We are living in an era where communication is crucial. We are communicating in order to achieve something, to express our feelings or to sort out some problems; we communicate to get someone to do something, to behave in a certain way.
We can do all these things saying nothing at all. Our body does all the talking. At this conclusion got Albert Mehrabian whose research material showed that the verbal messages without tone or inflection of the voice have only 7 % impact. The remaining 93% consists of tone of voice and other sounds occurring during the speech act and non-verbal cues, 38% and 55% respectively.
Non-verbal communication falls into seven categories:
Paralanguage is the science of vocal qualities that usually accompany speech. It includes the rhythm, pitch and the tempo of our voice, also our crying, snoring or laughing. Through paralanguage we can say what it is the emotional state f a person if he is sad, happy nervous or even if he is sincere.
Some cultures rely on paralanguage especially on the tone of voice, to tell the meaning of the words. These languages are Thai, Vietnamese or Chinese.
Proxemics refers to how near people are to something or to other people. E. T. Hall coined the term of proxemics from the Latin root prox- and the suffix -emic as in “proximity” and “systemic”. He defined it as the science that studies how people usually organize their space, their houses and the places where they work.
Proxemics has three fundamental areas: space, distance and territory. According to proxemics’ spatial extension, Hall proposed a classification of this behavior. His theory states that the proxemic behavior covers up three dimensions: micro-, meso-, and macrospace.
Microspace deals with the “immediate surroundings” (Proxemics:The Semiotics of Space p411) of a person, this space is considered more private, “mesospace is the further proximate environment within the person’s reach” (Proxemics:The Semiotics of Space p411) and macrospace is the space that extends over vast territories ending by covering up cities.
In what concerns the distance area of the interaction, Hall identifies four levels of distances:
- Intimate distance is up to 45 cm from the body, the individual does not allow everyone in this space, since it requires extensive contact.
- The personal distance is the invisible barrier that someone builds in order to separate him from the other people. It extends from 45 to 120 cm.
- The social distance ranges from 120 to 360 cm; this type of distance we often meet in classrooms and in different kinds of meetings.
- From 360 cm further we talk about the public distance, where the person it is outside his circle of activities, events, interests. This is the perfect distance desired by strangers.
Haptics, or the tactile communication, sometimes is used to replace the speech act even if it is considered the most primitive way of communication. Edward Hall showed in his studies that there are cultures that tend to encourage touching and some cultures that do not. Contact cultures are many Central American cultures as well as many south European countries. In Thailand, Sri Lanka touching the head is restricted because the head is considered to be sacred.
The nature of haptics is influenced not only by the culture but also by the relationship between the interacting people, by their age, by the situation, and the duration of the touching act, as well as by its location, if it is done in private or publicly; it is also influenced by the relative pressure of the touch and by its intentional or accidental nature.
Chronemics refers to the non-verbal channel of time, especially how people perceive the notion and the value of time. It is a powerful tool to know how to organize your time and how to react in time. People agendas, their lifestyle, their patience to wait and listen are affected by the correct use of time.
Time is perceived differently in every corner of the world. For people in the United States, time is something concrete, perceptible. To them it can be bought, saved, wasted and measured; they plan what they want to do and to happen. For Arabs instead, an individual who wants to know his future is seen as irreligious or insane, because in their culture only God can say what will or will not take place.
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Artifacts, though as irrelevant as it seems at first, are important factors of our non-verbal behavior. Our belongings show who we really are, they help us to reveal our true identity and separate us from the group. Sometimes you can recognize a person’s culture by what he or she wears. You will presume clearly that a man dressed in a kimono is from Japan and a woman who wears a veil belongs to a Muslim country.
The environment like all the artifacts contains information too. People only have to decode this information. The things we surround ourselves with, provide non-verbal cues which tells lots of things about us. The way, in which we decorate our house, factors such as furniture, colors, temperature, noise, and even music may have a direct effect on people. Many supermarkets strategically use the environmental factors to place products. Children’s products are placed on lower shelves so they could be easy to see and all the products that can be bought impulsively are placed near exit areas where they are more easily to grab.
Kinesics is the category of non-verbal communication that includes facial expressions, eye gaze, gestures and posture. Any part of the body that can be moved also can be used to send non-verbal messages. The basic channels of kinesics are the face, hands and arms. Unlike other body parts these ones, are highly expressive.
1.2. Body Language as a Science (Kinesics)
We act and react to one another through more ways than we can imagine; these ways does not always involve words. Most of the messages we send to other people are nonverbal; they include our facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, and posture.
Throughout years, many scholars and anthropologists like Ray Birdwhistell were concerned with the study of this type of communication that is called kinesics, with its evolution, development and its distinctions among the cultures. A useful scheme of non-verbal behavior was suggested in 1969 by Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen. They proposed five categories of non-verbal movement which are: emblems, regulators, illustrators, affect displays, and adaptors.
Emblems are direct communication signals that indicate certain words; they are used especially when verbal communication is problematic. These signs made by our hands, shoulders, or facial movements may also replace a word and can stand for a reply without any verbal messages.
Regulators unlike the three movements mentioned above, interact with the actions and the movements of another person. These movements form stimulants for other individual to speak quickly or to slow down while talking. We can use these regulators in a positive manner, to encourage someone to speak, or in a negative way by making him loose his interest in talking.
Illustrations accompany verbal messages; they are made by our hands, head or even feet. Usually they” back up” the verbal message, helping us to get through a difficult idea.
The term affect display stands for emotional expressions, those movements of the face or of the body that have a hide emotional content like anger, happiness, disappointment, rage. The signals are involuntary and may happen whenever something provokes an emotion even if these things are environmental factors like beautiful landscapes, thunders or sunrises.
Manipulators initially were called adaptors; they represent daily behaviors that are used to make a person feel comfortable in a social interaction. These are actions that include our hands pressing something, fingers scratching the palm or playing with a pencil or a piece of clothing.
The phenomenon of Kinesics has known an outstanding increase in the last decade, the ability to understand and to use nonverbal cues, body signals being a powerful tool that can help us connect with others, navigate in challenging situations, express what we really mean and thus building better relationships.
1.3. The Functions of Non-Verbal Communication
The overall functions of body language as well as of the non-verbal communication are:
When we interact, we pay attention to the meaning of the message. For example, when someone is angry and he verbally expresses this anger, he will accent this feeling further more by shaking his fist while talking.
Moderating is the opposite part of accenting; it seeks to reduce attention on the message; you attenuate a part of the message you send, in different ways and you transform it by making it difficult to understand. Moderating happens when you talk faster than usual.
Complementing is considered similar to accenting, but covers a wider part of the message. It goes hand in hand with verbal messages; when we are talking about sad things we lower our head and we use a sad tone in order to accent those sad things we are talking about.
Sometimes non-verbal language is simply the best way in which you can communicate. Whenever there are things that are better left unsaid, we use the substituting function. We replace the words with non-verbal language.
People are used to these non-verbal signals; they learn to identify gestures, facial expressions as corresponding with certain feelings and intentions.
Contradicting means sending non-verbal messages that disagree with what is being said. These non-verbal cues are done either intentionally, to confuse a person by changing the message or it may happen at the subconscious level when somebody tells a lie.
Regulating consists of those non-verbal signals, regulators, which we use to send signals to another person. Usually these are signals related to the speech of the other individual. It is used around starting and ending speech you send some signals that will make him either speak faster or stop talking.
Repeating with non-verbal cues happens like in complementing or accenting, but with a certain interval between the verbal and non-verbal communication. After you say something and there was no reaction, a gesture or a facial expression will reinforce the verbal message you sent earlier.
Non-verbal signals can be used to lie. It is not easy to send this kind of messages; you must be in perfect control of your all facial muscles in order to deceive someone. Saying you did not do it, while sounding insulted at the accusation, or rubbing your nose are only some of the signs that show the fact that you are lying.
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