Nonverbal communication (communication without the use of words) is the basic, primitive form of conveying information from one person to another. It has been estimated that in normal communications between two people, only one-third of the meaning is transmitted verbally and nearly two-thirds is transmitted nonverbally. Nonverbal communication is used when individuals do not possess command of a language. The channels through which it operates are fundamentally affective rather than cognitive, although a cognitive element is clearly involved. Nonverbal communication takes place universally when two individuals meet for the first time, size each other up, and develop ideas about the kind of person with whom they are dealing—whether the other is hostile or friendly, weak or strong, concerned or indifferent.
Infants cry wordlessly, wave their arms, and pucker up their faces to communicate feelings of discomfort. he response of the parents to these early attempts of their infant to say how he or she feels—and how the infant feels is usually in relation to how the parents feel—will determine the infant’s formulation of concepts related to these actions. he parents’ response will also determine the infant’s development of ways to communicate feelings of hunger, happiness, anger, and so on. Only later will come the words that will embody these feelings.
Nonverbal communication is continuous, with or without verbal accompaniment. It is the principal means by which attitudes and feelings are conveyed, particularly in the initial stages of a relationship, but it goes on throughout any continuing contact between people. Because nonverbal communication never ceases, there is great danger that a worker may be communicating contradictory messages. One may say verbally, “I’m so glad that you stopped by,” while at the same time conveying nonverbally, “I’m tired and harassed, it’s late on a Friday afternoon, and I’ll be glad to see the last of you.”
This kind of communication is confusing at best and can be extremely destructive to vulnerable people. We see this with children caught in a situation where there is basic rejection of the child’s needs and demands, and where the anger and frustration about this are communicated constantly by nonverbal means, while the parents verbally profess love and concern. Such children are confused because they do not know which communication is valid.
Sensitive workers, who are aware of their own feelings and recognize the impact expression through nonverbal channels has on the people with whom they are working, will attempt to deal with their own feelings in constructive ways. hey can ventilate feelings of frustration with a fellow worker, hopefully one who will be healthy and knowledgeable enough to encourage ventilation rather than to reinforce the negative feeling. Or workers can use a good supervisor whose responsibility it is to help deal with these feelings. hey can also in some instances acknowledge the existence of the feelings with the person to whom they are talking, try to understand their source, and decide whether it is possible to change the situation that provokes them. his can be done in a way that enhances healthy communication.
In some instances, workers can face and verbalize their own conflicting feelings with both individuals and groups to good effect. he worker who can say directly to a client “I don’t feel well prepared for our session today, but I think we can make it meaningful”
Levine, Joanne. Working with People: The Helping Process (Page 86). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.
acknowledges a reality of which the client is doubtless aware and sets up a situation in which both can then deal with it.
Over the years, American culture has tended to view expression of feeling as a sign of weakness or “femininity” so that very often deep and significant feelings can only be expressed nonverbally or symbolically. Even then, the expression may be so disguised that it requires knowledgeable interpretation. If there is feeling—and there always is—it will frequently be expressed by nonverbal messages. We are not always aware of nonverbal communications, but they can be potent influences in determining decisions and judgments.
Nonverbal messages are conveyed through the person and the setting. Age, gender, race, speech, personal appearance—physique, posture, body odor, dress, tension, facial expression, behavior, silence or speech, tone of voice, gestures or movements, eye contact, touch, body sounds—all convey messages to the receiver, as does the physical setting—its appearance, aesthetic quality, comfort and privacy (or lack of them), and general climate. he ways in which we convey nonverbal messages about ourselves are endless. Once workers know where to look and what to listen for and to sense in both self and client, their sensitivity and ability to understand will increase. Let us look more closely at some examples of these nonverbal media.
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