Communication is one of the key things that drives us as human beings in our world today. The stuff we verbally say in conversation only makes up a percentage of what we communicate to others in real-time.
How can this be possible? Every part of your body plays a role in something called “nonverbal communication.” Let’s explore the body language and other nonverbal cues you send and receive from others each day. Knowing this may help you to improve the way you understand and communicate with those you care about.
First, What Is Body Language?
Maybe you know a bit about body language already. You know that smiling at someone as you introduce yourself is a polite thing to do. Maybe you make it a habit to nod as someone is speaking to indicate that you are listening to them. Cues like these play an enormous role in how others perceive you and how you interpret them.
Essentially, body language is the use of physical expressions and mannerisms that produce nonverbal communication. The critical thing to note is that you use physical cues and behavior to express your inward thoughts more instinctively than consciously.
In a sense, your body can end up telling the truth about how you feel, even if you don’t say it out loud. So, you might think you’re saying one thing by telling your parents the meal they made was delicious. Still, your avoidance of eye contact and worried expression would tell a different story.
Why Understanding Nonverbal Communication Can Help You
Picture your life. How often do you interact with others each day? Even if you have a remote job that allows you to stay home, your expressions and tone of voice via video meetings influence your communication.
Understanding others’ cues can help you to really know the people in your life. Getting to know more about nonverbal communication can also help you be more aware of your cues and learn how to communicate in a way that truly represents who you are.
Types of Nonverbal Cues and Communication Explained
Let’s look at the seven main types of nonverbal cues to get a better picture of how communication works in real-time.
1. Body Gestures
Some people use gestures more than others. Gestures are the little movements we use each day to animate our speech. They also differ by culture. While holding up an “OK” sign might be a fine gesture in some cultures, the same sign is offensive in others.
Here’s another example. Let’s say you ask a friend how they’ve been doing. Maybe they answer with something like, “I’m doing great!” Now, imagine the same exchange with an added eye-roll from your friend before they answer. This gesture adds a layer to their response that communicates more than their words did.
2. Eye Contact
Eye contact is a physical cue that can convey a wealth of intentions to other people. If a person looks away from you while speaking, it might mean that they’re trying to remember a detail of their story. However, looking away for a long time might communicate disinterest or low confidence.
This cue is a meaningful gesture that can help you show interest in someone’s words or gauge their responses and interest in your conversation.
You might not have considered the way you typically stand plays into your communication with others. Picture the stereotypical “punk kid” in classroom settings in TV shows or movies. Do they sit up straight, or do they often slouch back in their chairs while the teacher speaks to the class?
For another example, imagine that you come home to your partner after a few hours of being away with a dead phone. The phrase “oh, there you are” takes on different significance depending on whether they’re reclining on the couch or standing to their feet in shock.
4. Tone of Voice
This cue might be the one you’re most familiar with. Your tone of voice can affect the meaning of your words heavily. Your timing, emphasis on certain syllables, volume level, and whether you’re laughing or choked up all add bits of importance to the words you say.
Perhaps you have someone in your life who makes you feel upset on a regular basis, but you can’t figure out exactly why. It might be that their tone of voice makes you think that their words aren’t completely genuine. Perhaps they say all the right things, but their tone leaves you feeling confused and alienated. It’s not just what they say; it’s how they say it.
5. Facial Expressions
Have you ever been involved in discussions with friends about your taste in music? Maybe you excitedly realize you all enjoy a particular Coldplay album, and your friends’ faces light up with raised eyebrows and open-mouthed smiles.
Facial expressions are another one of the more obvious nonverbal cues. And often, we react with facial expressions without even realizing we’re doing it.
Facial expressions are broadly shared; smiles generally communicate happiness, and tears equate to sadness, among other expressions.
How close you are to someone can also convey meaning in addition to your words. Let’s say you’ve just started seeing someone. You may be able to tell how comfortable they feel getting to know you and spend time with you by how close or far away they stand.
While everyone has different boundaries and tendencies with touch, one more cue adds a layer of communication to your words.
Think about how these physical touch instances make you feel:
A tight hug from someone you love
High-five from a co-worker
Weak side-hug from a date
How To Improve Your Nonverbal Communication
Maybe you’re someone who feels worried or preoccupied with anxious thoughts often. In that case, you might feel that your in-the-moment communication doesn’t reflect who you actually are. If that’s true for you, let’s check out some things you might want to try.
Mindfulness is a practice that can help you connect to the present moment without judgment. Instead of getting swept away by your thoughts, mindfulness allows you to slow down and observe your body, breath, and current thoughts without judgment.
Take Notice of Your Cues
If you spend a lot of time caught up in your thoughts, you might default to specific non-verbal cues without even realizing it. Try to take note of your physical expressions in your everyday conversations with others. These may help you discover things about yourself you didn’t know before.
Speak to a Therapist About Managing Stress
If you’re often troubled by your relationships or interactions with others, you don’t have to deal with those thoughts alone. Speaking to a therapist about these feelings is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
Even if you feel good about your relationships, talking with a licensed therapist can help you grow in your roles as a friend, child, parent, or romantic partner. We think everyone can benefit from seeing a therapist.
How To Get Started With a Therapist When You’ve Never Been
What if you’ve never been to therapy before? If you’ve got a lot going on internally, you might feel uncomfortable going to your first appointment. Even if you feel like you’re mentally healthy, you may still feel unfamiliar with the process of seeing a therapist.
We get it. Choosing to give therapy a try hasn’t always been easy to do in the past. At Mood Health, we’ve made it easier for you.
Mood Health Makes It an Easy Process
When you get started with Mood Health, you can talk to a licensed clinician the same week you sign up. Our clinicians are trained to help you deal with your anxiety and depression, so they can handle what you bring up in conversation.
To get started, you’ll fill out some information about yourself. Then you’ll schedule your first appointment and talk to a provider via video chat about your unique goals and story.
Next, you and your provider will develop a plan together to help you reach your goals. After that, you’ll meet again regularly to make sure your plan is still working well for you.
Takeaway: Nonverbal Cues Are Part of the Picture
Your relationships are a huge part of your life and mental health. Understanding the ways people communicate nonverbally can help you step into new understanding within some of your relationships at work, at home, or with friends.
When you want some help processing your relationships, talking to a therapist is easy. At Mood Health, our providers care about your life and all the day-to-day interactions that can impact the way you feel.