What is Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication? | Lexie Hearing

Man and woman sit on a couch with their bodies turned away from each other discussing What is verbal and non-verbal communication

Spoken language and body language play an important role in how we communicate. If you have a hearing loss body language is a helpful tool.

What is Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication?

When we think about forms of communication, speech may be the first example that enters our mind. However, we often overlook the importance of non-verbal communication. Studies have shown that non-verbal cues like body language can be just as, if not more, important than what we say. For example, understanding non-verbal communication can help us navigate conversations with people experiencing hearing loss

What is the difference?

Verbal communication is using speech or spoken word to exchange information, emotions, and thoughts. Conversely, non-verbal communication is conveying and exchanging messages without the use of spoken words.

Though silent, non-verbal cues can convey our feelings, attitudes, and actions to other people more effectively than speaking. Research has shown that about 80% of how we converse involves non-verbal communication, while only 20% involves verbal communication.

Non-verbal communication examples

When we interact with another person, we are constantly giving and receiving non-verbal cues. The kinds of verbal and non-verbal signals we give or receive present themselves in many forms.

Facial expressions

Your facial expressions can intensify, diminish, or can cover up the emotions that you are feeling. Many facial expressions, such as curving your lips in a smile or furrowing your brows in frustration, are seen as universal forms of non-verbal communication. These facial expressions are perceived in the same way by many different cultures. For example, when we smile, the people around us tend to interpret our expression as happiness.

Gestures

Every gesture adds to how effectively you share your emotions and adds emphasis to spoken words. For example, large hand and arm movements create greater emphasis while smaller gestures can communicate something more specific, like holding up two fingers to indicate the number two. Another example of a gesture is head movements. Simply nodding or shaking your head indicating ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without ever saying a word.

Knowing gestures and what they communicate can be helpful when giving instructions or directions, especially when you are traveling and there is a limited understanding of the spoken words.

Body Language

Another main form of non-verbal communication, our body language can reveal our inner thoughts and messages to others. Our body language consists of body movement and posture. How we move or carry ourselves can substitute a verbal message. However, the same body language can be interpreted differently by listeners. For instance, when you cross your arms, you can seem defensive or disinterested. Similarly, playing with your fingers may indicate anxiety or boredom.

Paralinguistics

The tone of voice, rate, volume of speech, and stress placed on words (collectively known as paralinguistics) are a few more examples of non-verbal cues. Paralinguistics can complement and add to the verbal message, as well as accentuate a verbal message by emphasizing parts of the message. However, these cues are not universal as it depends on the urgency of the message, the emotions of the speaker, which language is spoken, and cultural and regional influences.

Eye contact

How you make eye contact is an essential form of non-verbal communication. For instance, looking at someone’s face and making strong eye contact demonstrates respect and interest. Additionally, eye contact is used for initiating and regulating conversations. Lastly, an important point to note is that eye contact is particularly important for people who have hearing loss, as it aids in lip-reading.

What can affect our non-verbal communication

When unexpected circumstances arise, the way in which we convey our feeling sand thoughts may change.

Stress

One major factor that impacts both verbal and non-verbal communication is our stress level. When we are under pressure and feeling stressed, we are more likely to send inconsistent and negative signals. Stress can also cause us to stutter, talk too fast, not making enough eye contact, or have poor posture. Additionally, stress can cause us to misread other people’s communication cues. By not listening to what other people are really saying, we become poor communicators.

Distractions

When we are distracted, we often struggle to convey what we want to say effectively. If we are distracted by our environment or thoughts, we are diverting attention from the people we are conversing with. This could lead to missing the words they said, or withdrawing our body from them, and displaying cues of disinterest. Other people can see that we are distracted from how we handle verbal and non-verbal communication and may disengage from our conversation if they do not feel as if they are not being listened to.

Tips to improve non-verbal communication

Our communication skills develop naturally through practice and interacting with other people. However, here are a few tips to further develop these skills.

  1. Pay full attention to the person you are communicating with, and show them you are ‘present’ during the conversation. You can do this through simple cues, such as facing your body towards the speaker, keeping proper eye contact, and maintaining an open and relaxed posture.
  2. Focus on others’ tone of voice. A subtle but important signal, a person’s tone can convey a lot of information, like what they feel. Try to match your tone of voice with the speaker’s tone of voice accordingly.
  3. Don’t be shy to ask the speaker questions. If you are unsure about what the person wants to convey, it’s okay to slow down and ask them.
  4. Always consider the context in which you are speaking. Depending on the situation and who you are talking to, certain verbal and non-verbal cues may be inappropriate.
  5. Pay attention to how you communicate. Our verbal cues are usually deliberate, while the non-verbal cues we present are sometimes unconscious. However, both verbal and non-verbal communication is important for conveying our message. By taking note of how you communicate verbally and non-verbally, you become aware of what you need to work on, such as lowering your voice when you are nervous.

Non-verbal communication and hearing loss

Verbal and non-verbal communication are important ways of sharing messages and emotions with others. This can ring especially true for individuals experiencing hearing loss. However, research has found that hearing-impaired individuals are better at understanding non-verbal communication cues than normal hearing individuals. One reason for this is that many individuals experiencing hearing loss may rely on sign language and speechreading.

Hearing loss affects your ability to obtain and interpret information from verbal information. Speechreading integrates verbal communication (if the person is experiencing partial hearing loss or wearing hearing aids) with visual information from non-verbal communication to better understand what someone is conveying. During speechreading, the listener pays attention to the speaker’s gestures, facial expressions, and body language. These non-verbal communication cues provide additional information and context that makes it easier for someone experiencing hearing loss to interpret and understand a conversation.

Benefits of understanding non-verbal cues

When we talk to people, we convey our message through both verbal and non-verbal communication we can build better relationships and have better conversations.

Blog author and hearing expert, Lisa Brown

Written byLisa Brown

Audiologist (MA Audiology Cum Laude; B.Communication Pathology Cum Laude)

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