellence in teaching and advising. He serves as a mentor to undergraduates
in multiple capacities, particularly those students involved in student government, Greek life, academic honors,
and campus faith-based organizations.
Learning Objectives
After reading this chapter you will be able to do the following:
Explain types of nonverbal primacy
Compare models of communication
Define nonverbal communication
Understand the impact of channel on messaging
Mika wasn’t thrilled about attending a friend’s start-of-semester get-together, but his new roommate dragged him
along to the location a few blocks from campus. Mika didn’t know most of the attendees and wasn’t particularly
motivated to meet someone new, so he spent a lot of time looking at memes on his mobile device or pretending to
take a few phone calls. After someone spilled a drink on his shoes for what must have been the third time, Mika
decided to call it a night and head home. Just as he was headed toward the door, he locked eyes with the most
attractive person he had ever seen. After feeling frozen for what seemed like an eternity, he nodded his head and
gave a shy smile right as the other person started to turn away. Resigned to leave again, he suddenly saw a smile
in response out of the corner of his eye. Mika decided to stick around and give the evening another chance as he
switched his phone to airplane mode and ran his fingers through his hair.
From the first impressions that we form about one another to the lifelong social interactions that shape and guide
our lives, communication is the primary social process. Without communication, it would prove nearly impossible
to navigate our daily lives. Communication allows us to signal a variety of things to one another, from letting our
caregivers know we are hungry to warning each other about dangerous predators. Indeed, most living creatures
engage in some form of communication, from the ants marking a trail toward a picnic basket, to the pride of lions
using a sophisticated group hunting strategy to avoid starvation. Communication allows groups of creatures—both
human and nonhuman—to navigate a complex environment that otherwise may be difficult to survive on one’s
own. Human communication includes the most complicated forms of messaging, as humans use systems of
established rule-driven strategies to send messages among themselves for a variety of reasons. Just as we read
in the story of Mika above, messaging can be subtle; from indicating interest to avoiding interaction, a variety of
verbal and nonverbal messages help us to move throughout our social world.
Guiding Questions
What kinds of messages help form a first impression in a context like the one above?
How do nonverbal signals impact our social experiences?
When considering how humans send messages to one another, it is first helpful to ensure that everyone has a
similar shared understanding of the basic models of communication. In order to establish a shared vocabulary
about the process of communication, we begin with the linear model of communication, which focuses on the
transmission of messages to an audience. Then, we will expand that model to include a more transactional
understanding of human interaction.
Linear Model of Communication
years ago, scholars Shannon and Weaver came up with a model of communication messaging that is still
one of the most widely known models of communication today. As can be seen in Figure . , this linear model of
communication focuses on the transmission of a verbal or nonverbal message to another person or persons.
Because of that focus on one-way transmissions, the linear model starts with the person who originates the
message, called the sender. The sender begins the process of encoding, converting his or her thoughts into a
specific message that he or she hopes an audience will understand. By sending that message through one or
more channels, or ways of transmitting a message like a phone call or a written document or even a gesture, he
or she can convey that message directly to the target person, also known as the receiver. Once the receiver has
heard or seen the message, he or she then begins decoding the meaning from the message and trying to
understand the intent of the sender. When Cheance receives a text “Starving! Must eat now LOL” from her new
girlfriend Annabelle, as the receiver she needs to decode the message in an attempt to try to understand what
Annabelle’s intent was; are they canceling their later reservation and eating separately on their own, or are they
getting together earlier than they had previously planned?
Figure . Linear Model of Communication
Although perhaps not a comprehensive model thus far, we now have a working set of vocabulary terms about
messaging, as well as a basic understanding of how people send messages to one another. Still, the Shannon
and Weaver model goes a couple steps further than this general approach, including in the model the concepts of
context and noise. Context is defined as the setting in which communication occurs, not only the physical location
but also the time and social situation wherein messaging happens. This context influences both the creation and
the transmission of a message for a variety of reasons (i.e., influencing the sender’s mood and even restricting the
channels that they find available to them.) For example, Evan may be interested in sending a particularly funny
meme to his best friend when he’s in church on Sunday morning, but may not do so, in part because of the
emotional experience that he’s having or because of his inability to get to his cell phone without offending the
other congregants around him. As such, that funny text may have to wait until later that day. That being said, if he
looks across his church congregation and sees Ryan in another pew, he might find himself making a funny face or
at least trying to catch his best friend’s eye, despite being situated in a context that would suggest other more
reverent behaviors. The concept of noise, on the other hand, describes any barrier to hearing or understanding
that detracts from the successful transmission of a message. Noise might be as simple as a physical sound that
stops you from perceiving a message (e.g., physical noise), to a mental state that distracts someone from
correctly understanding a message (e.g., psychological noise). In addition, noise could also be a receiver’s
physical state like hunger or sleepiness that interrupt his or her ability to decode a message (e.g., physiological
noise), or even may include a situation where individuals don’t understand these symbols that are being used in
the message due to specific words or pronunciations (semantic noise). The more noise present in a
communication context, the more difficult it will be for a receiver to successfully decode the message that a sender
has encoded. Take a look at an example of one possible effect of noise in this chapter’s Apply feature, next.
Box . Apply
Impacts of Noise on a Homecoming Conversation
Clarice and Sarah had been fighting for a long time. Not only had their mutual friends noticed the lack of
respect that they had shown to one another at a variety of social events over the past year, but they often
commented upon the disrespectful eye rolls and sighs that each exhibited when the other walked into the
room or tried to join the conversation. Finally, Clarice decided that “enough was enough.” At the
homecoming football game, Clarice finally decided that she and Sarah needed to have a conversation to
talk over their issues with one another. Right before the halftime show on their way to order food, Clarice
dragged Sarah away from their mutual group of friends over to a patch of grass away from the snack bar.
She started a long monologue about their friendship and how they used to be close, taking responsibility
for her own contribution to the deterioration of their relationship. As they both sat side by side watching the
marching band on the field, Clarice suddenly realized that Sarah didn’t even know that Clarice was talking.
With all the distractions on the field, combined with the sounds and the sights of the homecoming
festivities, Sarah was just enjoying the evening breeze, oblivious to the relational goals of Clarice.
Discouraged, Clarice decided to stop talking and watch the halftime show herself, vowing to maybe try
again some other time if she ever got an opportunity.
Even with the most detailed messaging plan, features of the context or of the relationship can impact our
communication attempts. The ability of one person to effectively understand the message of another
person is influenced by a variety of factors.
APPLY: Consider the features of the context in which Clarice and Sarah just interacted. What were all the
individual types of noise that impacted the quality of this communication situation? What should Clarice try
to avoid the next time that she wants to try to reach out to Sarah? How have you had noise disrupt your
own attempts as messaging?
Transactional Model of Communication
The linear model of communication is a relatively decent way to think about how one person might send a
message to someone else. That being said, most communication is perhaps not quite as one sided as this model
may suggest. In most situations, people are sending messages at the same time to each other, with each person
serving as both a sender and a receiver of messages throughout the interaction. The transactional model of
communication better captures our understanding of that back-and-forth between people, as seen in Figure . .
In this model, we are able to add in the concept of feedback, which is the verbal and nonverbal responses that
someone gives in reaction to a message that they are receiving—a set of responses that influence future
messaging. When Brooke and Adam were discussing restaurants in trying to decide where to have dinner, Adam’s
funny facial expressions helped her adapt her messaging on the fly; Adam’s happy or sad faces each time that
she suggested a different cuisine type or location helped her eventually decide that they should order some pizza
and chill on the couch with a good movie.
Figure . Transactional Model of Communication
Besides the addition of feedback, you’ll notice that the transactional model of communication also goes beyond
simple unidirectional messaging, or one-way messaging in which people take turns alternating between sender
or receiver. Instead, this model highlights that people take on roles as both sender and receiver at the same time
(e.g., transactional messaging), with messages and feedback being sent and received simultaneously
throughout most communication interactions. When Derek got back from a campus retreat having decided that he
wanted to pursue a calling to become a priest, he knew that it would involve some difficult conversations with
people he cared about—most of all, his girlfriend Jae-Min. In the conversation, he tried to explain his reasons for
breaking up with her, while at the same time expressing his love for her and managing the fact that he was
causing her quite a bit of pain. For her own experience, Jae-Min was working hard to manage her own emotions
about losing Derek, while also trying to keep alive the spark of hope that Derek seemed to express about his new
ambitions. Both Derek and Jae-Min sent verbal and nonverbal messages to one another, from their discussions of
hope to their smiles, anger, and tears. As they have difficult conversations like these, couples are often able to
manage and adapt their messaging to one another. The tone and manner of these messages can strongly impact
how people interpret both nonverbal and verbal messages, as evidenced in the popular media highlighted in this
chapter’s Absorb feature.
Box . Absorb
Sarcasm on Popular Media
Jimmy Fallon is known for his character Sara on The Tonight Show’s popular recurring bit, “Ew!” In the clip
below, Sara’s friend Addison (played by John Cena) drops by after a long absence, and the two friends
reminisce and catch up about life.
“‘Ew!’ with John Cena” from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. March ,
Available on YouTube.
. Running Time: :
Although ridiculous at times, the clip shows some great examples of how tone of voice and context can
help clarify the meaning behind otherwise ambiguous phrases. Both Sara and Addison say the word “Ew!”
quite frequently throughout the clip. A casual observer might first think that both Sara and Addison are
exclaiming that everything is gross or disgusting, but after a while it becomes clear that Sara doesn’t
always have a negative view of everything that she says “Ew!” about.
ABSORB: How much does the meaning change for the word “Ew!” throughout the video clip? How many
different meanings can you discover for the word as you watch the video? What are the different cues that
you rely on to determine what Sara actually means, each time that she exclaims her trademark phrase?
The words that we use are very important. Indeed, the verbal content of the message (e.g., the verbal
communication) can have critical impact on the people, places, and things with which we interact or engage.
From a student ordering a burrito exactly how she wants, to an FBI agent negotiating a hostage situation, it is
important to make sure the words that we use convey the messages that we hope they convey. At the same time,
much of what we don’t say is just as important; our gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, and eye contact
(among others) can all have a strong impact within an environment. In our example from the opening of the
chapter, Mika didn’t say a single word yet he knew that he had a chance to get to know an attractive party-goer,
based on a series of unspoken messages. Those messages are considered nonverbal because they do not use
language to convey meaning.
Recently, nonverbal communication has been defined as “any communicative characteristic or behavior that
intentionally or unintentionally conveys a message without the use of verbal language.” In this case, verbal
language would include words or behaviors that directly stand for a specific word or words. For example, consider
the offensive gesture of extending one’s middle finger in the direction of another person. Most everyone within the
larger North American culture has a clear understanding of what specific words go alongside such a gesture, even
though they aren’t reproduced here. Even though tone and context can change our understanding of what was
ultimately intended by using such a gesture (e.g., giving someone a wink while flipping them “the bird” may imply
humor and friendship rather than animosity) the gesture itself is considered formal language (and is therefore
verbal communication).
Another important point contained in the definition of nonverbal communication highlights the idea that nonverbal
communication can be either intentional or unintentional, as shown in this chapter’s Inspire feature. This is quite
significant, because we are not always aware of our communicative behaviors when we send a message,
oftentimes messaging others even when we don’t intend to be doing so. Carl and Alysa were hanging out after
class at the local campus coffee shop. When Alysa offered to pay for Carl’s iced caramel macchiato, she had no
idea that her shy smile was interpreted by Carl to be a form of flirting. At the end of the interaction, Alysa thought
she had made a new platonic friend, while Carl had already begun picturing future romantic getaways together.
Box . Examine
The Ethics of Unintentional Communication
Have you ever accidentally hit reply-all to an e-mail when you meant to send a private message to just one
person? Or have you responded to a text on a group chat when you meant to send a personal message to
a friend? Sometimes, our messages reach a wider audience than we had originally intended.
That same type of accidental messaging occurs with nonverbal communication, but perhaps to an even
greater extent. Maybe a crush was able to notice your blush at their accidental eye contact, or a parent
saw the way you rolled their eyes when they didn’t understand a technology that seems so simple to every
single one of your peers. These messages can have a similar impact as those verbal messages at the
start of this box. People may just as easily take note of the nonverbal messages that you hoped would
never be seen.
Enrique loves his wife Kayla, and holds her in the highest regard. However, last week he caught Kayla
looking out the window at their neighbor Jake as he was doing some yard work shirtless. When Enrique
called her out on it, Kayla joked that he shouldn’t care if she ogled the neighbor, as he was too young for
her anyway. Enrique noticed that she was trying to laugh it off, but she couldn’t stop herself from blushing
at being caught in her daydreams.
INSPIRE: What should people do when confronted with an unintended message? Do you think that you
should be held responsible if one of your unintended nonverbal cues cause someone else to do something
that gets them in trouble or hurts a relationship? We may want others to give us the benefit of the doubt
when we express our feelings unintentionally through nonverbal cues; are we willing to do the same for
those around us?
One common misconception about a class in nonverbal communication is that it is going to be a sign language
class. Interestingly, sign languages in general—and American Sign Language (ASL) specifically—are actually
considered verbal forms of communication. ASL is a system of language that is communicated through gesture.
Even though no words are audibly spoken, hand gestures and facial expressions combine to send specific and
discrete language-based messages. Not all verbal messages are necessarily vocal/auditory messages, as we
can use verbal communication to visually send messages through the written word or through the interpretation of
specific gestures used in sign language. These signs are considered verbal communication because each sign
has a direct verbal meaning attached to the sign, one that is codified and made formal much in the same way that
languages are formed and acquired throughout a culture. Indeed, when Sarah, who is deaf, tries to order food at a
restaurant without using vocal sounds, she may try to point to items on the menu or mime certain types of food. If
she is fortunate enough to find a restaurant that employs a server that uses ASL, she can simply sign the items
that she wants, using for example the sign for taco—a chop of the blade of one hand into the folded palm of the
One of the key reasons why nonverbal communication is so important to human interaction is that it has
represented many important firsts for individuals, for interpersonal interactions, and even for the species as a
whole. For this reason, we often describe nonverbal communication as having primacy. We typically pay
attention to nonverbal messages first and foremost in an interaction. Juanito and Marieta are celebrating their fifth
anniversary as a couple. After a great dinner and evening of salsa dancing, Juanito pulled a gift out of his jacket
pocket, and presented it with a great flourish. Marieta’s eyes lit up, and she smiled coyly as she said, “I thought we
decided not to give each other gifts this year! You’re terrible.” After opening the envelope and discovering two
tickets to a show by her favorite musician, Marieta squealed and gave Juanito a kiss squarely on the lips. “I can’t
believe you did this, you monster!” she whispered, drawing him in for another kiss. Even though all of Marieta’s
words should have made Juanito think his gift was unwelcome, he knew he had made the right decision because
he was paying attention to her nonverbal behaviors. The surprise and delight on her face, coupled with some
passionate kissing for good measure, made it clear that Juanito had made this an anniversary to remember.
Primacy of Species
Over the course of human history, researchers have discovered that humans’ early ancestors were not able to use
verbal language.
In fact, verbal language likely began with homo sapiens, although some scholars have noted
that bone structures in Neanderthal may have allowed for complex sound to be vocalized. However, primates of
all sorts are able to live in community and share the division of labor, including caring for children and sharing food
that has been hunted or gathered. How did such interactions occur if verbal language wasn’t a part of the lives of
our early ancestors? Nonverbal communication like grunts or slight vocalizations were likely the early auditory
forms of communication, and facial expressions or gestures may have been able to indicate important things like
danger or submission or even the presence of spoiled meat. The idea that nonverbal communication came first
over the course of our species’ evolution is known as phylogenetic primacy, highlighting that our nonhuman
ancestors had likely figured out social signaling before humans existed in our current form.
Primacy of Individual
Not only is nonverbal communication the earliest type of communication for our species, but also it’s the earliest
form of communication for each individual member of our species across the lifespan. The idea that nonverbal
communication comes before any other form of communication in each individual experience is known as
ontogenetic primacy. It’s a pretty complicated phrase to describe a very simple concept: from the moment of
birth, infants have to communicate with other humans nonverbally because they haven’t yet acquired a verbal
language system. Starting with those early moments of life, most infants can communicate their needs through
crying and receive help from a caretaker in return. These infants receive love and affection without understanding
or using formal language, and they are still able to communicate basic emotions (like contentedness) during those
early interactions. Even the earliest experience of nursing allows for nonverbal communication to occur far before
a verbal language system is required. For example, consider a child crying to indicate hunger to his mother.
Assuming that child is being breast-fed, the mother will pick up the child and hold to her chest, the two will make
eye contact, and then even the grasping and kneading behaviors of the child are an early form of touch
expression. Think about that one interaction and all that it entails: sound, touching, being touched, eye contact,
and other forms of auditory communication and affection. Indeed, small children are often given positive
affirmations for those early attempts at communicating despite not having learned a formal language.
To be sure, the vast majority of children do eventually develop a verbal communication system. From learning
what to ask for—or in some cases what to demand—children quickly learn that verbal language allows for greater
specificity in achieving their goals. That being said, most young parents will acknowledge the greater urgency that
is conveyed by nonverbal forms of expression like crying or a tantrum. Why does ontogenetic primacy matter
within the human experience? It is, at its most basic, each person’s earliest form of communication in their own
lifespan. Whether you had a good upbringing or an unhappy early life, nonverbal communication is the way that
you communicated throughout those earliest interactions.
Primacy of Interaction
Our ancestors used nonverbal messaging to communicate long before modern humans were around, and each
individual human on this planet has explored their social world through nonverbal messaging long before any
understanding of a verbal language system is developed. In addition to those forms of primacy, each time we
interact with someone we exhibit a common form of primacy as we pay attention to their nonverbal behaviors
before we consider any words that they might be using. This type of primacy is known as interactional primacy,
and it highlights that our first impressions are often based on nonverbal characteristics and behaviors of another
person. Consider the first day of an in-person class, perhaps your favorite class from high school (or even the
class that you are in right now). From the moment your instructor walked into the room, you began to make
decisions about them based solely upon the way they looked or acted, and also based on how it seemed that they
treated the people around them. , Did you think they were going to be a difficult teacher, or relatively simple?
Did they seem easy-going or harsh and severe? Did you think that the instructor was going to be a good one, or
were you worried that it might be smarter to enroll in a section with a different instructor? Is the instructor likely to
be funny, to be cranky, or to be serious? You probably paid attention to a wide variety of personal characteristics
of the instructor in order to determine how you might best engage them over the course of the semester before
they even had a chance to say a single word. In this chapter’s Measure feature, we look at how this interactional
primacy may influence our subsequent perceptions of a person.
Box . Measure
Self-Assessments and First Impressions
Our briefest interactions with others often influence how we feel about them. At the slightest observation of
someone else’s behavior, we can make correct and incorrect guesses about a wide range of other
personal characteristics.
Scholars have figured out some relationships between our initial perceptions of other people and the
attitudes toward those people that result from our perceptions. The following is a shortened and modified
list of questions inspired by some early research on first impressions and attitude formation.
Instructions: Think carefully about someone you just recently met, someone with whom you have not
interacted significantly—perhaps the barista at the coffee shop on the corner or a new neighbor. Then,
write the number (e.g., through ) that best corresponds with your attitudes toward each statement
__________ 1.
This person seems considerate of others.
__________ 2.
I imagine that this person is highly intelligent.
__________ 3.
I don’t think this person seems humorless.
__________ 4.
I would expect that this person will do very well in life.
__________ 5.
I can’t imagine it is likely that this person is easily irritated.
__________ 6.
This person is probably quite popular.
Add up your score and see what you get. The lowest score you can receive on this assessment is , while
the highest score is . The higher your score, the more likely your first impression of that person was
influenced by an impression of interpersonal warmth, or a belief that the person would be pleasant and
likely to be a good friend. The lower your score, the more likely you evaluated that person as cold or
MEASURE: Are you surprised by your score of that other person? Was your impression of this relatively
new person warmer or colder overall? Think about the things that person did or the ways that they
behaved that may have impacted your evaluation of them as a person. If your scoring of the other person
is low, what kinds of observed behaviors might you avoid in your own life? If your scoring of the other
person is high, what positive characteristics do you hope you incorporate into new interactions?
These first impressions are made based upon a variety of different things that each person observes and
evaluates. Indeed, nonverbal messages can come through almost any of our senses, from seeing a co-worker’s
facial expressions, feeling the affectionate touch of a best friend, smelling the cologne or perfume of a romantic
partner, or hearing the heartbeat of a child during a long embrace. (Taste is the only sense through which we don’t
directly have a nonverbal code, and even then burgeoning research is looking at the area of how food and
communication are intermixed. As such, some scholars even highlight taste as a way of communicating!) And to
be sure, these are only the face-to-face channels of communication, not counting the range of nonverbal
messages that can still be expressed in mediated ways.
Nonverbal communication also occurs across a variety of mediated channels, like phone conversations, text
messages, e-mails, television and film, radio, Skype or FaceTime; the list is as long as the number of
communication technologies that exist. In the written word through messaging like text messages and e-mails,
emoticons and emojis—text-based images or graphics that replicate facial expressions or other visual cues—
serve as proxies for nonverbal communication. On phone conversations or on the radio, the vocal characteristics
of the speaker, including the pauses between speaking. serve as nonverbal indicators which may contain
information about the speaker’s emotional state. Television and film contexts provide for a rich expression of
nonverbal messages, but lose some of the interactivity of actual interaction. Skype, FaceTime, or other real-time
video messaging services allow for a variety of real-time interactive nonverbal messages to be shared, but some
scholars argue that they lack some of the important features of messages allowed through face-to-face
We explore the impact of channel selection in this chapter’s Engage feature.
Box . Engage
Diverse Channels, Diverse Choices
Across the diversity of a modern society, it is very common to have regular interactions among people from
different backgrounds who have new perspectives based on their everyday life. Brandi was excited to
move to a university located deep in a city center, as her main life experiences before that point occurred
in a suburban setting where everyone appeared relatively similar at first glance. Upon arriving for her
second year of college after a summer working at a regional camp, Brandi reflected on the many different
ways that she knew how to make friends and meet new people. While she was probably pretty popular at
camp that summer—she didn’t like to brag—Brandi had a lot of difficulty getting to know her neighbors she
encountered in the hall in her new downtown apartment building. She regularly tried to look people in the
eye directly and extend her arm for a handshake, but she often found that she had been “left hanging” by
her neighbors, whether intentionally or not.
Although Brandi quickly learned that not all of her neighbors relied primarily on face-to-face channels to
navigate their daily lives, she did find it strange that so many of her neighbors had their faces buried in
their phones or tablets and took little to no interest in her at all. After a conversation with one friendly longterm resident helped her realize that people valued privacy in such a densely populated environment,
Brandi realized that her own way of doing things was not always the most common—or even most desired
—in every environment.
ENGAGE: What things might Brandi do that her classmates and new neighbors find to be strange? Do you
think Brandi will end up behaving similarly to those around her in a few years, or will she keep up her
outgoing “suburban” ways? How have you managed your relationships across a variety of channels as you
transitioned to college life?
Channel Reliance
Many scholars have even looked at characteristics of these channels more intentionally, trying to determine which
channels are most important for communicating a full range of messages. Indeed, humans have a form of
channel reliance in which we tend to rely on specific channels (like vocal or visual cues, for example) for specific
types of messages (e.g., paying the most attention to vocal cues when receiving a deceptive message). , This
channel reliance will be discussed across multiple chapters in this book where appropriate. Significantly, the
interactivity of a variety of channel types may impact our ability to receive an intended message, as the degree to
which we can engage the message sender may influence what nonverbal characteristics we pay attention to.
Although the transactional model of communication is the preferred way of thinking about the basic elements of
human communication, most all models highlight the complexities of messaging. Whether you prefer to use the
linear model or the transactional model of communication, it is difficult to ignore the variety of ways that we send
to the people in our lives through both verbal and nonverbal messaging. Nonverbal communication includes a
specific set of characteristics or behaviors that send messages to our friends, family, coworkers, romantic
partners, and any other individuals that we engage with throughout our lives. Because nonverbal communication
has come first throughout our existence, humans tend to rely on nonverbal messages much more than any verbal
forms of communication. Just like verbal messaging, these nonverbal messages are sent by an individual using a
specific channel; often, that same individual is receiving messages simultaneously, trying to decode the intended
message despite many noise and features of the context that may impede the successful transmission of the
message. With so many different nonverbal and verbal messages present in our daily lives, it is not surprising that
we grow increasingly reliant upon certain types of messages over the course of our life span, influenced in part by
the interactivity of the channel through which we received that message. Throughout the rest of the book, we will
explore specific features and contexts of the nonverbal messages in our daily lives.
Knowing the impact of first impressions, how will you manage your nonverbal self to make sure that your
messages fit your goals?
In what way do you expect to use nonverbal communication to influence your close relationships in the future?
channel reliance
interactional primacy
linear model of communication
nonverbal communication
ontogenetic primacy
phylogenetic primacy
physical noise
physiological noise
psychological noise
semantic noise
transactional messaging
transactional model of communication
unidirectional messaging
verbal communication
vocal/auditory messages
Descriptions of Images and Figures
Back to Figure
The flow diagram is present within a large oval labeled “Context”. The flow diagram shows a sender sending a
message to a receiver through a channel. The message is presented as a one-way arrow. Surrounding the flow
diagram and within the context is noise.
Back to Figure
The flow diagram is present within a large oval labeled “Context”. The flow diagram shows a sender and receiver
and a receiver and sender connected through a message that travels through a channel. The message is
presented as a double-headed arrow. Surrounding the flow diagram and within the context is noise. A channel of
feedback flows from the sender and receiver to the receiver and sender, and vice versa.
Learning Objectives
After reading this chapter you will be able to do the following:
List the main principles of nonverbal messaging
Distinguish between digital and analog messages
Describe how humans process messages
Explain how nonverbal communication is innate
Chance and Kelly rarely hung out anymore. It’s not that they stopped liking each other, but they didn’t seem to
have as much in common as they did back when they were in high school student government together. Plus, they
were busy. Once she got to college, Kelly got a part-time job at a campus coffee shop and a full-time boyfriend; at
the same time, Chance got involved with the Pride community and began a minor in gender studies to
complement a full load of engineering coursework. When Kelly happened to be near Chance in the student union,
she didn’t immediately recognize Chance because of the new hairstyle. Chance had been happy to see Kelly from
a distance. Happy, that is, until Kelly walked closer and kept walking right on by en route to her shift at the coffee
shop without even a word. Chance was concerned that all the recent hours spent at the Pride Resource Center
rubbed Kelly the wrong way, and sent Kelly a text, fearing their casual friendship had taken a turn for the worse. A
later text of explanation from Kelly didn’t calm Chance’s fear that she might be unhappy with their friendship.
Guiding Questions
How do nonverbal messages lead to misunderstanding?
To what extent can individuals manage the impressions that they are sending to one another?
In their discipline-defining book, scholars Judee Burgoon and Thomas Paine highlighted some important
characteristics of nonverbal communication that are still significant today. Even though communicators have
experienced dramatic changes in communication technologies over the past years, the basic principles of
nonverbal messaging are just as true now as they were decades ago, regardless of nonverbal channel.
Nonverbal Messaging Is Ubiquitous
The first characteristic of nonverbal communication is that it is everywhere. Every single interaction between
humans contains some nonverbal component, regardless of whether that interaction occurs face to face, over the
telephone, by text message, through a computer, on a boat, on a train, or on a plane. Whenever humans interact,
they use nonverbal messaging in some way. According to a receiver-based perspective of communication, even
the unintended behaviors of everyday life can be perceived to have some communicative value, so that student
sleeping in class next to you right now may be unintentionally letting your instructor know that he or she is more
sleepy than he or she is interested in class. This receiver-based perspective of communication is in keeping with
the oft-repeated maxim that you may have heard in another more introductory communication class: “One cannot
not communicate.” This statement reminds us time and time again that we are always sending messages
regardless of intent. From the facial expressions we make when we think no one is looking, to the pause between
when we receive and then reply to a text message, other people are constantly ascribing meaning to the
behaviors and characteristics we exhibit throughout our life.
Nonverbal Messaging Functions in Many Ways
We can use nonverbal messages in almost any situation. Nonverbal communication can help people in giving
directions to a stranger, influencing someone to buy a fundraising raffle ticket, indicating a desire for a romantic
encounter with a new partner, or even deceiving someone about your feelings toward the horrible birthday gift you
just received. Sometimes the nonverbal messages occur alongside the verbal messages (e.g., alongside words)
that you are sending and receiving with a communication partner. Other times, the nonverbal messages are the
sole method of communicating—like when you are at a concert that is particularly loud and you want to let your
friends know that you are leaving early, but they wouldn’t be able to hear any words you might say so you must
resort to gestures instead.
Nonverbal Messaging Is Widely Used
In every culture and across every location, people use a variety of nonverbal behaviors to send messages to one
another. Some scholars have discovered that the facial expressions we use are near universal, meaning that
people understand some common nonverbal messages regardless of their background. In almost every situation
across most any location on earth, for example, people are likely to know the difference between an angry face
and a smiling happy face, regardless of their unique culture or background.
Have you ever traveled abroad? Or spent time with people or with families that don’t speak the language that you
personally grew up with? You may have found it relatively easy to interact with these people, even if you didn’t
have a single word of verbal communication shared between you.
Sherold enjoys having friends from around the world, and during a gap year before college, he wanted to meet up
with friends in a restaurant near the Mexico–U.S. border. When he arrived at the restaurant, he realized he had no
way to alert the staff to his significant tomato allergy. By pantomiming the shape of a round fruit, pointing to the
color red, and making a choking motion by wrapping his hands around his neck, he was able to communicate
enough information that the server appeared to understand. Retreating to the back and returning to the table while
holding a medium-size tomato—shaking her head and wagging her finger at it—the server was able to confirm
what Sherold meant by his “performance,” and the delicious meal ended up being a highlight of Sherold’s trip.
Even though Sherold didn’t speak a word of the local language, he was able to use nonverbal messaging to
communicate a relatively sophisticated message across cultures in a way that felt natural to him. In this chapter’s
Engage feature we have another example of cultural differences influencing nonverbal behavior.
Box . Engage
Nonverbal Behaviors in Diverse Contexts
North America is filled with a variety of people from all over the world. While Derek’s family has lived in his
hometown for generations, Derek’s boyfriend Marcus has recently emigrated from Europe—and Marcus’s
extended family is still learning the local language. Although Derek likes Marcus’s family quite a bit, he
feels a little left out because of not knowing exactly what they are saying. Plus, there was “the incident.”
Last time he visited the house, Derek used the restroom and ran out of toilet paper. Coming out from the
bathroom and realizing his own boyfriend had taken a quick trip to the store, Derek had a heck of a time
trying to get another roll without having a shared language system. Although he was able to eventually get
them to figure it out, Marcus confides that his family still makes some odd gestures every time Derek’s
name comes up.
Aside from being one of the more awkward moments of his life, Derek feels like an outsider as he
navigates his boyfriend’s life. Recently, his best friend Sadie encouraged him to think about all the
nonnative English speakers that he interacts with daily, immigrants and new citizens who don’t have his
considerable English speaking skills. Derek realized that he himself has been complicit in making others
feel badly when they don’t embrace the majority language, even to the point of dismissing them as people
without relevant opinions or feelings.
ENGAGE: What is our obligation when communicating with diverse others? Does that obligation change
when we don’t share a common language? Nonverbal communication is often described as a “universal
language.” Does that idea of universality impact our opinion at all when realizing that we can, in fact, send
messages to one another—and have had that shared nonverbal language system since our earliest years
as a child?
While not every nonverbal message translates well across cultures or locations, as aforementioned many facial
expressions are similar across cultures. In addition, many gestures are directly related to the things that they
represent, so the meaning is likely similar among most people. Raising one’s hand in the air above your head
when describing a person likely means “tall” across cultures, and rotating your arms like you are swimming will
likely convey something about water in many places around the world. Other nonverbal messages may not
transfer as well, like when mimicking typing on a keyboard to represent a computer or clicking an imaginary
mouse; in areas where computer usage is not widespread, obviously describing such technologies would be
difficult or impossible even with verbal language.
Nonverbal Messaging Impacts Meaning-Making
Nonverbal messages can add great significance to an interaction, such as giving a dear friend a comforting hug at
a funeral. Such a gesture may convey more than words alone could possibly communicate, helping someone to
know the depth of closeness and empathy shared between friends. Nonverbal messages can also inadvertently
send a message other than the one intended, however, such as when a coworker puts a hand of support on the
shoulder of their colleague, only to have such behavior interpreted as a sexual advance. The behavior that one
person intended to use to show friendship and familiarity could be taken for something which ultimately destroys
the collegial relationship.
While nonverbal behaviors can add to one’s understanding of an intended message, it can also lead to someone
being still further confused about a sender’s intent, sometimes even with dramatic results. When Chia-Yen was
driving on a winding, hilly road in the foothills just outside of the city, she came to a stop sign on a blind corner.
Noticing that someone in another car was having trouble using a manual transmission, she waited and waved the
other car through and let that other person have her turn. Unfortunately, that car then pulled out and was
immediately struck by an oncoming car. Even though it was a minor collision, Chia-Yen felt guilty when she
realized that the driver of the other car thought she was giving him the “all-clear” signal when she only meant to
give him her turn at navigating the intersection. A relatively simple wave of the hand meant two different things to
two different drivers on the road that day.
Nonverbal Messaging has Primacy
As discussed in Chapter , nonverbal messaging is a “first” for us in many ways. It’s the first way that we learned
to communicate as a species (i.e., phylogenetic primacy), the first way that we learned to communicate across our
individual life span (i.e., ontogenetic primacy), and the first way that we continue to learn information about others
through first impressions (i.e., interactional primacy). Because nonverbal communication has primacy by coming
before verbal language in so many ways, we have a longer history with—and a greater reliance on—nonverbal
messages than we have with words and other linguistic features. When Shelly turned a corner in the mall and
suddenly saw her “frenemy” Barbara from down the street, her face naturally turned into a look of contempt before
she even had time to think about it. By the time she reached Barbara, Shelly had composed a smile and politely
asked how Barbara was doing, but the overall tone of the interaction had already been set by an unintentional
facial expression before words were spoken.
Nonverbal Messaging Is Ambiguous
Even though nonverbal messaging is universal in a variety of ways, there is just enough ambiguity across
nonverbal behaviors to be useful in certain situations. Occasionally, people may want to send a message that
can’t (or shouldn’t) be put into words, whether it is a criticism or disagreement with an important relational partner,
a statement that needs to be off the record, or even a humorous jab that might be too edgy to say outright. In
those cases, nonverbal behaviors offer an opportunity to get a message across without the sender being held
accountable for the verbal content that would have replaced that message.
For example, when Santiago was giving his presentation at work last week, no one wanted to tell him that he was
boring and taking too long; at the same time, someone needed to get the meeting moving along or they would be
there all day. Santiago’s supervisor helped wrap things up by looking at his watch, quietly yawning, and stretching
his arms in such a way that Santiago got the hint without being publicly embarrassed. Later that evening, Santiago
put on his favorite silk shirt and was immediately confronted by his wife Stacia, who blocked his path, raised her
eyebrows at the shirt, and handed him a conservative polo. Instead of obviously criticizing Santiago’s clothing
options, Stacia also sent a message in a straightforward yet ambiguous way that did not hurt Santiago’s feelings
as much as a direct criticism of his favorite shirt might. To further refine your own ways of dealing with cultural
differences in communication, check out this chapter’s Apply feature where you can consider another example of
a difficult communication situation.
Box . Apply
Trusted Expressions of Excitement and Interest
LaShonda was trying to figure out what to get her niece Aaliyah for her eighth birthday party, but was
having trouble deciding between some options. As she was looking at possible toys online and trying to
figure out which one to get, she decided to FaceTime her sister’s family and have a conversation. After the
usual pleasantries, LaShonda decided it was time to sneakily figure out what to get. She mentioned a few
toys, and noticed that Aaliyah’s face really lit up at the mention of a remote-control robot that looked like a
dog, and then a few moments later LaShonda’s sister mentioned that the best option would be a different
toy that didn’t seem to really grab anyone’s attention. After exiting the FaceTime conversation, LaShonda
clicked over to the two different options for the birthday present, and her mouse hovered over the “add to
my basket” button for each of the two toys. LaShonda was in a bit of a conundrum.
LaShonda really struggled with what toy to purchase in this scenario. LaShonda’s sister clearly highlighted
a toy that her niece wanted, but Aaliyah looked so excited at the thought of that small remote-control robot
puppy. While both toys were great options, LaShonda really wanted to have her toy make a splash at the
APPLY: Which toy do you think LaShonda eventually purchased for Aaliyah? Why do you think that is the
case? How does this entire scenario illustrate how much stock we put in nonverbal messages over verbal
messages? Do you think the conversation would have had a different outcome if it had just happened over
a normal phone call?
Nonverbal Messaging Is Accepted
For a variety of reasons, people tend to trust nonverbal messages over the verbal messages that may accompany
them. , Perhaps because of the primacy of the nonverbal channels of communication, or maybe because people
know that nonverbals can be used to send information that one would prefer to remain off the record, the receivers
of messages often believe the messaging implied by nonverbal communication, even when it is in direct
contradiction to the verbal messages sent in the same interaction.
This reliance on the nonverbal components of an overall interaction is one reason why sarcasm works so
effectively: The nonverbal messages occur alongside the verbal statements, and the facial expressions or tone of
voice serve to negate the words or phrases that are spoken by the messenger.
Ken and Myles have been married for a couple years now, and Myles loves to tease Ken about his family and their
strange mannerisms. When Myles gets a particularly good joke in about the way that Ken’s father snores on the
couch during a family visit, Ken jabs Myles in the side with his elbow and says, “Oh stop it, I hate you.” Because
Ken had a smile on his face, a soft casual tone to his voice, and kept good eye contact, Myles is confident that
Ken means the exact opposite of what he said. If Myles accepted Ken’s verbal message rather than his nonverbal
behaviors, they might have a long and uncomfortable conversation in store for the ride home after the visit.
In light of our previous discussion of the characteristics of nonverbal messaging, it becomes useful to further
clarify the distinction between nonverbal and verbal behaviors. One useful way to think of the difference between
nonverbal and verbal behaviors has to do with the distinction between digital representations and analog
representations during interactions. , A digital representation is one in which the components of the message
have an arbitrary relationship to the thing that is being signified. This arbitrary relationship is assigned by cultural
experience, much in the same way that a specific set of letters are put together to form a word that is then
assigned to represent a concept. Consider, for example, the digital clock face represented on the previous page. If
you break it down to its most basic form, the passage of time is signified by a bunch of little lines moving places all
over a screen to create easily recognizable patterns that mean something. In the case of the clock face in the
picture, the lines have been lit in such a way as to indicate that it is currently : a. m. A box of vegetables
delivered to a store might be clearly labeled c-o-r-n, a string of letters that we have arbitrarily decided can be used
to represent a particularly delicious ingredient in making taco shells.
Analog representations, on the other hand, are ones where there is a direct link between the message and the
thing being signified. An analog clock, for example, has minute hands which move around a dial to signal the
passing of time. As seen in the Photo, a sketch of an ear of corn in front of a farmer’s market stand looks enough
like the vegetable that people know exactly what the vendor is selling. Unlike digital representations that rely on
culture-specific symbols much like language, analog representations use signs that inherently relate to or imply
the object of discussion.
Typically, verbal messages are considered two be digital representations of something, because they consist of a
string of symbolic letters or sounds that have come to represent a specific concept. Nonverbal messages are often
described as analog representations, because one need not have much (or sometimes even any) cultural
background to gain a solid impression of what message a skilled communicator is trying to convey.
This ability to successfully send or receive nonverbal messages is an important part of the concept of message
processing, , which is the combination of encoding and decoding messages in human interaction. Think about
the models of communication that we looked at in Chapter . When people are engaging in the encoding of
messages, they are constructing a message to send to their interaction partner, likely working to figure out how
best to produce a message in order to reach the audience. Thinking of the right words to say? Making sure that a
facial expression matches your emotion? Each of these are examples of encoding behaviors that people engage
to get their point across to an audience. Once the message is encoded, it is sent through a channel to the
receiver, who then begins the process of trying to interpret meaning from a communication act or behavior. The
receiver then begins decoding the message received, in an attempt to understand or act upon the verbal or
nonverbal messages received. We go into the stages of communicating—the encoding and decoding involved in
message processing—in the next section as we explore the ways that humans send and receive nonverbal
messages among one another. While some early research focused on the ways that nonverbal messaging
influenced how we attend to verbal messages, most scholars now understand that nonverbal messages are
more than just an added “bonus” to the verbal messages that people use in interpersonal interactions. Here we
look at a three-stage model of nonverbal message processing that explains how humans are able to successfully
receive messages from one another.
The Attention Stage
In order for someone to receive a message from an interaction partner, first they must be attending to that partner,
a behavior that occurs during the attention stage. Rather than just seeing or hearing messages that are being
sent, one must listen and observe while engaging with another person. We are naturally likely to only give our
attention to a small subset of verbal and nonverbal messages in any situation, often because of the presence of
different types of noise as highlighted in Chapter . The ability to screen out any distractions requires a great
deal of mental energy, and only when one is intentionally giving attention to a communicator can they then begin
to receive verbal or nonverbal messages. Interestingly, research has shown that women are significantly more
likely to give attention to nonverbal messages, highlighting a sex difference that may contribute to better
understanding of nuance in communication. As more and more things compete for our attention in our daily
lives, it is increasingly difficult to attend to the verbal and nonverbal messages of a particular individual, or to be
attended to by someone else. Some businesses even have a formal training system for employees on how to
appear to pay attention to a customer, because a lack of attention is so widespread that it is even beginning to be
considered “normal” in modern times. Fortunately, nonverbal communication has the potential to be quite
engaging, with people able to use gestures, vocal variety, direct eye contact, and kinesic movements to re-engage
an audience that appears to be losing interest quickly. , In this chapter’s Absorb feature we look at the
attention of audience members in a popular late-night talk show.
Box . Absorb
Attention on Popular Media
James Corden is famous for his spontaneous audience interactions during The Late Late Show with
James Corden. With an audience full of people who came specifically to watch the show, he still highlights
the difficulty of paying attention when a lot is going on in his recurring game “Were you paying attention?”
in the clip below.
“Were You Paying Attention?” from The Late Late Show with James Corden. March
Time: : . Available on YouTube.
. Running
As someone watching from home, it seems ludicrous that individuals would spend an entire day of their
lives focused on trying to see a live recording of a late night talk show, and then not be able to recount
details of the very show they are in the middle of taping. That being said, the majority of audience
participants were unable to recall even those significant moments from the program.
ABSORB: How does the clip illustrate just how easily individual attention is divided? How do you think you
would respond in a similar situation? Quick, without looking, what color was James Corden’s tie in the
video clip? As you might imagine, even the most in-your-face details may be difficult to remember when so
many things are competing for our attention.
The Comprehension Stage
The next stage of processing messages has to do with how we engage material to which we have given our
attention. Specifically, the comprehension stage involves a listener’s attempt to actually understand the verbal or
nonverbal messages, rather than just hear or see them (but not critically engage them). Scholars Stewart and
Huston argue that there are three main forms of active listening, or attending to a conversational partner in order
to create understanding. , Indeed, these same attempts at comprehension apply for nonverbal messaging as
well and are adapted accordingly.
Dialogic Comprehension
Dialogic comprehension can emerge from an active process of paying attention to one another’s verbal and
nonverbal messaging. In this active form of engagement and observation, both parties seek to co-construct
shared meaning and understand each other’s thoughts and feelings through conversation and dialogue, while also
attending to the nonverbal displays of one another. In this chapter’s Measure feature you can assess your own
ability to take the perspective of another person.
Empathic Comprehension
Empathic comprehension can also emerge from active attention, in which partners develop an understanding of
one another and attempt to use all available information to assist in adopting the perspective of one’s
conversational partner and interpreting the world through that perspective.
Analytic Comprehension
Analytic comprehension is a form of active comprehension in which one party seeks to analyze or critique the
message and the implications of a communication interaction in order to determine the truth or veracity of the
verbal and nonverbal messages.
Box . Measure
Self-Assessments and Perspective-Taking
People often are self-involved when it comes to managing their own relationship difficulties. That is, most
people naturally want to act in what seems like their own best interests, even if it may ultimately damage
the relationship that they have with their interaction partner, whether a friend, family member, or romantic
Scholars have figured out a way to measure whether someone is likely to try to understand where their
interaction partner is coming from, a behavior often described as perspective-taking. , The following is
a shortened and modified list of questions inspired by some original research on empathy and perspectivetaking.
Instructions: Think carefully about a person that you interact with regularly, someone close enough that
you might have normal moments of conflict as part of your relationship. With that person in mind, consider
whether the following statements describe you well. Write the number (e.g., through ) that best
corresponds with your fit with each statement.
Does Not
Does Not
Me Very
Me At All
Me Well
__________ 1.
I seem to know how this person feels very often.
__________ 2.
When I’m upset with this person, I try to put myself in their position.
__________ 3.
I try to understand this person by imagining how things look to them.
__________ 4.
I try to look at this person’s side of things before making a decision.
__________ 5.
I know what it is like to “walk a mile in this person’s shoes.”
__________ 6.
I am a pretty good judge of this person’s feelings.
Add up your score and see what you get. The lowest score you can receive on this assessment is , while
the highest score is . The higher your score, the more likely you are trying to engage in empathy in this
relationship. The lower your score, the less likely you try to engage in perspective-taking with this one
relational partner
MEASURE: Are you surprised by your score? Was it higher or lower than the score you expected? Think
about the things that may impact whether you try to understand your interaction partner, including specific
characteristics of the relationship and the context. What might cause you to be more or less likely to
consider their perspective during a disagreement?
The Memory Stage
Finally, the third stage of message processing is called the memory stage, and focuses on our ability to recall
information about an interaction. This stage focuses on not only information about the content of the interaction,
but also information about the context in which the interaction occurred, the relational information implied by the
manner of interaction, as well as other nonverbal characteristics of the messaging beyond the simple verbal
information that usually comprises recall. Obviously, it is nearly impossible to remember all parts of an interaction,
both verbal and nonverbal; that being said, the greater the degree to which communicators attempt to actively
engage one another, the more likely they will be able to have significant recall of important features of the
interaction. Indeed, although much research on recall focuses on verbal communication, the nonverbal messaging
associated with human interaction is among our earliest and most primal communication skills.
Box . Examine
The Ethics of Analysis
Our modern media landscape encourages us to reconsider whether people are telling us the truth. When
we are trying to evaluate the truthfulness of someone’s words or the sincerity of their actions or emotional
displays, it is essential to consider our own biases that we might have toward that person as we are
making our analysis. For example, it is common for people to dismiss the statements or expressions of
politicians from a different political party, or to disregard the explanations of athletes who play on a rival
team. When watching a basketball game, people are quick to dismiss something even as provable as a
potential foul on the court when it happens to a member of the visiting team.
Although it is tempting to discount a statement of an unliked person as untruthful, or to write off the
crocodile tears of a man or woman confessing a personal failing, good communicators must evaluate
others’ statements and interpersonal situations based upon a variety of information inputs. For example,
what is this person’s history of truthfulness? Is there some personal trigger evident when I encounter this
person, one that makes me want to jump to conclusions without having heard their statement or without
having considered relevant evidence? Do I have reason to doubt the veracity of this individual’s verbal or
nonverbal messages? In our modern society, we are often tempted to dismiss information that could prove
helpful in making judgements of our own, often at our own peril.
EXAMINE: Considering our own biases allows us to approach message analysis in a more ethical way.
What kinds of things trigger you to distrust someone? Are there any sociodemographic categories (e.g.,
age, gender, race, religion, political party) about which you need to have a broader mind? Oftentimes, we
are able to overcome much bias simply by acknowledging the areas in which we might be inclined to jump
to conclusions. Even more importantly, interacting with people who are very different from ourselves can
also allow us to challenge our previously held beliefs.
As mentioned earlier in the chapter, nonverbal communication is a near-universal skill. There is something
inherent in being human that means that people will be able to communicate in some way without verbal
messaging. An inherited trait that is further enhanced throughout a lifetime of cultural learning, the ability to send
or receive messages nonverbally is a fundamental characteristic of being a human being. Indeed, scholars
regularly note that learning difficulties associated with poor nonverbal skills are often much more difficult to
remediate than those associated with verbal skills like speech or reading ability. , Indeed, children who are
less skilled at using nonverbal messaging are often frequently the victim of a variety of forms of bullying or social
ostracization, likely the result of an inability to pick up on the subtleties of human interaction deemed necessary
to navigate the nuances of childhood playgrounds. Hale
Despite this innate ability to send or receive messages nonverbally, it becomes very obvious during adult social
situations that some people are more skilled at communicating nonverbally than are others. Nonverbal
communication is an important part of social competence or social intelligence. , , Indeed, socially
intelligent adults can perceive a wide variety of individual observed characteristics based on subtle nonverbal
behaviors, including abstract characteristics like professional success, religious identity, political ideology, sexual
orientation, and a variety of other characteristics that may otherwise be available as information only through the
process of self-disclosure (i.e., revealing personal information about the self through verbal conversation).
While scholars have worked to try to measure this ability to send or receive nonverbal messages,
we can
probably easily identify in our own lives those who are more or less skilled at communicating nonverbally or
picking up on social skills.
Our understanding of the characteristics of nonverbal communication is extended even further by highlighting the
key principles of nonverbal messaging. First, nonverbal messaging is everywhere, a characteristic which is
highlighted in three of those principles: Nonverbal messaging is ubiquitous, nonverbal messaging is widely used,
and nonverbal messaging is widely accepted. Some specific caveats are also highlighted in those principles,
pointing out that nonverbal messaging functions in many ways, nonverbal messaging impacts meaning-making,
and nonverbal messaging is ambiguous. Lastly, it’s important to remember the final principle that was initially
discussed in Chapter : nonverbal messaging Has primacy. One characteristic that helps in that primacy is the
direct nature of nonverbal representation; rather than being digital and therefor arbitrarily related, nonverbal
communication is analogic and has a direct relationship to the thing it represents. Finally, we turn our attention to
considering the ways that individuals process nonverbal information, highlighting the importance of active attention
in human interaction.
Now that you are aware of the possible misinterpretations of nonverbal messages, what will you do to make sure
that people better understand your intent?
Given that people form impressions of you based upon your verbal and nonverbal messaging, what do you plan to
do to best manage those impressions?
analog representation
analytic comprehension
attention stage
comprehension stage
dialogic comprehension
digital representation
empathic Comprehension
memory stage
message processing
social competence
social intelligence
Learning Objectives
After reading this chapter you will be able to do the following:
Define the concept of nonverbal codes
List each of the nonverbal codes
Explain and give examples of each code
As a recent college graduate, Josefina was thrilled to get a position at a downtown marketing firm. Despite having
beat out over
other applicants for the position, Josefina was concerned at the end of the first week when she
found out she was her supervisor Kizzy’s second choice for the position. As a result, Josefina wanted to show her
new supervisor how diligent and qualified she truly was. By the end of the -day probationary period, Josefina’s
supervisor wrote a glowing review describing how well she was fitting in. In the review, Kizzy acknowledged how
warmly Josefina greeted new clients with a smile, direct eye contact, and a firm sustained handshake. She also
highlighted Josefina’s attention during meetings and ability to appear focused, using direct body orientation and
frequent nods or smiles to indicate her attention. Kizzy also mentioned her professional dress with slacks and a
muted blouse-and-blazer combination, in addition to her amazing timeliness in which she proved herself to be the
first to arrive to every client meeting. Josefina was happy to have the opportunity to continue to succeed at the
firm despite her early misgivings.
Guiding Questions
How do we use nonverbal messages to manage our identities?
Through which nonverbal codes should we attempt to reinforce a message?
How do we use different nonverbal codes to create a gestalt impression?
How would you describe yourself? What are the specific descriptions that help you explain to others who you are?
Identity is a word that describes the relatively unchanging or stable set of perceptions or ideas that we hold about
ourselves. It is quite useful to consider the most basic building blocks of an individual’s identity as we begin to
consider our nonverbal behaviors and how they indicate who we think we are.
Sex and Gender
One of the primary identities that emerges in our modern world have to do with our perceptions of how we do or
don’t fit into traditional sex roles. Among our earliest experiences are moments where we are socialized to behave
like boys and girls, men and women. Much research has looked at the various influences on our gender
development, from the early messages our parents tell us like “boys don’t cry” or “be a pretty little lady,” to the
different toys that are marketed to boys and girls and whether they emphasize fighting and dominance (typically
for boys) or nurturance and cooperation (typically for girls). Over time, we develop an understanding about a
variety of nonverbal characteristics that help us to act out a gender identity including how much space we take up
in public, whether we act tough or accept needed help, the types of clothes we wear, and even the facial
expressions we allow ourselves to show to both known and unknown others.
Nonverbal communication becomes one of the most common ways to portray ourselves as having a specific sex
(defined in biological terms, this includes genital, chromosomal, and hormonal displays of maleness and
femaleness ) or gender (a culturally defined understanding of what social behaviors are generally believed to be
representations of masculinity, femininity, or both (androgynous), or neither (undifferentiated). At
years old,
Kyoko has a very specific understanding of how she “should” behave as a woman; unfortunately, as a current
study-abroad participant in the United States, she is discovering that her perspective is different from the culture
that surrounds her, since her views are so strongly influenced by her childhood as a Japanese national. She
suddenly sees her own Harajuku-style clothing choices as overly feminine and almost infantile when compared to
many of her New England classmates, totally unaware of her classmates’ actual views of her stylings as “pretty
punk-rock.” To explore further the use of personal pronouns when talking about these gender concepts, see the
Examine feature in this chapter, next.
Box . Examine
The Ethics of Personal Pronouns
In the English language, we often use gendered pronouns to describe the actions of another person. The
structure “She forgot her phone when she went to her work today” may make a lot of sense when
answering your own romantic partner’s missed call, but in most other situations, it is not appropriate to
guess the gender identity of an unknown other despite a variety of nonverbal displays that may hint at a
particular gendered life. It is tempting to rely on long hair, the use of makeup, or even on feminine colors
(e.g., pinks or purples) or cuts of clothing (e.g., long, flowing, or even gauzy layers) to assume that
someone wants to be seen as a woman. Additionally, masculine, wide, expansive gestures or short hair
with accented musculature may make someone appear more manly, but even the most masculine of
clothing (i.e., a tuxedo) may not be a reliable indicator that the wearer is a man.
While some people may bemoan the “difficulties” of making their own communication match the lived
experiences of the people around them, it is incredibly easy to avoid mislabeling someone as a “him” (“he”)
or “her” (“she”) when that person actually uses another different pronoun. An important best practice to be
adopted by the skilled communicator is to simply ask someone what pronoun they use. Rather than asking
them what pronoun they prefer—which implies that there is a “real” pronoun that should be used but isn’t—
simply asking someone about their pronouns is easy and much less awkward than someone might
assume. For people who never give their own pronoun a second thought, a simple step can eliminate a
discouraging moment of someone’s day.
EXAMINE: A simple clarifying question can help us better navigate the social realities of our modern world.
Although many people may engage in nonverbal displays of gender that you automatically assume imply a
masculine or a feminine identity, what might that person feel if you incorrectly use the wrong pronoun?
Have you ever had someone make an incorrect assumption about you based upon some intentional or
unintentional nonverbal display? What is the best response that you can use if someone uses the wrong
pronoun when describing or interacting with you?
Other identities are also just as significant as our understanding of sex or gender, specifically those related to our
racial heritage. Because race is so often “displayed” for others to see before other impressions are given the
chance to be formed—for example, racial heritage can be somewhat displayed through skin or hair color, the
roundness of one’s eyes, general hair texture, and even facial structure—it is not unusual for people to feel that
people are seeing them more for their race than for any other characteristic (perhaps besides gender). Although
there isn’t any biological basis for the many stereotypes associated with racial heritage, unfortunately many
people must navigate their world with the additional burden of unwarranted perceptions of their behavior,
character, biology, or ethics. At the same time, some people may be unjustly gifted with unearned privilege based
upon their racial heritage, typically referred to as white privilege for Caucasians in North America. (Similarly, men
often benefit from male privilege.) Although privilege is often an emotionally charged topic because of all the
feelings such a conversation may bring to the surface, it is important for people to learn more about how they have
participated in society and to consider the ways in which they may have benefitted in different ways from unequal
power structures.
Individuals may have different perceptions of their own racial identity, depending upon the experiences that they
have had with members of not only other races but also with individuals that share their own racial background.
Xochitl, for example, was taught to embrace her Chicana identity and was very politically active in local Latinx
advocacy organizations. As a result, she is able to quickly identify with strong role models that share her
background. Her own mother had a very different childhood, not learning until later in life that her racial identity
was a strength to be acknowledged or highlighted, rather than simply a detriment to deal with as she tried to
assimilate into a majority culture. In this chapter’s Absorb feature we see an example from popular media of how
identity characteristics like these can influence perceptions of our interaction partners.
Box . Absorb
Nonverbal Identity Displays on Popular Media
Talk show host Seth Meyers plays with notions of racial and sexual identity in the recurring segment “Jokes
Seth Can’t Tell” on his Late Night with Seth Meyers show. Because of his visible whiteness and maleness
—and his self-admitted heterosexuality—Seth claims that certain jokes are off-limits because the punch
lines involve issues of blackness, queerness, or of women’s lived experiences. Watch as Seth navigates
identity in the clip below.
“Jokes Seth Can’t Tell: Possible Shoplifters, Artisan Lemonade.” from Late Night with Seth Meyers. July
. Available on YouTube.
Consider the nonverbal reactions of Seth’s writers when he finally tells an admittedly inappropriate joke at
the end of the segment. With just a couple facial expressions and some vocal variation, both women are
able to easily convey their shock and (faux) outrage at Seth’s attempt at humor.
ABSORB: How do the different identities impact your reaction to the jokes in this sketch? In what ways do
you as an audience member make assumptions about each panelist based on the nonverbal displays of
identity? Imagine the difference in your reaction (if any) were Seth Meyers the only one telling each of the
jokes, alone at his desk. Do you think you would feel differently about the segment?
People often think of culture as something associated with one’s national origin or racial background. In fact,
culture is much more about the combination of the various groups to which we belong. In addition, those groups
are often located within a particular geographic region, where local ways of doing things can emerge that influence
individual identity beyond members’ other group memberships. Margie, for example, grew up in a rural area where
horseback riding and the rodeo were part of daily life. Despite considering …
Purchase answer to see full

Order your essay today and save 15% with the discount code: VACCINE

Order a unique copy of this paper

550 words
We'll send you the first draft for approval by September 11, 2018 at 10:52 AM
Total price:
Top Academic Writers Ready to Help
with Your Research Proposal