Nonverbal Communication in the Organization

“Given today’s technology-driven communication systems, people have fewer face-to-face interactions. As a result, it is crucial to maximize their impact. Dr. Gorman provides a valuable guide for doing just that by helping the reader understand how the nonverbal aspects of a conversation often say much more than the verbal ones.”

– Jon Peters, President, The Institute for Management Studies.

It is well-known that body language refers to nonverbal mode of communication. On scientific analysis, it has been found that the different aspects of communication comprise 55% bodily movements and gestures, 38% vocal tone and only 7% words or verbal communication. It is thus clear that about 93% of communication is nonverbal, as many times, words are inadequate. This shows that correct use of body language serves as an effective nonverbal communication tool to convince fellow-workers at workplace, as well as family and friends, eventually leading to overall organizational success through self-development. It further leads to personal and professional growth of an employee, ultimately benefiting the organization. An attempt has, therefore, been made in this paper to discuss the importance, modes and effective use of body language in successful organizational development (Rane, 2010).

A thorough understanding of the role that body language plays in our day-to-day business activities is vital. Executives, managers, and salespeople who aren’t reading the clear signals of others or who don’t have a clue how their own nonverbal communication is sabotaging their efforts. At a time when it is widely recognized that professional success is achieved with or through other people, the power of, and the need for, good interpersonal skills couldn’t be greater (Gorman, 2008).

1. Nonverbal Communication: Definition.

Any form of communication that is not expressed in words. Nonverbal communication is estimated to make up 65-90% of all communication, and understanding, interpreting, and using it are essential skills. Forms of nonverbal communication include actions and behaviour such as silence, failure or slowness to respond to a message, and lateness in arriving for a meeting. Body language is also an important part of nonverbal communication. Nonverbal elements of communication may reinforce or contradict a verbal message (Bloomsbury Business Library – Business & Management Dictionary; 2007, p5154-5154, 1p).

Body language is like a computer. Everybody knows what it is, but most of us are never exactly sure how it works. That’s because the process of receiving and decoding nonverbal communication is often done without our conscious awareness. It simply happens. Human beings are genetically programmed to look for facial and behavioural cues and to quickly understand their meaning. We see someone gesture and automatically (Gorman, 2008).

Everyone knows someone who can walk into a room full of people and within minutes give an accurate description about the relationships between those people and what they are feeling. The ability to read a person’s attitudes and thoughts by their behaviour was the original communication system used by humans before spoken language evolved.

Before radio was invented, most communication was done in writing through books, letters, and newspapers, which meant that ugly politicians and poor speakers such as Abraham Lincoln could be successful if they persisted long enough and wrote good print copy. The radio era gave openings to people who had a good command of the spoken word, like Winston Churchill, who spoke wonderfully but may have struggled to achieve as much in today’s more visual era.

Today’s politicians understand that politics is about image and appearance, and most high-profile politicians now have personal body-language consultants to help them come across as being sincere, caring, and honest, especially when they’re not.

It seems almost incredible that, over the thousands of years of our evolution, body language has been actively studied on any scale only since the 1960’s and that most of the public has become aware of its existence only since the book Body Language was published in 1978. Yet most people believe that speech is still our main form of communication. Speech has been part of our communication repertoire only in recent times in evolutionary terms, and is mainly used to convey facts and data. Speech probably first developed between two million and five hundred thousand years ago, during which time our brain tripled its size. Before then, body language and sounds made in the throat were the main forms of conveying emotions and feelings, and that is still the case today. But because we focus on the words people speak, most of us are largely uninformed about body language, let alone its importance in our lives (Pease, 2008).

Body language is also known as kinesics. A pioneer in the field, Ray Birdwhistell (Ray L. Birdwhistell, Kinesics and Context. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1970, p. 80.), writes, “The isolation of gestures and the attempt to understand them led to the most important findings of kinesic research. This original study of gestures gave the first indication that kinesic structure is parallel to language structure. By the study of gestures in context, it became clear that the kinesic system has forms which are astonishingly like words in language.”

Researchers have observed people involved in the communication process. They have studied body language and other nonverbal behaviour, and they have then related or identified these actions with actual content of the message being transmitted.

2. Relationship Between Verbal and Nonverbal Communication.

There are several ways in which the nonverbal behaviour is seen clearly related to verbal behaviour. This relationship is one of dependence and also of independence. There are nonverbal communicative acts that are easily and accurately translated into words. Several gestures clearly illustrate this relationship. For example, the gesture of folded hands for namaste, the gesture of handshake, a smile, a frown, etc., are generally translatable into words. There is also a class of nonverbal acts that are very much a part of speech and serves the function of emphasis. Examples are head and hand movements that occur more frequently with words, and phrases of emphasis. There are acts which draw pictures of the referents tracing the contour of an object or person referred to verbally. Yet another class of acts is employed for displaying the effects (feelings). Another class refers to acts that help to initiate and terminate the speech of participants in a social situation. These regulators might suggest to a speaker that he keep talking, that he clarify, or that he hurry up and finish (Ekman and Friesen, 1969).

There are the ways in which the relationship between verbal and nonverbal communication can be characterized. These are as follows:

-The relationship between verbal and nonverbal communication is one of the latter playing a supplementary role to the former. The nonverbal acts that are supplementary to verbal acts may precede or follow or be simultaneous with the verbal acts. For example, in many verbal acts one notices an accompaniment of one or more nonverbal acts, such as gestures, facial expressions, and movement towards or away from the addressee, to illumine the meaning of the former. While for any verbal acts such an accompaniment may only be considered redundant, for several others, such and accompaniment explicitness, clarity, emphasis, discrimination and reinforcement.

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-The relationship between verbal and nonverbal communication is also one of the former playing a supplementary role to the latter. In many verbal acts, both in children and adults, in normals with all the linguistic organs intact, and normal with some handicap to the linguistic organs, as well as in abnormal individuals, nonverbal acts may take precedence over the verbal acts in several ways. In the normal with all the linguistic organs intact, occasions demand the use of nonverbal acts such as pantomime and gestures for aesthetic purposes, and for purposes of coded (secret) communication. Indulgence in nonverbal acts as primary medium is also necessitated by the distance that separates the parties which can, however, retain visual contact while engaging themselves in communication.

-The relationship between verbal and nonverbal communication could be one of correspondence as well. That is, there are several nonverbal acts that can be accurately translated into words in the language of a culture in which such nonverbal acts are performed. A handshake, shaking a fist at someone, a smile, and frown, etc., are all nonverbal acts translatable into verbal medium in a particular language. The functions of these nonverbal acts, context to context, are also codified in aesthetic nonverbal acts, such as dance, sculpture and other arts. The correspondence is sometimes translatable into words, sometimes into phrases and sentences, and several times translatable into compressed episodes involving lengthy language discourses. But the correspondence is there all the same and the import of this correspondence is shared between individuals within a community. There is also yet another correspondence of nonverbal acts in the sense that similar nonverbal acts could mean different things in different cultures.

-Yet another relationship between a verbal act and a nonverbal act is one of dependence. A verbal act may depend for its correct interpretation entirely on a nonverbal act. Likewise a nonverbal act may depend for its correct interpretation entirely on a verbal act. In extreme circumstances, the former is caused because of deliberate distortion of the verbal act, or because of the difficulty in listening clearly to the verbal act, or because of the difficulty in reading with clarity what is intended to be read in the written verbal message. Deliberate distortion is not found only in contrived acts such as poetry or drama. It is done in day to day language itself. Distortion and opacity of the verbal message are also required in certain socio-cultural contexts wherein it is demanded that verbal acts be suppressed and made dependent on nonverbal acts. The dominant nonverbal acts also depends on verbal acts for clarity. This dependence also depends on verbal acts for clarity. It also occurs in daily life.

-Verbal and nonverbal acts can be independent of one another. Something is communicated through a verbal act. The continued manifestation of this communicative act may be in the form of nonverbal acts. That is, in a single communicative act, part of the message may be in verbal form and the rest in nonverbal, in an alternating way. Each part is independent of the other. This is contrived in poetry and drama. It is also found in every day life. An extreme form of this independence is the gulf that we notice between what one says and what one does. Also prevarication both in word and deed derives its strength, among others, from this feature.

-Another relationship between verbal and nonverbal acts in one of non-relevance. This is most commonly found in normal adult speech and its accompanying gestures which are produced simply without any communicative intent. We move our hands, snap our fingers, move our bodies while speaking, with these gestures having no relevance to the speech we make. When this non-relevance between verbal and nonverbal acts found in normal is shifted to non-relevance or irrelevance within the ingle domain, within speech itself or within nonverbal act itself (during which coherence in speech or act is lost), we start considering the individual abnormal in some way. That is, non-relevance across the verbal and nonverbal media is normal, but non-relevance within a single medium is abnormal. The non-relevance is idiosyncratic and could be imitational as well. In the normal the excessive non-relevance of nonverbal acts accompanying speech comes to hamper the understanding of the verbal acts.

3. Types of Nonverbal Communication and Their Effects on Business.

The types of nonverbal communication are almost limitless. However, there are the types that are most applicable to business communications: facial expressions and eye contact, other body movements and gestures, clothing and personal appearance, distance and personal space, physical environment, and time (Hamilton, 2011).

Reading faces is not just a matter of identifying static expressions but also of noticing how faces subtly begin to change. People in face-to-face exchanges watch each other’s expressions to gauge reactions to what’s being said and heard. Even when some words are missed, observing the expression on a speaker’s face can help the listener follow a conversation (Goman, 2008).

The smile is a very potent form of facial expression. It opens the door to communication.

A natural, pleasant smile carries great significance in establishing and sustaining human

relationships, be they in a family, society, community or a business organization.

Significance of smiling is beautifully brought out in the saying, “You are never fully

dressed unless you wear a smile.” Smile speaks the language of love, compassion,

sincerity, courtesy, confidence and dependability. A smile emits positive signals. A smile

can create a favourable impact and earn goodwill. All the same, it is also true that all

smiles are not genuine. In the service industry, the sales force is specifically taught to

cultivate genuine smiles and smile liberally in their day-to-day transactions with

colleagues and customers (Marwijk,2002).

The eyes have been described as the gateway to the soul. They “speak” in the most revealing and accurate language because of the vast amount of information they convey about internal processes (Gorman, 2008).

Probably everyone has had some experience with eyes as nonverbal communicators. Most of us have been stared at and have wondered why. Was it curiosity or ill manners? Or perhaps the starter had poor vision and was merely trying to get us in focus. But then there is the possibility the observer found us attractive and interesting and was issuing an invitation to get better acquainted. Most of us have decoded “eye language” even if we did not know about body language or nonverbal communication.

There are numerous messages that can be sent with the eyes, but the stare is the most important technique a person has. In our culture one does not stare at another person-one stares at things. Therefore, a stare can have a devastating effect because it reduces a person to nonhuman status.

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There is an endless number of messages which can be sent when one thinks of eyes combined with different positions and movements of the eyelids and eyebrows. As with all forms of nonverbal communication, messages sent by the eyes should be decoded in terms of the words accompanying them (Marwijk, 2002).

Daniel was well qualified (overqualified, in fact) for the job he was seeking, so when he didn’t get hired he was shocked. But when Daniel called the recruiter who sent him out, he was told, “You were fabulous in all the technical aspects, but you freaked out the interviewer because you couldn’t look her in the eye” (Goman, 2008).

How can anyone hope to communicate without using hands and arms? And even legs are for something besides walking.

No doubt each of us knows someone who “talks with his or her hands. Some people punctuate communications with such extravagant gestures that it is extremely dangerous to get too close to their nonverbal exclamations. Do you know people who during a conversation or a card game drum or tap incessantly with their finger tips? Are there people you know who constantly click the on-off switch of their ballpoint pens? Do you know people who frequently “pop” their knuckles? Do you notice individuals who tap their feet, who cross and uncross their legs, or who cross their legs and then swing their crossed legs back and forth?

What do these nonverbal messages tell you? Is the person nervous? Insecure? Bored? Thinking? Happy? Craving attention? A nuisance? Perhaps the messages mean nothing. On the other hand, if nonverbal signs reveal the emotional side of a communication, it is often important for you to try to determine what message is being transmitted along with the verbal one. Sometimes they are the same; other times they are drastically different.

Many people are devoting their entire life to the study of body language. Body language is an interesting, fascinating area of nonverbal communication; much remains to be learned about it. By becoming a better observer, by sharpening your powers of perception, and by knowing as much as possible about your audience (decoders), you should be able to translate more accurately nonverbal and verbal messages (Marwijk, 2002).

Elements such as physique, height, weight, hair, skin colour, gender, odours, and clothing send nonverbal messages during interaction. For example, a study, carried out in Vienna, Austria, of the clothing worn by women attending discothèques showed that in certain groups of women (especially women who were in town without their partners) motivation for sex, and levels of sexual hormones, were correlated with aspects of the clothing, especially the amount of skin displayed, and the presence of sheer clothing, e.g. at the arms. Thus, to some degree, clothing sent signals about interest in courtship.

Research into height has generally found that taller people are perceived as being more impressive. Melamed & Bozionelos (1992) studied a sample of managers in the UK and found that height was a key factor affecting who was promoted. Often people try to make themselves taller, for example, standing on a platform, when they want to make more of an impact with their speaking.

Environmental factors such as furniture, architectural style, interior decorating, lighting conditions, colours, temperature, noise, and music affect the behaviour of communicators during interaction. The furniture itself can be seen as a nonverbal message.

Proxemics is the study of how people use and perceive the physical space around them. The space between the sender and the receiver of a message influences the way the message is interpreted The perception and use of space varies significantly across cultures and different settings within cultures. Space in nonverbal communication may be divided into four main categories: intimate, social, personal, and public space.

The term territoriality is still used in the study of proxemics to explain human behavior regarding personal space. Hargie & Dickson identify 4 such territories:

Primary territory: this refers to an area that is associated with someone who has exclusive use of it. For example, a house that others cannot enter without the owner’s permission.

Secondary territory: unlike the previous type, there is no “right” to occupancy, but people may still feel some degree of ownership of a particular space. For example, someone may sit in the same seat on train every day and feel aggrieved if someone else sits there.

Public territory: this refers to an area that is available to all, but only for a set period, such as a parking space or a seat in a library. Although people have only a limited claim over that space, they often exceed that claim. For example, it was found that people take longer to leave a parking space when someone is waiting to take that space.

Interaction territory: this is space created by others when they are interacting. For example, when a group is talking to each other on a footpath, others will walk around the group rather than disturb it.

When we discuss space in a nonverbal context, we mean the space between objects and people. Space is often associated with social rank and is an important part of business communication. Who gets the corner office? Why is the head of the table important and who gets to sit there? As the context of a staircase has norms for nonverbal behavior, so does the public speaking context. In North America, eye contact with the audience is expected. Big movements and gestures are not generally expected and can be distracting. The speaker occupies a space on the “stage,” even if it’s in front of the class. When you occupy that space, the audience will expect to behave in certain ways. If you talk to the screen behind you while displaying a PowerPoint presentation, the audience may perceive that you are not paying attention to them. Speakers are expected to pay attention to, and interact with, the audience, even if in the feedback is primarily nonverbal. Your movements should coordinate with the tone, rhythm, and content of your speech. Pacing back and forth, keeping your hands in your pockets, or crossing your arms may communicate nervousness, or even defensiveness, and detract from your speech (Scott McLean, 2008).

Do you know what time it is? How aware you are of time varies by culture and normative expectations of adherence (or ignorance) of time. Some people, and the communities and cultures they represent, are very time-oriented. The Euro Railways trains in Germany are famous for departing and arriving according to the schedule. In contrast, if you take the train in Argentina, you’ll find that the schedule is more of an approximation of when the train will leave or arrive.

When you give a presentation, does your audience have to wait for you? Time is a relevant factor of the communication process in your speech. The best way to show your audience respect is to honour the time expectation associated with your speech. Always try to stop speaking before the audience stops listening; if the audience perceives that you have “gone over time,” they will be less willing to listen. This in turn will have a negative impact on your ability to communicate your message.

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Chronemics is the study of how we refer to and perceive time. Tom Bruneau at Radford University has spent a lifetime investigating how time interacts in communication and culture. As he notes, across Western society, time is often considered the equivalent of money. The value of speed is highly prized in some societies. In others, there is a great respect for slowing down and taking a long-term view of time.

When you order a meal at a fast food restaurant, what are your expectations for how long you will have to wait? When you order a pizza online for delivery, when do you expect it will arrive? If you order cable service for your home, when do you expect it might be delivered? In the first case, you might measure the delivery of a hamburger in a matter of seconds or minutes, and perhaps thirty minutes for pizza delivery, but you may measure the time from your order to working cable in days or even weeks. You may even have to be at your home from 8 a.m. to noon, waiting for its installation. The expectations vary by context, and we often grow frustrated in a time-sensitive culture when the delivery does not match our expectations.

Across cultures the value of time may vary. Some Mexican American friends may invite you to a barbecue at 8 p.m., but when you arrive you are the first guest, because it is understood that the gathering actually doesn’t start until after 9 p.m. Similarly in France, an 8 p.m. party invitation would be understood to indicate you should arrive around 8:30, but in Sweden 8 p.m. means 8 p.m., and latecomers may not be welcome. Some Native Americans, particularly elders, speak in well-measured phrases and take long pauses between phrases. They do not hurry their speech or compete for their turn, knowing no one will interrupt them. Some Orthodox Jews observe religious days when they do not work, cook, drive, or use electricity. People around the world have different ways of expressing value for time (Bruneau, 1976).

4. Improving Nonverbal Skills.

The words that you say in a conversation are only a small part of what you communicate to another person. Your tone and body language play a much larger role in what you are communicating to another person. For example, the words “great job” can be taken as a sincere compliment or as a sarcastic barb, depending upon the nonverbal skills used. If you are saying the right words but not backing them up with your nonverbal skills, then you are not going to be a very effective communicator. Here is how to improve nonverbal skills.

-Recognize that nonverbal skills are a very important part of communication. The way that you position your body and the voice tone that you use during a conversation can speak even louder than the actual words coming out of your mouth. By improving your nonverbal skills, you can become a much more effective communicator in all areas of your life.

-Make eye contact. The fastest way to improve your nonverbal skills is to make eye contact with the other person during a conversation. By making eye contact, you are connecting with that person, which makes it much easier for both of you to understand each other. When your eyes are wandering during a conversation, you are sending the nonverbal message that you are not invested in the conversation.

-Pay attention to your tone. Most of us have had the misfortune of sitting through a speech in which powerful words were killed because the speaker was clearly bored, which made what could have been a dynamic speech unbearably boring. If you want to motivate another person, you need to put some energy into your speech. If you want to put another person in his place, use a deeper and more firm voice. Use your tone to energize your words.

-Watch your body language. The way you position your body during a conversation speaks volumes, and you can use the way you position yourself to improve your nonverbal skills. If you want to end a conversation sooner, make of point of looking at your watch, which says, “I have somewhere else that I need to be.” If you want to be in a power position during a conversation, stand while the other person remains seated. If you want to communicate that you are open to the other person’s ideas, then uncross your arms.

-Pay attention to other people’s nonverbal cues. When you are in a meeting, observe two people talking with each other. Notice the tone of their voices and the positions of their bodies. You can often tell who is going to “win” a disagreement based upon the nonverbal body language used.

-Incorporate effective nonverbal skills into your own communication style. When you see another person use a nonverbal skill effectively, try to incorporate that nonverbal skill into your own communication style. For example, if you see a person effectively raise his eyebrows in a way that sends the message, “I really do not believe you,” without having to say a word, then incorporate that nonverbal skill into your own way of communicating when you are in a similar situation.

-Practice improving your nonverbal skills. At first, you might feel self-conscious as you start focusing on your nonverbal skills. However, with a little practice, your nonverbal skills will become second nature, and other people will be learning from you (Marwijk, 2002).

5. Conclusion.

Nonverbal communication variables play a major role in affecting the meaning of messages in business communication contexts. Consequently, business communicators need to have a general understanding of nonverbal communication and to recognize how such behaviors as body posture and movement, eye contact, facial expression, seating arrangement, vocal cues, spatial relationships, and personal appearance affect the ways their verbal messages are received by others. Quite often nonverbal communication provides “metacommunication,” or communication about communication, serving to repeat, contradict, substitute, complement, accent, and regulate verbal communication. If business communicators want to ascribe meaning to others’ nonverbal behaviors, they should take care to interpret the nonverbal message in its proper context, realizing that people respond differently to different stimuli and that some nonverbal behaviors vary in meaning across cultures. Businessmen can apply their understanding of nonverbal communication to personal interviews to show their true feelings of immediacy, potency, and responsiveness, to relax others, and to achieve maximum effect from the interview situation. They can also observe and adjust seating arrangement, room decor, and eye contact between group members to increase productivity at conferences and in small group discussions.


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