Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication makes up more than 90 percent of human interaction.

That means that nearly everything we communicate as social beings is conveyed through cues like body language, facial expressions, and other physical gestures. Tone of voice and other sensory signals besides sight just add dimensions to the rich communication among people.


When you can't see someone's face or hear them speak, how can you determine what they really mean?

Now that social media has become nearly mainstream in the developed world, how does this statistic hold up? Though nonverbal, how does the robust communication on the web fit into our world?

Social media involves text, video, audio, and photography. Surely that will change as technology evolves, and programs like Skype bring us closer to real human contact. But not quite.

This multimedia content on the web makes human face-to-face interaction less frequent, less vital. How will this change human interaction overall?

Will this widen the gap between people in developed nations versus those in less advanced countries? Though we may communicate more with Facebook, Twitter, texting, and more, the quality of our communication may not be the same.

Among Americans and journalists like us, how will this alteration in interaction change our craft? We’re seeing changes every day in newspapers, magazines, and blogs, and politicians, automakers, actors, and innumerable other professionals can say the same.

How does the new meaning of the term “nonverbal communication” change our lives, both personally and professionally?


9 responses to “Nonverbal Communication

  1. I think for one thing, we’re losing out on some social skills. Calling someone out of the blue (without breaking the ice via email, text, Facebook or Twitter) seems more nerve-wracking these days, as opposed to when I was a kid. We’ve also become really reliant on email/phone contact lists instead of memorizing things anymore, but that’s a separate issue in itself.

    Being more dependent on social media challenges us to be better at two things: reading people when body language isn’t an option and being very clear when communicating. I think our generation inherited both a blessing and a curse by growing up with so much social media. Our parents are right; it IS healthy for us to have real conversations and physically interact with other beings. On the other hand, we have tons of communication outlets that allow us to connect with people we might not have met otherwise.

    • Oh, my gosh, I couldn’t agree more! Phone calls seem like a lot of work now, writing a whole email seems like a novel. It’s disappointing to think that so much of society relies on these many facets of technology–including journalists, of course. Don’t you think, then, that it’s rather ironic that those of us who use words as a career have also come to rely on those forms of nonverbal communication that have helped to “abridge” our everyday lives. I mean, true, life is a heck of a lot easier, but what might we be losing?

      Really thought-provoking subject…

      • lindsaymiller89

        I feel guilty saying this, but normal social interaction 5-10 years ago seems like a chore today. Calling my friends from home was great when I didn’t have texting, and sending an in-depth email to my family was fun for a while. But now those things take so much effort when I can just send a text. My phone was broken all last weekend. While frustrating at times, it was such a carefree weekend knowing only the people who really needed me could reach me. I paid more attention to my surroundings as I walked through campus and I actually listened in my face-to-face conversations. I really think that social media, while convenient, lowers the quality of our communication. After all, there’s nothing like sitting down and talking to someone.

  2. Coming from the queen of sarcasm and the ruler of eyebrow raise, I can be the first to attest that the quality of communication suffers with the increased use of social media, texting and the like.
    The ambiguity statements have because they lack inflection that a simple spoken sentence would have is sometimes maddening–and, frankly, sometimes very convenient.

    Whether good or bad, one thing this SHOULD do is force us to be better communicators. Say what you mean. Use your words. I think there’s something to be said for someone conveying a message so succinctly and clearly that there is no doubt about what they mean. It’s ownership. We should all work on it.

    I agree, great topic.

    • Ann Schnoebelen

      Agreed, Holly. I’ve heard it said more than once that someone needs to invent a sarcasm font.

      There are so many nonverbal cues we miss out on when we text, facebook chat, and twitter. What about the shy downward glance, or the cocky smirk, or the nervous lip bite? Won’t we all miss the curious head-tilt and the grossed-out nose crinkle? And us hand talkers will become ancient legends!

      On the flip side, I’m a self-proclaimed word nerd so I’m all about people learning how to express themselves more eloquently and use proper grammar. I’m also okay with all those long-winded spit-talkers having to tweet it not spray it.

      Like nearly everything, I think moderation is key when it comes to this stuff. I love being able to facebook chat my friends in school out East, but I also never want to reach the point where I get uncomfortable carrying on a face-to-face conversation.

      • Ann, you’re so right.
        Though it’s great we’re learning to be more eloquent, moderation is key. (Though the spit-talker point is perfect! Maybe those people should stick to Twitter.)

        I don’t want my face-to-face skills to deteriorate, and I don’t think they will too much. I use social media all the time, but my life involves people so much that human interaction will never disappear.

      • Jill Van Wyke

        I would be first in line to buy a sarcasm font.

    • Great point Holly. My increased use of social media, texing, and communication that involves nothing but typing has made me much more succinct, clear, and to-the-point.

      Right now I feel like my face-to-face communication has not suffered, but I wonder if it will in the future as I come to rely less on my voice and more on the ‘voice’ in my written word.

      We were fact-checking articles in class today and one source was listed as only replying to text messages. At the time, my partner and I thought it was weird; when will this become normal?

  3. I completely agree, nonverbal communication is vital in life. we learn from out parents when we’re infants and continue growing and using it throughout our whole life. And now with all of this new technology, people don’t even want to call each other anymore, it’s just easier to send a text. Personally my face-to-face communication isn’t suffering either, but i know that i am more bold when i’m talking through text or IM to someone. When you can’t see someone’s face is when you can’t read their facial expressions and little cues they give off which makes it easier to say whatever you want. Without the nonverbal communication in life I really wonder how the next generations are going to grow up, more secluded maybe? Like little hermits on their phones and computers? it’s very possible and frightening. Nonverbal communication is almost more important than what is actually said, it’s what helps build relationships, get people jobs, etc. without it, the human race is nothing.

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