Non-verbal cues speak louder than words

September 27, 2021 7:20 AM

Leveraging non-verbal communication on digital platforms—I cannot not communicate; I am communicating all the time

In some cultures touching, hugs or kisses are common, but not in others. In some cultures direct eye contact is preferred, but not in others.In some cultures touching, hugs or kisses are common, but not in others. In some cultures direct eye contact is preferred, but not in others.

By Reeta Raina

Humans have been using language, both verbal and non-verbal, as a tool of communication for centuries. Non-verbal communication adds to the information as communicated through verbal format, using facial expression, vocalisation, artefacts, gestures, spacing, etc. According to experts, a substantial portion of our communication is non-verbal (65-70%). In fact, non-verbal communication can be a reliable source of information in situations where verbal is untrustworthy, ambiguous or difficult to interpret. Sigmund Freud famously said: “He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore.”

But there isn’t a single universal non-verbal language—different societies use different patterns and ways. In England, the nose tap gesture is a signal for 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 bigger personal space than Latin Americans, Italians or Middle-Easterners. In some cultures touching, hugs or kisses are common, but not in others. In some cultures direct eye contact is preferred, but not in others.

In a globalised world, where workforce can be from many countries and cultures, misinterpretation of non-verbal cues can lead to misunderstanding. Therefore, professionals must study norms of interaction.

Non-verbal communication is equally important in this hybrid world of work post-Covid-19. Virtual conversations can be enriched the same way as physical interaction by using gestures or other ways, including emoticons, or bold or italicised or all-caps text.

In fact, in this age of virtual communication, non-verbal cues can speak louder than words. Right kind of energy levels, speaking with passion, the tone matching the intent of the message could prove to be infectious on the screen as well.

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

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