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Social Sci LibreTexts

4.1: Principles and Functions of Nonverbal Communication

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  • Learning Objectives

    1. Define nonverbal communication.
    2. Compare and contrast verbal communication and nonverbal communication.
    3. Discuss the principles of nonverbal communication.
    4. Provide examples of the functions of nonverbal communication.

    As you’ll recall from our introductory chapter, a channel is the sensory route on which a message travels. Oral communication only relies on one channel, because spoken language is transmitted through sound and picked up by our ears. Nonverbal communication, on the other hand, can be taken in by all five of our senses. Since most of our communication relies on visual and auditory channels, those will be the focus of this chapter. But we can also receive messages and generate meaning through touch, taste, and smell. Touch is an especially powerful form of nonverbal communication that we will discuss in this chapter, but we will not get into taste and smell, which have not received as much scholarly attention in relation to nonverbal communication as the other senses.

    To further define nonverbal communication, we need to distinguish between vocal and verbal aspects of communication. Verbal and nonverbal communication include both vocal and nonvocal elements, and Table 4.1 “Vocal and Nonvocal Elements of Communication” shows the relationship among vocal, nonvocal, verbal, and nonverbal aspects of communication. A vocal element of verbal communication is spoken words—for example, “Come back here.” A vocal element of nonverbal communication is paralanguage, which is the vocalized but not verbal part of a spoken message, such as speaking rate, volume, and pitch. Nonvocal elements of verbal communication include the use of unspoken symbols to convey meaning. Writing and American Sign Language (ASL) are nonvocal examples of verbal communication and are not considered nonverbal communication. Nonvocal elements of nonverbal communication include body language such as gestures, facial expressions, and eye contact. Gestures are nonvocal and nonverbal since most of them do not refer to a specific word like a written or signed symbol does.

    Table 4.1 Vocal and Nonvocal Elements of Communication

    Verbal Communication Nonverbal Communication
    Vocal Spoken words Paralanguage (pitch, volume, speaking rate, etc.)
    Nonvocal Writing, sign language Body language (gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, etc.)

    Source: Adapted from Owen Hargie, Skilled Interpersonal Interaction: Research, Theory, and Practice (London: Routledge, 2011), 45.