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Pros & Cons of Nonverbal Communication

Updated July 20, 2017

Nonverbal communication is communicating without words or language. It can be surprising how much people rely on it. One type of nonverbal communication is body language. This includes facial expressions, gestures, posture and eye contact. Words are not spoken, but people can still understand each other. Other forms of nonverbal communication are tone of voice and the speed and volume of speech. Nonverbal communication can have pros and cons, but being aware of your nonverbal signals can help you communicate more effectively.

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Pro: Reinforcing Verbal Communication

Imagine you are going for a job interview. You know that the suit you are wearing, your firm handshake and your friendly demeanour will speak volumes about the kind of person you are. You rely on these qualities to reinforce your verbal performance. When you meet someone, you know they are friendly not only because they say hello, but because they smile, speak cheerfully and face you. Other examples of nonverbal communication reinforcing verbal communication are hugging someone when congratulating her, keeping eye contact during a conversation to show you are listening, and shedding tears when speaking of something distressing.

Con: Imprecise and Easily Misread

Gestures, appearances and facial expressions can mean different things to different people. You can easily misread people you do not know. For example, you meet someone who looks scruffy and assume that he is lazy. However, you later learn he is a brilliant and hard-working artist. Some people might assume that sitting with arms folded means you are defensive. In fact, this can mean you are cold or simply comfortable. Nonverbal communication should not be solely relied on, because there are no hard and fast rules as to what different gestures and expressions mean.

Pro: Feedback

You can gain an idea of what others think about you by the nonverbal signals they produce. You know that someone is happy to see you if they welcome you with open arms. You can be sure you have made a good impression on a first date if your date smiles and listens to you. You can also gauge someone's reaction to gain positive or negative feedback and use it to your advantage. For instance, a car salesman shows a customer the price of a vehicle. If the customer sucks air through her teeth and turns away, it is likely she thinks the price is too high. The salesman then has a better idea of the customer's price range.

Con: Limited Distance

Nonverbal communication tends to be silent. Therefore, waving to someone too far away to see, or giving a pat on the back to someone you cannot reach, will not get your message across. Furthermore, nonverbal communication does not transmit well; for example, nodding while talking on the telephone will not convey your agreement with what the person on the other end of the line has said.

Pro: Self-Expression

How you present yourself communicates a lot about your personality to others, and can be used to your advantage. For instance, a bright young businesswoman "power dresses" in a smart suit to show she is successful and walks with confidence to show she is in charge. This enables her to command respect without overtly seeking it.

Con: Lacking Complexity

Nonverbal communication lacks the complexity that language has to offer. You would be unable to communicate the story of your day to a friend without using words, unless you took time to mime every detail. You would still not be able to convey accurately, for instance, that you had a chicken salad and orange juice for lunch. Nonverbal communication cannot communicate complex facts or concepts.

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