Nonverbal communication forms an integral part of the way we communicate everyday. Nonverbal communication is of four types. They are kinesics, paralanguage, proxemics, and chronemics. Nonverbal communication including our gestures, facial expressions, and the eye contact we make with the person we are communicating with conveys important messages. Leaders can derive a number of important meanings from organizational members engaging in nonverbal signals.
The study of body movements is called kinesics. The body movements considered here include facial expression, touching, gestures, eye contact, and other movements of the body or limbs. Height, weight, hair and skin color and physique, body shape, and posture are characteristics of the physical body associated with kinesics.
1.1 Facial Expressions
A wealth of information is conveyed by kinesics, mainly facial expressions (Bowden). Approval, disbelief, or disapproval is all effectively communicated by the specific look on the person’s face or movement of his head in a particular fashion. Facial muscles undergo triggering upon experiencing emotions. Universal expressions recognized by the majority of cultures are six in number and include fear, disgust, surprise, anger, sadness, and happiness. While smiling conveys happiness, warmth, and friendship, frowning is an expression associated with anger or dissatisfaction. Smiling itself can be real or false and is gauged by the length and strength of the smile, the symmetry involved and the openness felt in the eyes.
1.2 Eye Contact
Four functions are regulated in communication by eye contact (Hickson). Firstly, the beginning and end of the communication is regulated by signals emitted from the eyes. Secondly, feedback is monitored by eye contact as it shows attention and interest. Third, emotion is conveyed by eye contact. Fourth, the type of relationship that is present between the people communicating is expressed by eye contact. The duration of eye contact is an important way to assess liking and interest. Acknowledging another person’s worth and willingness to listen are all important characteristics displayed by eye contact. Wandering eyes or contracting the pupils are indications of lack of interest.
Another cue to a person’s attitude is posture, which is widely used. When one likes the message another person is communicating, he leans forward. On the other hand, leaning backward may convey the opposite meaning of disapproval to what the other person is saying. Confidence in oneself is conveyed by standing erect, while slouching bears the opposite meaning. Impressions about oneself are effectively cast on another depending on the posture one takes. Interviewers, for example, tend to approve of candidates, who portray positive nonverbal cues such as erect posture and direct eye contact, than other candidates, who display negative nonverbal cues such as slouching and looking down (Davis).
Nonverbal communication can also be ambiguous despite the various common implications drawn based on them. For example, a smile while meaning warmth and friendliness, most often, could also mean contempt, deceit, and nervousness, and sometimes even fear and resignation. Despite this important fact, body language is important as a rich source of information. You can cast impressions on others, express subtle cues and messages, and effectively communicate what you inwardly feel through the body language. Effective leadership can be inculcated by strong positive nonverbal communication such as maintaining good eye contact and smile with the other person, nodding the head, standing and sitting erect and not slouching, by relaxed hand gestures, and by wearing clean, well-tailored clothes.
Bowden, M. Winning Body Language: Control The Conversation, Command Attention, and Convey The Right Message Without Saying a Word. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2011.
Davis, B. Top Notch Interviews: Tips, Tricks, and Techniques From First Call to Getting The Job You Want. Pompton Plains, NJ: Career Press, 2011.
Hickson, M. Nonverbal Communication: Studies and Applications. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010.