Communication is one of the most important aspects of human lives. It can be defined as a process of transferring information from one entity to another in a particular setup. Following this point, it is almost impossible for communication to take place in a setup where only one entity exists. In this regard, there are different types or rather forms of communication that exists in the society. These include verbal and non-verbal communication. Among these forms of communication are subgroups of communication such as interpersonal, intrapersonal communication, etc. However, one of the communication styles that have been of interest to researchers and scholars is nonverbal communication. Whereas nonverbal communication plays a critical part in the communication process of human beings, it has been ignored in most cases as part of communication due to misunderstanding on how it works in any form of communication process. Nonverbal Communication: Principles and Misconceptions.
There are different principles that have been found to guide nonverbal communication in any form of relationship where communication plays a critical role. To begin with, it is important for one to understand that nonverbal communication, just like verbal communication occurs or rather take place within a particular context or setup (Harris, 2002, p.154). Whereas it may be assumed that since nonverbal communication involves the use of signs and other nonverbal tools in passing information and thus does not need a context, it is important for one to understand that the need for a context is mandatory for this form of communication to be able to occur and to be effective. In line with this, creating a context is one of the ways that could be employed to create a flowing channel of communication between different entities.
Similarly, nonverbal communication does not contain only one aspect of communication. Instead, this form of communication has various packages of nonverbal communication that are elicited every moment one is using it (Harris, 2002, p.155). In other words, nonverbal signs that are used to pass messages or rather information from one person to another are utilized in a group. For instance, when one is communication, he or she can fold hands while at the same time communication with facial expressions. This implies that for a person to be effective in understanding information that is passed on from one person to another, a person should not focus on a single element of nonverbal communication but rather on collective elements of this type of communication that are depicted in a person.
In addition, nonverbal communication is a continuous process that goes on and on even when a person is not speaking. In other words, nonverbal actions always communicate even when a person is not communication using words. For instance, a person may stop communicating with words yet his action portray to his or her audience that he or she is still communicating. In such a case, nonverbal communication may be used to emphasize on the words that one has been speaking out (Harris, 2002). For example, when a person goes to visit another, one would be told that he is much welcome in that particular place. However, nonverbal communication that follows or rather accompanies these words will continue to communicate to this person that indeed he or she is welcome. In such a case, his or her host might keep quiet yet his or her smile communicate to the visitor that he is appreciated in that place.
In regard to the above point, nonverbal communication emphasizes the information that has been passed from one entity to another in a verbal communication (Harris, 2002, p.154). In the same way that the cap of a policeman will emphasize on the authority that he has, nonverbal communication endorses the information that has been passed on in a verbal communication. In the example that was mentioned above about a person that goes to visit another, a smile on his or her host’s face emphasize the welcome note that one is given.
There are various misconceptions that are associated with non-verbal communication. First, most people perceive nonverbal communication as a body language. In reference to Wiemann (2009), nonverbal communication is not a language (p.54). Therefore, referring to nonverbal communication as a language is a misconceived perception that needs to be eliminated from the minds of people. Instead, nonverbal communication can be termed as behaviors that carry ambiguous meaning in the sense that people from different cultures across the globe associate different meanings to particular types or rather forms of nonverbal communication. On the other hand, one nonverbal communication may have various meanings attached it (p.54).
Secondly, another misconception that is elicited in regard to nonverbal communication is that there are many different nonverbal communication elements or behaviors such that one cannot be able to tell whether these elements or behaviors mean the same thing when they are expressed in any communication setup. According to Wiemann (2009), facial expression alone has more than 20,000 possible facial configurations that make it almost impossible to determine whether these expressions have consistent meaning in different times and among different societies and cultures across the globe.
Lastly, whereas one expects that his or her nonverbal communication will be decoded in the way he or she wants, this is not always the case. As it was observed by Wiemann (2009), people do not interpret nonverbal communication as one would wish them to (p.56). This is as a result of the fact that there are many clusters of nonverbal communication that makes it difficult to identify all of them when they are used in a person. For instance, a person may use several behaviors of nonverbal communication in their communication. However, the other person involved in this communication may only pick out a few of them and fail to notice the others. This leads to a failure by this person to sincerely get the whole information just the communicator would have loved him to.
There are various barriers that have been identified in the society as a stumbling block to effective interpersonal interactions in nonverbal communication. To begin with, culture is one of the greatest barriers to effective nonverbal communication in terms of interpersonal interactions (Poyatos, 2002, p.17). Different cultures across the globe attach different meanings to various nonverbal communication behaviors or rather elements. Following this point, one nonverbal behavior may have more than one meaning in different cultures across the world. For instance, patting someone of the opposite sex on the back may show a sign of friendship in one culture while doing the same in another culture would imply a form of sexual harassment.
Stereotyping is another barrier to effective nonverbal communication in interpersonal interaction. It has been observed that certain gestures in the society are associated with certain people in the society. For instance, a person may unknowingly make a particular gesture. However, due to stereotyping, this person may be associated with a particular group of people in the society, thus altering the intended meaning of the gesture. In this regard, there are some gestures are associated with such people as a gay, or religious groups in the society. Therefore, when one mistakenly makes a gesture that is associated with these people, another person involved in this communication may choose to shun away from this communication because of the opinion that the other is associated with a certain group in the society (Poyatos, 2002).
The inability to interpret nonverbal communication gestures has also been cited as one of the communication barriers in interpersonal interactions (Poyatos, 2002, p.18). Different people, depending on their background and how they have been brought up interpret different gestures, behaviors and elements of nonverbal communication in different ways. This has been found to create an element of error in displaying the intended meaning in any form of communication. This is similar to the effect that cultural background has on nonverbal communication. On the other hand, since there are a lot of nonverbal elements or behavior that are expressed in a person in a single moment, it is difficult to interpret them since they may be portraying totally different meanings.
According to Starr & McCormick (2001), there are many moments when nonverbal communication has been used whereas the information that is being send across is not genuine (p.509). In other words, nonverbal communication has an ability to form a basis for deception in any form of communication. Starr & McCormick (2001) argues that it is the nature of human being to employ some form of deception in the process of communication (p.509). It is therefore believed that this deception, when it is unknown to a person is beneficial for interpersonal communication. However, the converse is also true. Understanding or rather discovering that there is some deception in any communication would ultimately result in a breakdown of communication.
In connection to this, nonverbal has been used in some cases to portray deceptive responses towards other people in a communication setup (Starr & McCormick, 2001, 509). For instance, a person can smile and show another one that he is happy with him whereas deep within this person, his mind is very far away from him. Therefore, when it is discovered by the other party in a communication setup that the smile that is portrayed in this person is not genuine or rather consistent with his feeling, the other part will shun away from this communication process and create a barrier that would prevent them from communicating again. In some cases, it may raise serious conflicts.
Interpersonal conflict has also been found to be another barrier to nonverbal communication. Whenever there is a conflict between two people in the society, there is a limitation in the way these people would communicate. Therefore, these people would fail to communicate not because they do not have words to speak to each other but because they have unresolved conflict between them. For instance, when a man and his wife have a conflict between them, his wife will fail to respond to a pat on her back. In the same way, the man would fail to respond to a smile from his wife because of such conflicts. This is based on the fact that nonverbal communication too, just as verbal communication needs response for it to continue in an effective way. In other words, conflicts are barrier to effective communication since they limit the response between two people who are engaged in nonverbal communication (Poyatos, 2002).