Communicating Without Uttering a Word

We may view the primary form of communication as speaking with one another verbally, but we speak almost just as often and effectively through nonverbal communication: body language. The way we hunch over in our chairs, and the way we shrug our shoulders or roll our eyes, are all forms of communication, and negative communication at that. Some positive examples include making direct eye contact, leaning into a handshake, and keeping our arms open. These negative and positive forms of body language all communicate something different. Let’s explore some of these nonverbal communication means:

  • Crossed arms: I think we all know what this form of body language communicates. It typically means the individual feels uncomfortable—they might be in disagreement or feel defensive toward whoever they’re communicating with. Whichever way, crossing of the arms can definitely communicate negativity.
  • Nail biting: Nail biting also portrays a negative mood. It can be attributed to the individual feeling stressed, nervous, or insecure. Many people get into the habit of biting their nails and don’t even notice when they’re doing so.
  • Tapping fingers and feet: An individual who’s tapping their fingers or their feet repeatedly may be feeling nervous as well. It can also mean the individual is impatient or growing tired of waiting.
  • Head tilted: A tilted head typically characterizes someone in deep thought or interest. For example, dogs often tilt their heads to one side when their owner talks to them—they’re trying their best to understand what is being communicated with them.
  • Rubbing hands together: We often rub our hands together vigorously out of excitement. Think, you’re being served a delicious dinner or planning a fun night with your friends.
  • Pulling of the ear: Interestingly enough, we often pull on the lobes of our ears when we’re having a difficult time making a decision. Therefore, this motion typically characterizes indecisiveness.
  • Open palms: Open palms similarly characterize openness and honesty. It can also be a sign of sincerity or innocence. Some open up their palms at church during worship to demonstrate submission.
  • Head in hands: Placing your head in your hands can communicate a couple different messages. It might show that you’re simply bored or tired or it could convince someone that you’re upset about something.
  • Rubbing or stroking chin. Like tugging on our ears, stroking our chins or beards occurs when we’re trying to reach a decision and happens unintentionally or without notice.

Little-Known Facts about Body Language

While many of us don’t realize or consider what we might be communicating in the moment, we’re aware that our body language has an effect on our conversations and relationships. However, here are a few facts about body language many do not know:

1. Reading body language requires emotional and social intelligence.
As it turns out, reading body language is similar to reading emotions. Have you ever wondered why you could tell right away that your friend was upset but everybody else seemed oblivious to it? This is due to emotional intelligence. On one end, people can easily read language and understand social cues, and at the other, people don’t pick up on these signals.

2. Culture makes a difference.
While most facial expressions are universal throughout the world (expressions of happiness, excitement, fear, etc.) other nonverbal behaviors are very cultural specific. For example, making eye contact is a respectful practice in the United States, but can be rude or disrespectful in other countries, specifically in the Middle East.

3. Nobody can correctly interpret body language 100% of the time.
Though body movements can certainly communicate different moods and meanings, these interpretations are never 100% accurate. We discussed a few body language examples that could communicate a variety of emotions like placing your head in your hands, for example. This might mean you’re tired and simply want to rest for a moment or it might lead people to believe you’re upset about something. So when there are multiple explanations, how do we know which one is correct? We don’t. We can make educated guesses, but we can’t be sure.

4. You’re better at reading your loved ones’ body language than anybody else.
This makes sense. You spend a majority of your time with these individuals and you’ve known them for a very long time; therefore, it’s easy for you to tell when they’re in a good or bad mood, when they’re struck with emotion, and when they’re body language is actually communicating how they feel.

5. It’s unconscious.
We typically don’t realize when we’re engaging in nonverbal communication, as senders and receivers. We don’t first think: “Okay I’m going to tug on my ear so that someone knows I’m making an important decision.” And we also don’t typically make it a point to analyze one’s body language—we just do it. For example, you may feel like you nailed that job interview, but you find out a few days later you didn’t get the job. This might be due to nervous or closed-off body language you didn’t realize you were communicating with the interviewer.