Decoding Non-Verbal Communication
Dr. Vipin K Sharma
Abstract: What people say could often be very different from what they're thinking or feeling.
It's very easy to say something untrue or insincere, so we can never rely on words alone.
Fortunately, there's a proven way to accurately decode nonverbal communication i.e. people’s
thoughts, mental and physical states, emotions or mood - and that's by reading their body
language. People may lie, but their body silently and unconsciously speaks the truth. We
communicate without words in all of our face-to-face interactions. Nonverbal communication
plays a profound role in the messages we receive from others and gives others a wealth of
information about our personalities. Having the ability to decode body language (kinesics) can
have astonishing effects in almost every aspect of your life. Our body language transmits both
subtle and not-so-subtle messages to other people, as well as animals, which are often highly
attuned to our nonverbal communication. By becoming more aware of unconscious, nonverbal
signals, we can more accurately decode the messages that other people send you. Many cultural
differences can confuse the meaning of a message. It would be impossible to correctly decode the
nonverbal signals we receive without being aware of cultural norms. Some cultural differences
include whether eye contact is seen as respectful (as in the U.S.) or disrespectful (as in some
Asian countries), and whether people of the same sex would kiss each other or shake hands as a
greeting. Your own body language signals can also influence what other people may think or feel
about you. If you do it right, you will be liked and trusted. But if you send the wrong signals
(even if you're unaware of it) - your business, career, relationships, and even self-esteem may
Introduction: Non-verbal communication is primeval and constitutes the earliest type of
communication. It developed much before oral communication and languages came into
existence. The language of the hearing impaired which uses signs and gestures perhaps evolved
from these primeval methods of communication. Words have boundaries whereas it transcends
linguistic and cultural barriers and boundaries. It is a language of love and compassion. Many
saints use this source par excellence and are well understood all over the world. The silent
movies of the past are another example of effective non-verbal communication.
Many cultural differences take the form of nonverbal communications. The nonverbal
area is relatively new and still is being studied and developed; however, most of us have had
enough experience to be aware of its existence and importance. One must be careful to keep this
area in perspective and to consider nonverbal elements as only a part of the total communication
effort—while the nonverbal may be important, it is not always the whole story. If a person
frowns while listening to you speaks, it may indicate doubt or disagreement; on the other hand,
the person may have a headache or the light may be bothersome. It is important for you to
remain alert to nonverbal signals, but it is also essential that you decode them accurately.
Role of Nonverbal Communication in Decoding a Message: We communicate without words
in all of our face-to-face interactions. Nonverbal communication plays a vital role in the
messages we receive from others. It also gives others a wealth of information about our
personalities. Our body language transmits both subtle and not-so-subtle messages to other
people, as well as animals, which are often familiar to our nonverbal communication. By
becoming more aware of unconscious, nonverbal signals, we can more accurately decode the
messages that other people send us.
Both encoder and decoder send nonverbal messages as part of the total communication
process. The nonverbal messages of the encoder tend to reveal the degree of presence or absence
of sincerity, honesty, conviction, ability, and qualifications; body language reveals a lot about the
encoder and this person's attitude and feelings about the message being transmitted. Whilst
mastery of communication techniques is important, it is essential that the encoder be sensitive to
the human relations aspects in the communication process, and these human elements are often
revealed vividly in body language and other nonverbal communication.
There are some nonverbal behaviors that can help to decode the message. Albert
Mehrabian in his book “Nonverbal Communication”, says “when people are being dishonest,
they tend to nod and gesture less while moving their legs and feet less, speaking less and more
slowly with more errors in their speech, and smiling more frequently.” We can also tell how
someone feels, in part, by where he places himself in a room. She might stand near a doorway as
if ready to make a quick exit, or join a large group of people. Fidget can serve as another useful
indicator of someone's mood. If he fiddles often with his hands, legs or feet, he probably feels
anxious. Often people hide these feelings with their voice and expressions while displaying them
in less noticeable ways, such as shaking their legs while sitting.
Types of Non-Verbal Communication: Non-verbal communication is anything other than
words themselves that communicates or affects (positively or negatively) the message
"contained" in the words. Meta communication is a word used to describe the nonverbal process.
Meta is from the Greek and means "beyond" or "in addition to"; hence, Meta communication is
something in addition to the communication. Anything which can be taken into account as
relevant to our interpretation of what another is saying or doing beyond the manifest 'content' of
what he is saying or doing can be referred to as Meta communication. Many times, a person
conveys a message by showing it rather than telling it. People can exhibit several nonverbal
signals at once. Thus, when we decode a message, we usually have many more nonverbal than
verbal clues about what it truly means.
Paralanguage: Inflections or emphasis applied vocally to a message are known
as paralanguage. Someone rightly says, 'It's not what he said, it's the way he said it."
Modulation or inflection can have an effect on the impact of a message; and while inflection is
applied to words, it is a nonverbal treatment which can completely change the meaning a person
would be expected to attach to the words. Inflections or emphasis applied vocally to a message
are known as paralanguage.
Paralanguage sounds just the opposite from the words themselves. Someone may have
greeted you with a "good morning!" but the tone of the words revealed that it was anything but a
good morning. There are, of course, some messages which are transmitted entirely in a nonverbal
manner through gestures and facial expressions for example communicating encouragement to
the people by raising two fingers in the familiar 'V for Victory' sign, perhaps each of us has had
the experience of making a statement that was greeted either by a raised eyebrow (indicating
surprise) or by a wrinkled brow (indicating confusion or doubt).
Silence: Silence is an important communication tool. Most of us find an extended period of
silence rather unfair and threatening, and we rush to fill the void with words—usually saying
more than we mean to say. Intentional silence can sometimes get your decoder to let know
certain feelings and attitudes that may be hindering effective communication. It is important that
we find out how we are doing in our effort to communicate; we do this through feedback. Silence
can be an effective technique to encourage feedback. By silence I mean nonverbal elements held
to a minimum.
Body Language: It is a well developed discipline of study. There is a lot of difference in what
people are saying, thinking or feeling. It's very easy to say something false or hypocritical, so we
can never rely on words alone and therefore it’s significant to know what the body is saying. It
includes facial expressions, eye contact, voice modulation, posture and gestures, attire,
appearance, handshake, space, timing, behavior and smile. In all probability the best-known type
of nonverbal communication, at least to the layperson, is body language. Body language is also
known as kinesics. A pioneer in the field, Ray Birdwhistell, writes, "The isolation of gestures
and the attempt to understand them led to the most important findings of kinesics research. This
original study of gestures gave the first indication that kinesics structure is parallel to language
structure. By the study of gestures in context, it became clear that the kinesics system has forms
which are astonishingly like words in language."
There is a proven way to accurately decode people's thoughts, emotions or mood - and
that's by reading their body language. People may lie, but their body silently and unconsciously
speaks the truth. Adequate knowledge of body language helps us to find out what our friends, co-
workers, spouse, customers or anyone else, may be hiding from you. We can understand other
people's thoughts or feelings better than they do. Interpreting body language correctly is the most
effective way to find out hidden desires, thoughts, or emotions. You can't make a good first
impression through your words alone. In fact, nonverbal communication is between 60 to 75% of
the impact of a communication. But despite being the most important aspect, body language is
also the most misunderstood and misinterpreted.
Facial Expressions: Being considered as the index of the mind, it expresses the thoughts of the
mind and the feelings of the heart. A wrinkled forehead, a raised eyebrow and many idiomatic
phrases like to carry a mask on one’s face, to make a face; the smile of recognition, the face that
launched a thousand ships etc play a vital role in decoding process.
Eyes: Probably everyone has had some experience with eyes as nonverbal communicators. The
eyes are indeed the most expressive part of human face. The feelings of the heart quite often find
expression through the eyes. In the expression of love, affection and sincerity the eye contact
become crucial. Some of the words and expressions uses in common parlance are twinkling,
wary and sad look, cold and unsettling stare, eyes emitting fire and furtive glance. Most of us
have decoded "eye language" even if we did not know about body language or nonverbal
communication. These are very useful in legal cross-examination, in counseling sessions, in
negotiations and other routine life activities.
Voice: Human voice through their variations, convey different meanings. Voice modulation
refers to the variation of the pitch or tone while speaking. Voice has many significant features
like tone (harsh, soft, whisper), pace (rapid or slow), pitch (high-low) and the quality.
Postures and Gestures: Posture refers to the carriage, state and attitude of body or mind. It may
be physical or mental, erect or upright. Gesture refers to any significant movement of limb or
body and a deliberate use of such movement as an expression of feeling. Nodding, smiling,
clasping hands, touching, patting the back, putting the hand over one’s shoulder, yawning and
crossing or uncrossing the legs are among some of the physical actions and gestures used to
convey some meaning. No doubt each of us knows someone who "talks with his or her hands.
Some people interpose communications with such excessive gestures like in a card game drum or
tap incessantly and constantly click the on-off switch of ballpoint pens that it is extremely
dangerous to get too close to their nonverbal exclamations. On the other hand, if nonverbal signs
reveal the emotional side of a communication, it is often important for you to try to determine
what message is being transmitted along with the verbal one. Sometimes they are the same; other
times they are drastically different.
Attire, Appearance and Handshake: These are other facets of body language that are subject
to interpretation by the audience with whom one interacts. Attire plays a vital role in big
organizations where there is a formal or own unwritten dress code that is well understood. Any
breach of this is likely to dilute the effectiveness of the communication. It proclaims and creates
the first impression.
Appearance is the way one looks and presents oneself indicates the importance one attaches to
one’s presence. Now a day, people have the habit of judging others by their appearance. People
meeting on occasions speak not merely with their words but with their total personality. It helps
in making a positive and constructive impact.
Handshake is common form of well accepted greeting and introduction among men and women.
Handshake are also varies like other aspects of body language and some of them are- a firm
handshake, a limp handshake, a clasp and a vice-like handshake.
Smile: A smile is a patent form of facial expression and opens doors to communication. The
saying, ‘You are never fully dressed unless you wear a good smile’ shows its significance. It
speaks the language of love, compassion, sincerity, confidence, courtesy and dependability. It
should be well intended and not sarcastic. It is out of place here to say, “There are hundreds of
languages in the world and a smile speaks all of them.”
Actions and Behaviour: Actions convey messages more forcefully than words. It is said that
examples set through actions are3 far more effective in communicating intentions and concern
than words. Managers should set an example by being polite and courteous. Behaviour refers to
conduct, manners shown by a person towards others and is governed by thoughts and feelings.
The qualities of head and heart decide the behavior of a person in a given situation. Great leaders
recognize the power of actions and behavior and use them for effective communication.
Personal Space: It is physical distance between persons that indicates familiarity and closeness.
The close gap by the peers in an organization and a proper distance maintained by their
subordinates and the same is between rich and the poor. This factor has its own significance
thereby we have to appreciate it for making a good communication. Every society or nation has
its own well-understood norms.
Culture: Webster defines culture as "the characteristic features of a particular stage or state of
advancement in civilization." We are talking here not just about regional differences in our own
country, but about even greater differences which are found in the numerous cultures of the
world. We need to know about people and their background if we are to understand their
As a result of living in different societies, environments, and climates, people develop
special needs, acquire habits and customs peculiar to themselves, and have experiences which, in
general, result in particular patterns and methods and forms of expression and relating
(communicating) with one another. Many examples of this could be given. People in a warm,
tropical climate, for example, live quite differently from people in a northern area of India. It is
small wonder that we seem always to be surrounded by wars and rumours of wars.
Decoding non-verbal communication can help us to make out how others are in fact
feeling and thinking. However, there may be underlying causes for these nonverbal messages. If
someone seems bored, he could simply be tired, for instance. Keep in mind, too, that many
cultural differences can confuse the meaning of a message. It would be impossible to correctly
decode the nonverbal signals we receive without being aware of cultural norms. Some cultural
differences include whether eye contact is seen as respectful (as in the U.S.) or disrespectful (as
in some Asian countries), and whether people of the same sex would kiss each other or shake
hands as a greeting.
Conclusion: All businesses are not static in nature therefore Decoding Non-verbal
communication process will have to be understood and appreciated in a dynamic context.
Nonverbal communication plays a profound role in the messages we receive from others and
gives others a wealth of information about our personalities and will also help us to change our
approach and act only in ways that will result in maximum. Having the ability to decode body
language (kinesics) can have astonishing effects in almost every aspect of your life. The
extensive use of each dimension explained above of non-verbal communication assumes a great
relevance in order to make it a complete and effective. One must sharpen one’s powers of
observation and perception to decode non-verbal communication more precisely. Each
component of nonverbal behavior affects our relationship and interpersonal environment in
intricate ways. Decoding Nonverbal signs provide insight, influence another`s perception of an
individual`s competence, persuasiveness, power, sincerity and vulnerability. In a new age where
increasing population is decreasing personal space, it is imperative to appreciate the vitality of
decoding non-verbal communication.
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