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What is verbal and non-verbal communication? | Lexie Hearing

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.

Many people may think communication is just spoken language, but what a lot of people do not know is that it is so much more than that. Spoken language forms a large part of our communication; however, communication is much more than words.  Our body language plays an important role. Both verbal and non-verbal communication play a part in how we effectively communicate.

Communication is the exchange of information, emotions, and thoughts from one place, person, or group to another. There are 3 components in a communication exchange: the sender, the message, and the recipient. The sender encodes the message (either in a verbal or non-verbal manner), it is then conveyed to the recipient who decodes the message.

What is verbal and non-verbal communication?

Communication involves two components: verbal and non-verbal cues. Verbal communication is any information, emotions, and thoughts that are exchanged using speech. This involves interaction where words are used to converse.  Non-verbal communication is the process of generating meaning without the use of spoken words.

Humans relied on non-verbal communication for thousands of years before verbal communication developed. It has been said that words do not speak the loudest, but rather non-verbal cues do. Research has shown that about 80% of communication involves non-verbal cues, meaning that only 20% of communication is verbal.

Non-Verbal Cues

When interacting with others, you are always giving and receiving non-verbal cues. A few examples of these cues are facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, body language, and posture. Some of these signals have universal meanings that are interpreted similarly throughout the world.

  • Facial expressions can display many emotions without saying a word. Facial expressions intensify, diminish, or can cover up emotions that you are feeling.  Facial expressions are crucial for emotional communication as your face can sometimes provide more meaning than any spoken word. Therefore, you can use facial expressions to cheer people up or create a somber mood. 
  • Eye contact is essential for interpersonal communication as it shows respect and interest. It can be used for initiating and regulating conversations. Eye contact is particularly important for people who have hearing loss as it aids in lip-reading.
  • Gestures can share your emotional state and add emphasis to spoken words. Large hand and arm movements indicate a greater emphasis than smaller gestures.  Gestures can add additional information to a message.  This can be helpful when giving instructions or directions, especially when there is a limited understanding of the spoken words.
  • Body language consists of body movement and posture.  Body language can reveal unintended messages to others. However, these messages can be interpreted differently by listeners. When you cross your arms, you can seem defensive or disinterested. An agitated finger rubbing a surface may indicate anxiety. Certain movements can substitute a verbal message.  An example of such substitution is head movements.  Nodding or shaking your head indicating ‘yes’ or ‘no’ can replace the spoken words. 
  • The tone of voice, rate, the 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.

Non-verbal communication reinforces verbal cues through repetition, thereby strengthening the message you send across. However, when verbal and non-verbal cues contradict each other, you may send confusing or negative non-verbal cues without being aware of it, and this can result in trust and connection issues. 

What can affect our non-verbal communication

There are a few factors that can compromise our ability to provide appropriate non-verbal cues. An example is our stress level. When we are experiencing stress, it may be normal to misread other people’s messages and send inconsistent and negative non-verbal cues. Distraction can also result in presenting inappropriate non-verbal cues. If we are distracted by either thoughts or the surrounding environment, our non-verbal cues may display disinterest. To communicate effectively, we must understand the non-verbal cues we are sending to others.

Tips for non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication skills develop quite naturally in individuals, but here are a few tips and practice can enhance your skills. 

  1. Pay attention to your non-verbal cues. Pay full attention to the person you are communicating with, and show them you are ‘present’ during the conversation. This non-verbal cue can be achieved by leaning slightly forward to the speaker, keeping eye contact, and maintaining an open and relaxed posture. 
  2. Focusing on others’ tone of voice. The tone can convey a lot of information, such as if a person is angry. By doing this, you must not forget to monitor your tone of voice.  Be careful when you match the speaker’s tone of voice, rather use a different tone to emphasize the ideas you want to communicate. 
  3. Don’t be shy to ask the speaker questions.  If you are confused about a speaker’s non-verbal cues, ask them to clarify their message. 
  4. Always consider the context in which you are speaking and if certain non-verbal cues may be appropriate or not. For example, your non-verbal cues at home and work will probably be different. 
  5. Monitor yourself. Non-verbal communication tends to occur involuntarily.  It is more below our consciousness than verbal communication and therefore is more difficult to control. However, by noticing non-verbal behavior and practicing your skills, you can dramatically improve your communication abilities.

Non-verbal communication and hearing loss

Non-verbal communication is crucial for individuals who have hearing loss. Hearing loss affects your ability to obtain and interpret the verbal information. Non-verbal communication provides additional cues and meaning to spoken word, making it easier for the person with hearing loss to interpret and understand the message

Research has found that hearing-impaired individuals are better at understanding non-verbal cues than normal hearing individuals. A reason for this is that many hearing-impaired individuals may rely on sign language and speechreading. Body language plays a big role in sign language as each small body movement and facial expression can indicate a different word or meaning.  Speechreading involves integrating auditory and visual speech information. During speechreading, the listener attends to the speaker’s gestures, facial expressions, and body language. 

Always remember that it is not only what you say, its how you say it, and this is relayed via non-verbal communication. The ability to use non-verbal signals appropriately can create trust and transparency, and therefore can have a powerful influence on the quality of your relationships.

Blog author and hearing expert, Lisa Brown

Written byLisa Brown

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

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