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Why Is Nonverbal Communication Important?

By Michele Blood ; Updated June 13, 2017

If you rely solely on spoken words to unearth the intent and meaning of communication with your significant other, you are likely to come up short nearly every time. Though researchers debate the extent to which nonverbal cues contribute to communication of emotion, few argue that these cues play an important role. Accurately evaluating the meaning of nonverbal behavior can determine whether your relationships with romantic partners succeed or fail.

Assessing Physical Attraction

According to Elly Prior in her article, "Body Signs and Attraction" on, evaluating body language is a valuable technique for determining if a potential romantic partner is attracted to you. In the early stages, physical attraction is sometimes evidenced by one partner "accidentally" making physical contact by, for example, brushing up against her interest while passing in a hallway. In later stages, once a relationship is established, onlookers may notice that romantic partners' body language mirror one another.

Conveying Emapthy

The number of couples who meet and initially develop their relationships solely online has grown astronomically in recent years. Thought texting and online conversations have many merits, they are also limited. Inclusion of video and audio can help transcend some of these barriers, but not all. Communication of empathy is an important way that couples express affection and care, and one vital means of communicating empathy is via nonsexual physical touch. Northwestern University researchers found that the frequency of physical social touches was an important determiner of patients' assessments of their clinicians' empathy, for example.

Watching for Changes

How you work through disagreements and challenges can either deepen your relationship or destroy it. By being aware of nonverbal indicators of anger and anxiety in your partner, you can tackle problems immediately rather than allow them to fester and slowly erode your relationship. Psychiatrists Dr. Gretchen Foley and Dr. Jule Gentile in their article in Psychiatry (Edgmont) note the importance of being watchful for changes from baseline. For example, if your partner is normally talkative and sits next near you after dinner, but now you notice that she is quiet and sitting in another room, this could indicate that something has gone awry.

Avoiding Over-Interpretation

Whether assessing the physical attraction of a potential date or attempting to determine if your spouse's deep sigh means she is exasperated with you, it is important to avoid taking immediate action based on a single, isolated sign. Though nonverbal indicators are critical aspects of communication, they are also complex, and a given sign can carry multiple meanings. In addition, the meaning of a certain nonverbal behavior can vary across individuals and across time. Some commonly held beliefs about nonverbal indicators of lying such as gaze aversion actually have no scientific merit. Avoid jumping to conclusions, and always ask for verbal confirmation to be certain that you are on the mark.

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