Understand and use non-verbal communication

We always communicate, even when we don’t speak. Even when we do not participate in the conversation and do not gesticulate, in fact, with the gaze and the position of the body we still send signals that are interpreted by other people. Our posture standing or sitting, if we make eye contact and for how long, as well as our facial expression are all elements that reveal a lot about our emotions and intentions .

Already in the 1960s, the American psychologist Albert Mehrabian formulated the thesis according to which an intervention within a conference generates an emotional effect only for 7% because of its content: the remaining 55% depends instead on body language and 38 % from the entry . It is therefore evident how much non-verbal language determines how our words are interpreted. However, the importance of non-verbal communication has so far been very underestimated. Yet the ability to interpret one’s neighbor’s non-verbal language and use it with awareness can bring many advantages in relationships, both in the private sector and at work.


  1. What is non-verbal communication
  2. Non-verbal communication: examples of the main forms of expression
  3. What role does non-verbal communication play in everyday life?
  4. How to properly understand non-verbal communication
  5. Tips for non-verbal communication at work

What is non-verbal communication


The non-verbal communication includes all types of personal communication or mass that occur without the use of language. The expression derives from the Latin “non” “verbum” (“word”) and “to communicate”.

Sign language and written language are not part of non-verbal communication as they are based on or refer to the spoken language.

Non-verbal communication is the oldest form of human communication . Even before the birth of language our ancestors communicated with the help of sounds and body language. It is possible to communicate in a non-verbal way in an unconscious, partially aware or aware way , however not all forms of non-verbal communication are intentionally controllable. On some physical reactions we can often intervene only to a limited extent: for example it is not possible to permanently change our specific smell, which in turn acts as a signal for others. We can instead intervene on other signals, such as the posture we assume or the voice, in a matter of seconds.

There are many forms of expression that don’t require words.

Non-verbal communication: examples of the main forms of expression


A smile, a frowning forehead, raised eyebrows: with our face we express very different emotions, knowingly or not.


With the movements of the hands we can emphasize what has been said by expressing inner resistance or frankness or by transmitting our feelings even without the help of words. Examples: palms facing upwards (frankness), large movements of the hands (self-confidence), shrugging (indifference) and of course the warning index.

Eye contact

The ability or otherwise of a person to maintain eye contact has a strong effect on his interlocutor. Avoiding eye contact is perceived as a symptom of disinterest, insecurity or embarrassment.


The way we walk or the posture we adopt when we stand up says a lot about our personality. Walking with relaxed steps, having a straight pace and a stable upright position are often interpreted as signs of resoluteness, security and courage. Even when we turn to our interlocutors or turn the torso to the other side, it is possible to draw conclusions about our sympathy or dislike for them.


The habitus (ie the “aspect”, from the Latin “habere” = to have) indicates the set of ways and habits of a person and the way in which it is presented, the clothes, the hairstyle and the accessories that brings, the hobbies he has and the means of transport he uses. These are elements that allow you to draw conclusions about a person’s social position.

Paraverbal communication

The way we express our messages linguistically is also called paraverbal communication. This concept includes, among other things, the tone of words (intonation), the speed with which we speak, the intensity of our voice and the register.

What role does non-verbal communication play in everyday life?

Non-verbal communication influences social coexistence in many ways. And since many non-verbal messages are sent unconsciously , they can often be used to read other people’s attitudes more reliably than simple language messages.In this sense, advantages can be gained not only as recipients of these messages, but also as broadcasters, when, for example, we want to convince our interlocutors during a conversation or negotiations.After all, those who know the impression they make on others mimicry and gestures and use them in a targeted manner, will also be more convincing.

As recipients of non-verbal messages, the sitting position of our interlocutor, the type of eye contact or a fleeting gesture of the hand can give us an idea of ​​his emotional state and his intentions. When words and non-verbal expression agree and we attach positive meaning to the non-verbal cues we receive, in most cases we are more willing to trust the other person.

If, on the other hand, non-verbal words and signals do not match , doubts quickly arise about the reliability or competence of the other. Therefore, most people remember the non-verbal message better because it is usually sent unconsciously and therefore appears more honest.

As issuers , we can use thenon-verbal communication even in an absolutely conscious way , for example

  • to inspire confidence
  • to reinforce the effect of our words
  • to convey self-confidence
  • to win the sympathy of others

For example, if an executive congratulates his or her employee for a good performance, a handshake emphasizes the verbal message. During a presentation, you can use mimicry and gestures to emphasize your statements or communicate your messages more clearly.

Studies have also shown that non-verbal communication does not only act on recipients: the broadcaster can use it to influence his own emotions . Apparently, if before a job interview the candidates take a position of the body that expresses security for a few seconds, during the conversation they will behave more confidently and in the end they will be more successful.

In groups, non-verbal communication is often used to reinforce the spirit of sharing – for example, when the audience applauds at a concert or the fans at the stadium go wild.

How to properly understand non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication is complex and its understanding often depends on the social environment in which we move. There is no dictionary with unique translations of non-verbal messages.

However, there are some basic non-verbal messages that are interpreted the same way around the world . According to psychologist Paul Ekman, there are seven basic emotions expressed in the same way in all cultures: joy, anger, disgust, fear, contempt, sadness and surprise. . That said, however, there are major cultural and regional differences.

If you want to train your ability to decipher non-verbal communication, here are some tips to do it more easily:

Manage stress

Keep your stress level low. Those under pressure have limited mental resources at their disposal. If you are stressed, the probability of misinterpreting or not catching nonverbal cues at all is high.

Develop emotional awareness

Only those who are aware of their feelings and know how to influence them can correctly interpret the emotional expressions in other people’s body language. Calmly explore how your feelings affect your posture, your facial expressions, your gestures and the modulation of your voice.

Respect the context

In addition to the cultural context, the situational and individual context also play an important role in the evaluation of non-verbal messages. A bent posture can be an expression of a lack of self-confidence, but it can also be caused simply by back pain. Arms crossed may signal an attitude of rejection, but some people almost always cross their arms out of habit.

Evaluate the set of signals

It is not useful to grasp only a single non-verbal signal and want to draw conclusions about the other’s attitude. An adequate interpretation can be said to be successful only when a multitude of messages are perceived on the various non-verbal channels.

Communicate your impression

If you do not know how to interpret some non-verbal cues, communicate your impression to the interlocutor instead of reaching hasty conclusions. Does the interlocutor’s posture seem to indicate poor concentration? Offer him a break. If a colleague seems annoyed and unfriendly, openly express your suspicions and give him the opportunity to correct your impression.

Follow intuition

Non-verbal communication may seem obscure, ambiguous and contradictory. If in doubt, trust your intuition, which often takes its cue from the unconscious evaluation of your past observations and experiences in dealing with certain people or situations. Therefore, not infrequently, intuition is not wrong (even if, as mentioned above, you could very well ask your interlocutor how he feels, if the situation allows it).

Tips for non-verbal communication at work

Those who completely ignore non-verbal messages in communication in professional life will sooner or later encounter difficulties. For professional success, not only technical know-how is important: transversal skills such as social skills also count . Especially in management positions, you need to know how to deal with your employees. The better your ability to read the non-verbal cues of business partners, colleagues and customers, the higher your ability to consciously control your non-verbal communication, the greater the likelihood of having a successful and conflict-free career path.

As mentioned above, it is difficult to provide general suggestions on the interpretation and use of non-verbal messages. However, if we limit ourselves to the European and North American context, it is possible to make general recommendations on how to use non-verbal communication to be more confident and win sympathies.

  1. Adapting to the interlocutor’s non-verbal behavior: Of course, this only applies if your interlocutor respects the basic rules of courtesy. (if the other person gets angry and shouts, you don’t have to reflect this behavior at all!) Usually, by imitating the intonation, body language and facial expressions of the person you are talking to, you will gain their trust. This behavior is unconsciously regarded as “attunement” and makes the other person more open to conversation.
  2. Keeping the Right Distance: Everyone has a personal area where only close friends and family members enter. In our culture, this distance corresponds to about one arm. You must avoid entering this area without your partner’s permission. A normal conversation distance is between 60 and 150 centimeters. You can vary the distance according to your confidence.
  3. Check your sitting posture: Whether it’s a job interview or a meeting, if you want to be sure of yourself, sit on the whole seat and not on the edge of the chair. Otherwise you will seem on the verge of getting up or even nervous and ready to run away. Sit straight, but not rigid. Do not sprawl on your chair and do not lean back: you may be disinterested or arrogant. Instead, occasionally lean forward to convey your attention. Finally, if possible, do not sit exactly in front of your interlocutor, because doing so often creates a conflicting mood. The ideal is an angle between 30 and 60 degrees.
  4. Watch out for eye contact: Eye contact is one of the most important non-verbal cues. Allows you to be convincing, available and reliable. However, avoid looking into the eyes of your interlocutor for more than 3 seconds, otherwise your gaze will seem fixed and will cause embarrassment instead of trust.
  5. Safe standing position: When standing, you will always feel safe by assuming a natural position. Keep your feet at the same width as your hips and your arms along your body. Contrary to what some experts say, you don’t have to be careful to evenly distribute the weight on both legs. It is not bad to move it from one leg to the other from time to time. In fact, by doing this you will be more comfortable and feel more secure.


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