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Nonverbal cues speak louder than words

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In some cultures, hugging or kissing is common, but not in others. In some cultures direct eye contact is preferred, but not in others.

By Reeta Raina

Humans have used language, verbal and non-verbal, as a communication tool for centuries. Non-verbal communication adds to the information communicated through a verbal format, using facial expression, vocalization, artifacts, gestures, spacing, etc. According to experts, a significant part of our communication is non-verbal (65-70%). In fact, non-verbal communication can be a reliable source of information in situations where the verbal is untrustworthy, ambiguous, or difficult to interpret. Sigmund Freud said: “He who has eyes to see and ears to hear can convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he is chatting with the tips of his fingers; betrayal oozes from him through every pore.

But there is no one universal nonverbal language – different societies use different models and ways. In England the gesture of the nose tap is a signal of secrecy, but in Italy it is a friendly warning. Almost everywhere the movement of the head up and down means “yes” or “I agree”, this is not the case in Bulgaria. Americans, Germans or Chinese prefer a larger personal space than Latin Americans, Italians or Middle Easterners. In some cultures, hugging or kissing is common, but not in others. In some cultures direct eye contact is preferred, but not in others.

In a globalized world, where the workforce can come from many countries and cultures, misinterpreting non-verbal cues can lead to misunderstandings. Therefore, professionals should study the standards of interaction.

Equally important is non-verbal communication in this hybrid world of post-Covid-19 work. Virtual conversations can be enriched in the same way as physical interaction by using gestures or other means, including emoticons, or text in bold or italics or in capitals.

In fact, in the age of virtual communication, nonverbal cues can speak louder than words. The right energy level, speaking with passion, the tone that matches the intent of the message could also prove to be contagious on screen.

The author is professor, FORE School of Management, New Delhi

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