Nonverbal Communication: The Foundation of Human Interaction

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Human beings interact with one another by sharing information, ideas, values, and opinions in order to transfer knowledge and promote understanding. This is commonly accomplished through speech and written language, but also with more subtle actions, such as body language, postures, eye contact, and facial expressions. Though sometimes considered a less direct method of communication, nonverbal interactions can be very effective. Often, people communicate in this manner without complete awareness of the message they are sending, though, prior to the development of written and spoken language, it was likely wielded with a great deal of skill and intent.

Nonverbal Communication

In contemporary business trends, nonverbal cues are often well-considered and delivered with an objective in mind. They can be used as tools to reinforce a spoken message, exude confidence, express passion about a topic or indicate receptiveness to ideas. Conversely, body language can be an indicator of apathy or reluctance to cooperate. These signs may be at odds with the content of the individual’s spoken words. A ForbesWomen article discusses how nonverbal communication constitutes a “second conversation” that needs to align with the verbal content in order to make sense and convey authority (Beheshti, 2018, para. 5).

Nonverbal Communication Scenario 1: During a required instructional presentation in an office setting, a manager addressed a group of employees. Prior to the lecture, the manager made remarks with humorous intent that some found amusing, and others did not. The manager seemed aware that his comments were not well-received by all in attendance, but continued regardless. When the presentation began, the verbal content was completely professional. However, the manager directed the occasional smirk at the individuals who were less-than-pleased with his earlier behavior. At the end of the presentation, others were still in the room, so the offended employees left without confronting the manager.

The manager’s facial expressions and direct gaze contradicted his professional verbal communication, though the two were not directly related. Connotative language could be used to express the inappropriate nature of the behavior, articulating feelings while not being construed as backing down, and also allowing the manager to preserve his dignity. Simply delivering unmitigated denotative statements might produce defensiveness. As no confrontation occurred, the manager did not employ any listening techniques in this scenario. However, the reflecting and validating forms of active listening would likely have been an appropriate acknowledgment.

Nonverbal Communication Scenario 2: In an office setting, with all managers otherwise occupied, an employee approached a director with a problem regarding a facility gate. The issue involved a tight deadline, and the gate was preventing the timely delivery of materials. The director took a quick look around, assessing the lack of available managers, and without unnecessary comment, addressed the problem at hand. The director was friendly, professional and diligent in solving a dilemma that fell outside, or perhaps even beneath, the scope of his responsibilities. The director’s nonverbal and verbal communications were congruent, and the function of his nonverbal cues was regulatory; he never appeared annoyed, rushed or frustrated, and he maintained a calming demeanor that indicated the situation would soon be under control. The verbal language used was denotative: information received, processed, utilized and returned. The listening technique employed was to summarize the information offered to ensure a complete understanding of the problem before devising a solution.

Nonverbal Communication Scenario 3: In a restaurant dining room, a server received a very public reprimand by her manager after a legitimate customer complaint. The manager’s verbal and nonverbal communications were congruent, if rather inappropriate, and the functions of complementing, accenting and regulating were in evidence. The aggressive posture and raised voice of the manager were conveying similar messages, her gesticulations accented the specific points she made, and her bodily movement toward the hapless employee was clearly intended to regulate the interaction. Some unconventional language was used in this case, including several connotative remarks about incompetence, supplementing the denotative list of the server’s infractions. The server was egregiously wrong, but the manager’s communication approach was not helping to resolve anything. The listening technique employed by the manager was to clarify the situation by asking questions. Although this is an appropriate technique in this scenario, as it is designed to extract information, pairing it with other methods would probably increase its effectiveness. Encouraging, reflecting and summarizing might prove effective, as they recognize the employee’s feelings or viewpoint, and might cause them to more carefully consider future actions.


Listening is an integral part of effective communication and is not always accorded the recognition it deserves. Schilling’s article discusses the importance of granting full attention to a speaker and keeping an open mind throughout the conversational process; it is not only courteous, but a listener’s nonverbal cues send messages to the speaker, as well (Schilling, 2012). Interrupting, finishing others’ thoughts and furnishing them with interpretations before they conclude may result in incorrect assumptions and hinder the learning process. A nonverbal indicator that the listener is not interested, or simply does not care, can be damaging to the communication process. Perhaps the greatest portion of successful interactions among humans relies upon assessing and reacting to what is not said.


Beheshti, N. (2018, September 20). The power of mindful nonverbal communication. Forbes. Retrieved from

Schilling, D. (2012, November 9). 10 steps to effective listening. Forbes. Retrieved from