Did you know that around 60-90% of communication is non-verbal? Sometimes, it’s the things we don’t say that matter the most. Non-verbal communication plays an important role in every culture and language, including English. If you’re taking English classes, you might come across some of these non-verbal methods of communication.
Facial expressions and gestures can communicate a great deal of information without uttering a single word.
- A handshake and smile communicate a warm, friendly welcome.
- A frown or scowl communicates unhappiness or frustration.
- A neutral expression can communicate boredom or lack of interest in the conversation.
Facial expressions communicate a person’s mood, but the entire body can give you clues about the speaker’s emotions.
For example, someone who is angry may:
- Point fingers
- Get in someone’s face
- Wave their arms in the air
Someone who is happy may:
- Jump up and down in happiness
- Give hugs
- Clasp their hands together
The wonderful thing about body language is that it’s generally universal. You don’t have to speak the same language to understand that the other person is warm and welcoming, angry, or sad.
Learning to read these non-verbal cues can help you understand the speaker’s meaning and intentions.
Tone, Pitch and Volume of Voice
The tone, volume and pitch of the speaker’s voice can be considered a form of non-verbal communication, and they all give clues to the meaning of the conversation.
We use pitch and volume to differentiate between statements and questions. Tone gives us clues to the speaker’s state of mind.
The simple phrase, “Billy is gone,” can take on several meanings, depending on the speaker’s tone.
- Spoken with an angry tone, it can mean that Billy has left (abandoned) his home.
- Spoken with a sad tone, it can mean that Billy has passed away.
- Spoken with a neutral tone, it can mean that Billy has left and will return home shortly.
Tone can give non-native speakers contextual clues that help them better follow the conversation and understand the speaker’s meaning.
Among English speakers and many other languages, touch is often viewed as a positive form of non-verbal communication. A hand on the shoulder can be used as a form of comfort to someone grieving or crying. Among friends and co-workers, there may be a light touch on the arm when saying “thank you.”
Touch is often reserved for people we know, trust or are friendly with.
Eye contact, or lack thereof, can also communicate a number of things.
- Poor eye contact can mean that the speaker is uncomfortable, embarrassed, shy or intimidated.
- Constant eye contact can be viewed as a sign of aggression.
- If someone is frequently looking away, it may be a sign of boredom.
Eye contact coupled with body language and gestures can tell you a lot about a person’s meaning and mood.
When speaking with someone, their proximity to you can say a lot about their mood and willingness to communicate.
Someone who is standing far away and does not wish to come closer can indicate an unwillingness to talk, fear or disinterest.
Someone who invades another person’s personal space may be aggressive or in attack mode.
Standing close – but not too close – is generally a sign that everyone is comfortable and friendly with each other.
Taking English classes will teach you that your body language, tone and eye contact can communicate a lot of information without saying a word. As a non-native speaker, it’s important to pay attention to the non-verbal cues native speakers give to fill in the gaps in your understanding and to better communicate when having conversations with locals.