4 Key Characteristics of Nonverbal Communication

People who have the ability to communicate, verbally and non-verbally, have the best chance at obtaining successful relationships in their personal and professional lives, according to a HelpGuide.org article, "Non-Verbal Communication." Body language helps to communicate your verbal message as well as connect and build stronger relationships with those around you. While non-verbal communication can enhance relationships, it can also distance you and cause unnecessary confusion if what you say doesn't match up to your body language.

A Sight to See

Through facial expressions, people can convey emotions to others without saying a word. Emotions such as:

  • happiness
  • sadness
  • disgust
  • fear
  • anger
  • surprise are universal facial expressions with the same meaning across all cultures
  • according to HelpGuide.org

Maintaining appropriate eye contact goes hand in hand with facial expressions, as it communicates whether one or both parties are interested in the conversation as well as a means to keep the conversation going. For example, a person who continually breaks eye contact during a conversation to glance at the clock or the door may be sending the message that he wants to exit the conversation. Too much eye contact can cause discomfort while too little can signal boredom or disinterest.

Stay in Tune

Intonation refers to the way a person's voice rises and falls while speaking. It is used to put emphasis on a particular word or detail as you are speaking or to express a question or excitement, according to the International Association of Conference Interpreters 2. For example, you may use a monotonous tone of voice, if you are stating facts or an enthusiastic tone of voice while giving a sales pitch. Common tones that convey emotions include aggressive, persuasive, friendly or disappointed. The volume of your voice as well as the timing and pace of your words help set the tone of the conversation in a nonverbal manner, according to HelpGuide.org 1.

Speaking Through Gestures

A form of nonverbal communication that may alter other people's perceptions when conversing is bodily movement, posture and subtle movements 1. For example, a person who sits tall, holds her head up high and speaks in a clear, assertive voice during a meeting will likely be perceived as confident and easily gain the attention of her colleagues. If the same person sat with slumped shoulders and spoke in a meek voice, there is a chance she may not even be heard. Gestures such as beckoning, waving and pointing may be misinterpreted due to the array of meanings in various cultures, according to HelpGuide.org.

Easy Does It

Personal space is a large part of non-verbal communication and can be used to express intimacy, dominance or aggression. For example, an angry person might move into your personal space and cause you to feel intimidated. This may be the reaction the person was seeking in an effort to get you to back down. All of this can be done without uttering a word. Each person has his own comfort level when it comes to personal space and boundaries. While you may be comfortable with your wife standing close to and embracing you, you'd likely cringe if your boss did the same.