Unit 1.4 – Forms of Communication

Intra-personal communication, inter-personal communication, group communication (public, crowd, small group), mass communication, non-verbal communication, body language.


One important aspect of communication is that it does not take place in isolation. Communication occurs when at least two elements of a system are present. Though we may think of communication as an interaction between two people, we actually participate in several types of communication contexts or different levels of communication. The major forms of communication are:

  1. Intra-personal communication
  2. Interpersonal communication
  3. Group communication
  4. Mass communication
  5. Non-verbal communication

These levels are distinguished by the number of persons involved in the process of communication. These different forms of communication also differ in the degree of proximity or closeness among the participants in the communication process at both the physical and emotional levels. Another differentiating feature to point out is the nature of the feedback, which could be immediate or delayed.

Intra-personal Communication

This is the most basic of the communication contexts or levels. It occurs when an individual sends and receives messages internally. We spend most of our time thinking. And our thought process is nothing but intra-personal communication where one person is sending messages and the same person receives them.

Here we use the central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system (PNS) for generation, transmission and receiving of messages. We react to both external and internal stimuli this way. In addition to our thought process, many times we also talk aloud to ourselves.

Intra-personal communication involves exercising our intellect as well as our physical and emotional sensations. The way we communicate with ourselves reflects the various aspects the self-physical, emotional, intellectual and social. It also reflects our habits, roles, attitudes, beliefs and values.

Intra-personal communication is not just a level of communication. It is in fact, the very basis of all types of communication. While we participate in the higher levels of communication such as interpersonal communication, group communication, and mass communication, we also indulge in intra-personal communication which takes place every moment that we are alive.

Understanding intra-personal communication is similar to understanding our bodily functions. At the physical or physiological level or what is called the ‘physical self’, we have our bodily parts, the various systems that perform the bodily functions like digestion, breathing, circulation, elimination of bodily wastes, etc. Also, there are the five senses that help us receive external stimuli. Then, there is the processing of stimuli-both external and internal.

Next there is the ‘emotional self’, which prompts our emotional responses-as in case of our responses to stimuli like fright, flight and fight, etc. Our ‘intellectual self’ involves the use of our mental actions or behavior such as word and sentence formation, use of comparison, use of logic and reasoning, problem solving, and decision making, etc.

There is more to the self-concept than meets the eyes.  This is because we maintain separate private and public selves, which have been illustrated by the social scientists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham. They created a model called the Johari Window. This model compares various aspects of open (public) and closed (private) communication relationships.

Johari Window – named by its creators, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham – is a useful tool for understanding how therapy can help us live more effective lives. The four “panes” of the Johari Window represent four parts of our Self:

My Public Self is what I show to others about me. My Hidden Self is what I choose to hide from others. My Blind Spots are parts of me that others see but I do not. My Unconscious Self are parts of me that is neither visible to me or others. We all have these four parts of Self, as shown in the Johari Window diagram, but their respective sizes vary in each of us.

A more fully aware person may have a large Public Self with the other three areas smaller in comparison. This person understands why she acts the way she does and is genuine and open with others because she has minimized her Hidden Self and Blind Spots while working to bring the Unconscious Self to greater awareness. She is in touch with her needs, feelings, and values – her True Self – the source of her wisdom and identity.

A generally unaware person has a small Public Self with the other three areas larger in comparison. This person may act in ways he doesn’t understand because he has made outdated decisions and his defense mechanisms have caused him to develop substantial Blind Spots. In addition, he is guarded and less genuine with others because he has developed a significant Hidden Self as a defense against his own deep-seated shame. In short, he has disconnected from his True Self, becoming more defensive over time and less genuine.

Let’s review: Overwhelming emotional pain, particularly early in life, causes us to utilize whatever methods and defenses necessary to survive. These methods offer short-term relief but can create long-term problems because they often require us to repress or disconnect from our painful emotions. Thus, our Blind Spots, Hidden Self, and Unconscious Self expand, and our Public Self shrinks as we distance ourselves from our feelings and needs. In essence, we lose touch with our True Self, which is ultimately, our real compass, the source of our wisdom and identity.

The ‘open’ section in the diagram represents self-knowledge that you are aware of and are willing to share with others. The ‘hidden’ section represents what you are aware of but not willing to share. The ‘blind’ section represents information, which you do not know but others do. The ‘unknown’ section represents what is unknown both to you and to others. These sections vary according to our relationships with others. In a close relationship, the open portion will be considerably larger than the hidden area. When we communicate with a casual acquaintance, our hidden area will be the largest area in the Johari Window.

This model can be used effectively to increase our self-awareness. This self- awareness or self-concept is not inborn. It develops as we grow through our communication with others and from our environment.

Specifically, it develops from three contributory factors:

  1. Our past experiences
  2. The reference groups we identify with and
  3. The roles we play in our lives.

Our interactions with these three factors have affected and continues to affect our self-concept on an ongoing basis. Our past experience makes us what we are. It shapes the way we feel about ourselves and the way we react to others. For example, a child who is neglected and criticized at home may develop a negative self-concept. Our experiences at home, family members, relatives, friends, school, college, work place, etc. contribute immensely to the development of our self-concept.

Through our life cycle, from birth to death, we play a number of roles. These are considered to be ascribed (or allotted roles) and achieved roles. We do not have any control over our ascribed roles. Some examples of these include gender role (that are biologically determined –son, daughter, brother, sister, father, mother, etc) and social roles (that are socially determined and defined by our environment). Social roles include being friends, foes, teacher-taught, neighbors, etc.

The achieved roles are earned through individual accomplishments. A person becomes a champion athlete or a leader or the president of a company by way of individual achievements. Both the ascribed and the allotted roles therefore help shape their self- concept.

The process of Intra-personal Communication

Intra-personal communication starts with a stimulus. Our intra-personal communication is the reaction to certain actions or stimuli. These stimuli could be internal, originating from within us, or external, coming from an outside source. These stimuli are then picked up by the sensory organs (PNS) and then sent to the brain. This process is called reception.

Then, the sense organs pick-up a stimulus and sends it to the central nervous system through the peripheral nervous system. While we receive all stimuli directed to us, we pay attention to only a few. This is primarily the result of selective perception. Only high ‘intensity’ stimuli such as loud sounds, bright colors, sharp smells, etc. are perceived and the low intensity stimuli become overlooked.

The next step is the stimuli process which occurs at three levels. These levels are cognitive, emotional and physiological. Cognitive processing (thinking) is associated with the intellectual self and includes the storage, retrieval, sorting and assimilation of information.

Emotional processing is associated with the emotional self. This does not have anything to do with logic or reasoning. Our emotions and our attitudes, beliefs, and opinions interact to determine our emotional response to any stimulus.

Physiological processing occurs at the physiological level and is associated with our psychological self. This kind of response is reflected in our bodily behaviors such as our heart rate, brain activity, muscle tension, blood pressure and body temperature.

The next activity in intra-personal communication is known as transmission. Here the sender (transmitter) and receiver (being the same person) work together to send and receive these signals through nerve impulses.

Intra-personal communication also contains a feedback loop. This is known as self-feedback.

The next component of intra-personal communication is interference or noise. An interference is a noise or an unwanted signal that disrupts our thought process and usually occurs when we process some information at a wrong level. For instance, while we are supposed to process bad news rationally i.e. through cognitive processing, we may react to such news through our emotions. The opposite is also a case of interference.

Interpersonal Communication

Interpersonal communication is the process of sending and receiving information or communication with another person. This process happens in an environment using different kinds of communication media. This communication could be verbal or nonverbal.

The process involves four basic elements:

  1. Sender- person who sends information
  2. Receiver- person who receives the information sent
  3. Message- content of information sent by sender
  4. Feedback- response from receiver

This is the universal form of communication that takes place between two individuals. Since it is a person-to-person contact, it excludes everyday exchanges that may be formal or informal and can take place anywhere through the use of words, sounds, facial expression, gestures and postures.

In interpersonal communication, there is face-to-face interaction between two persons who are both sending and receiving messages. This is an ideal and effective communication situation because you can get immediate feedback. You can clarify and emphasize many points through your expressions, gestures and voices. In an interpersonal communication, it is possible to influence the other person and persuade him or her to accept your point of view. Since there is a proximity between the sender and receiver, interpersonal communication also has some emotional appeal too. It can motivate, encourage, and coordinate work more effectively than any other forms of communication. Also, in a crisis, the amount of information flows tremendously as it passes through an interpersonal channel. e.g. news of violence, famine or disaster.

Interpersonal messages consist of meanings derived from personal observations and experiences. The process of translating thoughts into verbal and nonverbal messages increases the communicator’s self-concept. In fact, effective interpersonal communication helps both participants strengthen their relationships through the sharing of meaning and emotions.

Functions of Interpersonal communication

We use interpersonal communication for a variety of reasons. For example, interpersonal communication helps us understand our world better and contextualize situations more effectively. It helps us understand a situation in a better way. We also use interpersonal communication to think and evaluate more effectively. Often it is used to change behavior also. The three specific functions are:

  1. Linking function
  2. Mentation function
  3. Regulatory function

The linking function connects a person with his or her environment. The mentation function helps us conceptualize, memorize, and plan. It is a mental or intellectual function. The regulatory function serves to regulate our own and other’s behaviour.

We are nurtured as infants, physically, emotionally and intellectually through interpersonal communication, Again, through interpersonal communication we This helps us to develop cultural, social and psychological links with the world. It forms the very basis of our survival and growth as it helps us to function more practically.

Variables affecting interpersonal relationships

Many variables affect the interpersonal relationships. This includes our self-disclosure, feedback, nonverbal behavior and interpersonal attraction. Our success or failure in handling these variables ultimately determine how satisfying our interpersonal relationships will be.

Self-disclosure lets others know what we are thinking, how we are feeling and what we care about. Self-disclosure helps reduce anxiety, increase comfort, and intensify interpersonal attractions.

Feedback is the response of a receiver that reaches back the sender. It involves agreeing; asking questions and responding through feeling statements. Nonverbal behavior plays an important role in interpersonal communication. A smile, a hug, a pat, a firm handshake, etc. can achieve express much more than words in certain situations. Eye contact, gestures, posture, facial expressions, etc. are also important elements of our nonverbal behavior.

Interpersonal attraction is the ability to draw others towards oneself. Some people are said to have magnetic personalities. People are drawn to them.

Development of Interpersonal relationships

Research has proven that, like individual personalities, interpersonal relationships also evolve over time through our experiences, acquired knowledge and environmental factors.

The phases through which interpersonal relationships develop are:

  1. Initiating
  2. Experimenting
  3. Intensifying
  4. Integrating and
  5. Bonding

Initiating is the first phase where we make conscious and unconscious judgments about others. In fact, sometimes it takes us as little as 15 seconds to judge a person. Then communication starts either verbally or nonverbally. For example, eye contact and being closer to the other person physically are nonverbal communication.

The next phase is experimenting. Experimenting entails small-talks, which are conversations about general things rather than about specific things, while attempting to find our common interests. During this stage, we try to determine whether continuing the relationship is worthwhile.

The third phase is intensifying. The awareness about each other increases, and there is more engagement by the participants. The self-disclosure by both parties results in trust and creates a rapport. The participants share their experiences, assumptions and expectations.

The fourth phase is integrating. In the integrating phase, a participant attempts to meet the expectations of the other participant. Sharing interests and attitudes happen in this phase.

The final phase is bonding. Bonding requires serious commitments and sacrifices. One example of commitment is deciding to remain as friends. Another is marriage. All these phases can take a few seconds to develop, as in case of love at first sight, or may take days, weeks, or more time.

Group Communication

Group communication is an extension of interpersonal communication where more than two individuals are involved in exchange of ideas, skills and interests. They provide an opportunity for people to come together to discuss and exchange views of common interest. There could be many different groups for many different reasons. For instance, you can casually form groups with friends over a drink, coffee break, games or dances. Groups have different purposes. For instance, religious gatherings have a different purpose than that of groups attending a meeting or seminar to help fight AIDS or interacting with committee members to draft a proposal.

Communication in a group, small or big, can serve many goals including collective decision-making, self-expression, increasing one’s effect, status and relaxation. Group communication is considered effective as it provides an opportunity for direct interaction among the members of the group; by bringing about changes in attitudes and beliefs. Group communication has limitations too. As group interaction is time consuming and often inefficient, especially in an emergency. Besides, imbalances in status, skills and goals, may distort the process and the outcome sharply.

Groups have been classified as small groups and large groups. A small group comprises of three to seven members. Small groups are informal and less structured whereas larger groups tend to adopt formal rules to maintain order. There is more chance for individual participation in small groups. Small groups are easy to manage and are more efficient in accomplishing tasks and making decisions. Most researchers define a small group as having at least three and no more than twelve or fifteen members.

A group needs to have at least three members; otherwise it would simply be a dyad. With three members, coalitions can take place and create a kind of organization. Too large of a group (more than twelve or fifteen members) impedes the group members’ ability to communicate with everyone else in the group and members need to be able to communicate freely and openly with all of the other members of the group. Groups will develop norms about discussion and group members take on roles that will affect the group’s interaction. A group must have a common purpose or goal and they must work together to achieve it. The goal brings the group together and holds it together through conflict and tension.

Types of small groups

There are two main types of small groups: primary and discussion groups. The primary group is more informal in nature. Members get together daily or very regularly. It is less goal-oriented and there are usually more conversations surrounding general topics and rarely on specific ones. Primary groups are not bound by any rules and are highly flexible.

Discussion groups are highly formal. These are characterized by face-to-face interactions where group members respond, react and adapt to the communication of other participants. A discussion group tend to have one or more leaders. Members of discussion groups often have common characteristics varying from geographic location, social class, economic level, life style, education level, etc. Lastly, members of a discussion group tend to share a purpose or goal. The strength cohesiveness and longevity of the group depends upon the type of goal they have. One important type of discussion groups is the problem-solving group. Such groups belong to either four types depending upon the tasks they perform:

  1. Fact finding group
  2. Evaluation group
  3. Policy making group and
  4. Implementation group

Participation in small groups

Participants in small group communication need to have certain responsibilities. Some of these are:

Having an open mind towards the issue or topic being discussed and other members of the groups

  1. Having an objective mind and
  2. Showing sensitivity towards other’s sentiments and moods.

These responsibilities fall under two categories:

  1. Communicating and listening and
  2. Giving and Receiving Feedback

Communication includes:

  1. Speaking or interacting with others with accuracy, clarity and conciseness.
  2. Avoiding speaking when you have nothing to contribute
  3. Addressing the group as a whole
  4. Relating your ideas to what others have said

These practices can help make the interaction more fruitful. Listening and feedback are equally just as important as speaking. Some suggestions for effective listening include:

  1. Consciously concentrating
  2. Visibly responding to the speaker
  3. Creating an informal situation
  4. Listening to more than just words (Actively seeking to understand)

Development of a small group

Individual members forming a group are different from each other as they have different personalities. It takes time for the members to learn how to fit into the group and contribute in the best manner. In fact, researchers have identified the following stages of small group development.

  1. Grouping or trying to find out how to work with others
  2. Grasping or understanding other members and the situation
  3. Grouping or getting together and development of bonding
  4. Group action or increased participation with each member playing constructive roles

Mass Communication

Outside the realm of interpersonal communication exists another form of communication. Mass communication involves communicating with mass audiences, and hence the name “mass” communication; and the channels through which this kind of communication takes place, referred to as “mass” media. Both mass communication and mass media are generally considered synonymous for the sake of convenience. Mass communication is unique and different from interpersonal communication as evident from the following definition. Any mechanical device that multiplies messages and takes it to a large number of people simultaneously is called mass communication. The media through which messages are being transmitted includes radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, films, records, tape recorders, video cassette recorders, etc. and requires large organizations and electronic devices to deliver the message.

See attached: Image 3

It is clear from the definition that mass communication is a special kind of communication in which the nature of the audience and the feedback is different from that of interpersonal communication. An examination of these components will help in understanding the nature of mass communication itself.


The recipient of mass media content constitutes its audience. For instance, individuals reading newspapers, watching a film in a theatre, listening to radio or watching television, are situations where audience is large, heterogeneous, and anonymous in character and physically separated from the communicator both in terms of space and time. A large audience means that the receivers are masses of people not assembled at a single place. It may come in different sizes depending upon the media through which the message is sent. For TV network programmes, there could be millions of viewers, but only a few thousand readers for a book or a journal. By anonymous, we mean that the receivers of the messages tend to be strangers to one another and to the source of those messages. So with respect to the communicator, the message is addressed ‘to whom it may concern’. Also, the audience tends to be heterogeneous rather than homogeneous in the sense that messages are sent to people in all walks of life and person with unique characteristics.


As compared to interpersonal communication, feedback in mass media is slow and weak. It is not instantaneous or direct as in face-to-face exchange and is invariably delayed. Feedback in mass media is rather a cumulative response source gets after a considerable gap of time. It is often expressed in quantitative terms such as the circulation figures of newspapers and magazines, the popularity of a movie at box office, success of a book on the basis of its sales, or the findings of public opinion polls and on the basis of other feedback devices which are used to determine what is acceptable or unacceptable to different audiences. In these cases, considerable time and money are required to process the feedback received from the audience. Therefore, delayed and expensive feedback is ingrained in mass media.

Gate Keeping

This is again a characteristic that is unique to mass communication. The enormous scope of mass communication demands some control over the selection and editing of the messages that are constantly transmitted to the mass audience. Both individuals and organizations do gate keeping. Whether done by individuals or organizations, gate keeping involves setting certain standards and limitations to create guidelines for both content development and distribution of a mass communication message.

Functions of Mass Communication

Mass communication has three basic functions:

  1. To inform
  2. To entertain and
  3. To persuade

Additionally, it also educates and helps in transmission of culture.

To Inform

Dissemination of information is the primary function of the news media. Newspapers, radio and TV provides us news from around the world and keep us informed. Over the years, the concept of news has changed. News media do not ‘tell it like it is’ anymore. From mere describing the events, news media have come to include human interest, analysis and factorized treatment to news.

Journalists are not just ‘reporters’ now. They have become news analysts who discuss the implications of important news stories. Also, more ‘soft stories’ are filed these days. In addition to disseminating information, news media provide us information and also helps the audience analyze and evaluate news events, ideas, policy changes, etc.

To Entertain

The most common function of mass communication is entertainment. Radio, television and films are basically entertainment medias. Even newspapers provide entertainment through comics, cartoons, features, cross word puzzles, word jumbles, etc. Entertainment through radio consists of mainly music but also provides entertainment through drama, talk shows, comedy, etc.

Television has become primarily a powerful medium of mass communication. Highly specialized channels like news channels, nature and wildlife channels are considered to be a credible source of information but they can also have a lot of humorous and comical content as well.

To Persuade

Many forms of mass media are used as vehicles of promotion and persuasion. Goods, services, ideas, persons, places, events, etc. are constantly being advertised. The exchange of information through mass media is endless. Different media have different features and reach. Advertisers and advertising agencies analyze these features and depending upon the nature of the message and the target audience, choose the medium and how the message should be delivered.


Meaning and importance of Non-verbal Communication

Verbal media can be used to communicate almost any thought, feeling or idea. On the contrary, non-verbal media has comparatively very limited range. Even though it can communicate our interests and disinterests, occasionally it can also contradict those feelings when the communicator verbally expresses the opposite of those feelings.

The following are the types of non-verbal communication:

  1. Facial behaviour
  2. Kinesics or body movement
  3. Posture and gestures
  4. Personal appearance
  5. Clothing
  6. Proxemics
  7. Paralanguage

Very often we think that communication can only be transmitted through words. This is because we frequently use words to help us get our message across. Written communication occurs through printed or written words. Oral communication occurs through words spoken ‘out loud’. Albert Mehrabian, who specializes in body language and is author of books like ‘Silent Messages’, found out that the total impact of oral message is only about 7% verbal, 38% vocal and 55% non verbal.

What constitutes nonverbal Communication?

Everything from the simple shrug of the shoulder, the V-sign, the OK ring, the thumbs up gesture, eye movements, facial expressions, body postures, gestures, gait, clothing to the tone of voice, the accent. Nonverbal components of communication also involve the use of space, of touch and smell and paralanguage.

Types of non-verbal Communication

We use our body and its different parts to communicate a lot of things. This communication through our body and its various parts is called ‘body language’. Often people consider body language to be the only form of nonverbal communication. However, non-verbal communication includes body language and much more. These include the way we dress up for different occasions, the way we greet people, the way we use our hands while talking, the way we use space etc.

Facial Expressions

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Faces, it is said, is the mirror of the mind. It is the most obvious vehicle for nonverbal communication. It is a constant source of information to the people around us. Our faces reveal how we are feeling inside while we might be trying to present a different emotion. For example, while telling a lie, a child might try to cover his or her mouth with both hands. These gestures are called the ‘mouth guard’ gestures. Likewise, the colors of one’s face, the wrinkles, presence or absence of facial hair, etc. reveal a lot about a person’s personality. For example, people with dark tans are assumed to have spent a lot of time outdoors. Hairstyles and make up can provide insight into one’s economic status, interest in fashion, etc.

Eye behavior

Eyes and their effect on human behavior are as important to poets and painters as to the students of nonverbal communication. This is because one can communicate a lot just with the help of the eyes. From winking, seeing, glaring, staring eyes can perform many functions. The size of the eye, particularly the size of the pupil, is indicative of a person’s mood when one is happy, the pupil dilates or grows larger. When we are angry, our pupils constrict or grow smaller.

Eye contact is another important facet of eye behavior. When one maintains eye contact with the audience, he or she is perceived as sincere, friendly and relaxed. Those who don’t maintain eye contact while talking to others are perceived as nervous. In fact, effective orators and communicators use periodic eye checks to find out if the audience members are being attentive or not. Another important function of eyes is expressing intimacy. Eyes help us create ‘connections’ with others. In fact, eyes have been described as ‘windows to the soul’. We communicate important information and feelings through the eyes in addition to oral communication. Eyes also help us encourage or discourage others. For example, a simple glare may stop students from talking, while a warm glance and an encouraging smile often win many friends.

Kinesics and Body Movement

Kinesics is the interpretation of body language such as facial expressions and gestures — or, more formally, non-verbal behavior related to movement, either of any part of the body or the body as a whole. The term was first used (in 1952) by Ray Birdwhistell, an anthropologist who wished to study how people communicate through posture, gesture, stance, and movement. Part of Birdwhistell’s work involved making film of people in social situations and analyzing them to show different levels of communication not clearly seen otherwise. Drawing heavily on descriptive linguistics, Birdwhistell argued that all movements of the body have meaning (i.e. are not accidental), and that these non-verbal forms of language (or paralanguage) have a grammar that can be analyzed in similar terms to spoken language. Birdwhistell estimated that “no more than 30 to 35 percent of the social meaning of a conversation or an interaction is carried by the words.” Kinesics is an important part of non-verbal communication behavior. The movement of the body, or separate parts, conveys many specific meanings and the interpretations may be culture bound. As many movements are carried out at a subconscious or at least a low-awareness level, kinesics movements carry a significant risk of being misinterpreted in an intercultural communications situation.

Ray Birdwhistell, an expert in the field of nonverbal communication, coined the term ‘kinesics’ for the different body expressions. ‘Kinesics’ is the study of body movements.

Five categories of specific body expressions are:

  1. Emblems
  2. Illustrators
  3. Regulators
  4. Affect displays and
  5. Body manipulators

Emblems are commonly recognized signs that are used very frequently. These include the OK ring, touching the temple, putting a finger to the lips (asking for silence), the V-sign, the thumbs up sign, etc.

Illustrators are signs that are directly related to the verbal messages. For example, spreading the palms often illustrates the size or length while we talk about something. Illustrators help emphasize the verbal message. Regulators include signs like gazes, nods, raised eyebrows, etc. these signs help us regulate or control verbal communication.

Facial expression like angry stares, wide eyes (fear), trembling or knocking knees, reflects one’s internal emotional states. These are called affect displays.

Posture and Gait

The way we stand or sit and the way we walk (gait) are strong indicators of our physical and emotional states. When we are aggressive, we sit or stand straight and in an alert manner. When we get defensive, we usually sink into our chair or stand with our head, shoulders hanging. When confident we walk with our chin raised, chest puffed and arms swinging freely. Our legs are often little stiff and our walk has a ‘bounce’ when we are confident. A standing posture with ‘hands on hips’ indicates an aggressive frame of mind.

Personal appearance

Physical appearance is one of the most important factors that influence the effectiveness of our interpersonal and group communication. In fact, one’s personal appearance is very crucial as it makes the all-important ‘first impression’. This is particularly important in advertisements. Advertisements shape our minds day in and day out through all those beautiful people who endorse everything from hairpins to aero planes. So, we manipulate our personal appearance to look good. We try to accentuate or highlight our best features while hiding and underplaying the others.


Our clothes provide the visual clue to our personality. Clothes also indicate about one’s age, interests, and attitudes. Information about one’s status can be judged from the clothes’ age, condition and fashion. Clothes are used as means of keeping up with the latest social changes. Also clothes are means of decoration and self- expression. Clothing also indicates about a person’s confidence, character and sociability. These are the reasons why it’s said that ‘clothes make a person’.


It is the most common form of physical contact between human and animals. In fact, animals use touching much more frequently and to great effects. Human beings use touching to emphasize a point, interrupt, as a calming gesture, to reassure. Also, the sense of touch is very important for child development.


The term proxemics was introduced by anthropologist Edward T. Hall in 1966. Proxemics is the study of set measurable distances between people as they interact. The effects of proxemics, according to Hall, can be summarized by the following loose rule: body spacing and posture are unintentional reactions to sensory fluctuations or shifts. For instance, the subtle changes in the sound and pitch of a person’s voice. Social distance between people is strongly correlated with physical distance, as are intimate and personal distance, according to the following delineations:

  • Intimate distance for embracing, touching or whispering

Close phase – less than 6 inches (15 cm)

Far phase – 6 to 18 inches (15 to 46 cm)

  • Personal distance for interactions among good friends or family members

Close phase – 1.5 to 2.5 feet (46 to 76 cm)

Far phase – 2.5 to 4 feet (76 to 120 cm)

  • Social distance for interactions among acquaintances

Close phase – 4 to 7 feet (1.2 to 2.1 m)

Far phase – 7 to 12 feet (2.1 to 3.7 m)

  • Public distance used for public speaking

Close phase – 12 to 25 feet (3.7 to 7.6 m)

Far phase – 25 feet (7.6 m) or more

Hall notes that different cultures maintain different standards of personal space. For instance, in Latin cultures, those relative distances are smaller, and people tend to be more comfortable standing close to each other; in Nordic cultures the opposite is true. Realizing and recognizing these cultural differences improves cross-cultural understanding, and helps eliminate discomfort people may feel if the interpersonal distance is too large or too small. Comfortable personal distances also depend on the culture, social situation, gender, and individual preference.

This is an addition way of communicating by use of ‘space’. Often, we place ourselves in certain special relationships with other people and objects. The study of these special factors is called ‘proxemics’. Intimate distance ranges from actual contact to about 18 inches. We allow only intimate persons within this range. Of course, there is forced closeness as in the case of a crowded lift. Social distance is maintained with people with whom we are meeting for the first time. This distance ranges from 4feet to 12 feet. 

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Para Language

Oral communication does not just occur through words uttered. The words are supplemented by a lot of other factors, particularly related to the voice. The pitch, tempo, range, resonance, and quality of voice adds a lot of flesh and blood to the words. These vocal characteristics and vocal sounds constitute ‘paralanguage’. Speaking without pitch variation makes the speech monotonous. ‘Pitch’ is the raising or lowering of our voice. ‘Resonance’ on the other hand is the variation of volume from a quiet and thin voice to loud, booming voice. Speaking too fast or too slow is a variation of ‘tempo’. Para language gives us clues about age, sex, emotional states, personality, etc.

Smell and Taste

We receive a lot of information about our environment through the sense of smell. Like a particular fragrance announces the arrival of a particular person. Body odors also provide clues about a person’s hygienic state. We also send out a lot of information through smell. We use deodorants, body sprays, hanky sprays, etc. to hide the smell of onion or garlic and we brush our teeth and gargle with mouthwash. Like smell, taste is also a silent sense that receives and sends messages.

Environmental Factors

Architectural arrangement of objects, interior decoration, colors, time, music, etc are the environmental factors that provide a lot of nonverbal cues and clues. Dim lighting, quite atmosphere, and soft music leads to greater intimacy and has a soothing affect. Similarly, colors also have wide-ranging associations. For example, one turns pink when embarrassed and one sees red when angry.

Functions of Nonverbal Communication

Non-verbal communication plays an important role in any communication situation. If often plays a supplementary role to the verbal content delivered orally. Some other times, nonverbal symbols communicate on their own. More specifically, nonverbal communication serves the following functions:

  1. Repeating verbal messages
  2. Substituting verbal messages
  3. Complementing verbal messages
  4. Regulating or accenting verbal message
  5. Deception.

Body Language

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According to at least one study, body language is an important part of communication that constitutes around 55% of what we are communicating. If you wish to communicate well, then it makes sense to understand how you can (and can’t) use your body to say what you mean. A significant cluster of body movements is used to signal aggression. This is actually quite useful as it is seldom a good idea to get into a fight, even for powerful people. Fighting can hurt you, even though you are pretty certain you will win. In addition, with adults, fighting is often socially unacceptable and aggression through words and body language is all that may ever happen.


Facial signals

Much aggression can be shown in the face, from disapproving frowns and pursed lips to sneers and full snarls. The eyes can be used to stare and hold the gaze for long period. They may also squint, preventing the other person seeing where you are looking.

Attack signals

When somebody is about to attack, they give visual signal such as clenching of fists ready to strike and lowering and spreading of the body for stability. They are also likely to give anger signs such as redness of the face.

Exposing Oneself

Exposing oneself to attack is also a form of aggression. It is saying ‘Go on – I dare you. I will still win.’ It can include not looking at the other person, crotch displays, relaxing the body, turning away and so on.


Invading the space of the other person in some way is an act of aggression that is equivalent to one country invading another.

False Friendship

Invasion is often done under the cloak of familiarity, where you act as if you are being friendly and move into a space reserved for friends, but without being invited. This gives the other person a dilemma of whether to repel a ‘friendly’ advance or to accept dominance of the other.


When you go inside the comfort zone of others without permission, you are effectively invading their territory. The close you get, the greater your ability to have ‘first strike’, from which an opponent may not recover.


Touching the person is another form of invasion. Even touching social touch zones such as arm and back can be aggressive.


Insulting gestures 

There are many gestures that have the primary intent of insulting the other person and hence inciting them to anger. Single and double fingers pointed up, arm thrusts; chin tilts and so on are used, although many of these do vary across cultures (which can make for hazardous accidental movements when you are overseas).

Mock attacks

Gestures may include symbolic action that mimics actual attacks, including waving fingers (the beating baton), shaking fists, and head-butts and so on. This is saying ‘Here is what I will do to you!’

Physical items may be used as substitutes, for example banging of tables and doors or throwing. Again, this is saying ‘This could be you!’

Sudden movements

All of these gestures may be done suddenly which can signal your level of aggression and test the other person’s reactions.

Large gestures

The size of gestures may also be used to signal levels of aggression, from simple finger movements to whole arm sweeps, sometimes even with exaggerated movements of the entire body.

Language of boredom

A ready body is poised for action.


A bored person looks anywhere but at the person who is talking to them. They find other things to do, from doodling to talking with others to staring around the room. They may also keep looking at their watch or a wall clock.


Bored people often repeat actions such as tapping toes, swinging feet or drumming fingers. The repetition may escalate as they try to signal their boredom.


A person who feels that they are unable to act to relieve their boredom may show signs of tiredness. They may yawn and their whole body may sag as they slouch down in their seat, lean against a wall or just sag where they are standing. Their face may also show a distinct lack of interest and appear blank.

Reasons for boredom


If the person is not interested in their surroundings or what is going on, then they may become bored. The disinterest may also be feigned if they do not want you to see that they are interested. Watch for leaking signs of readiness in these cases.


A bored person may actually be ready for the actions you want, such as closing a sale. Sales people are known to keep on the sales patter long after the customer is ready to sign on the dotted line.

When a person is seeking to trick or deceive you, they there are many different body signals they may use.

Language of deception

A deceptive body is concerned about being found out — and this concern may show.


A deceptive person is typically anxious that they might be found out (unless they are psychopathic or good at acting), so they may send signals of tension. This may include sweating, sudden movements, minor twitches of muscles (especially around the mouth and eyes), changes in voice tone and speed.

Many of us have hidden anxiety signals. For example: Biting the inside of the mouth (George W. Bush), patting head (Prince William), hands in pockets (Tony Blair). These signals are almost impossible to stop as we start them very young.


In order to avoid being caught, there may be various signs of over-control. For example, there may be signs of attempted friendly body language, such as forced smiles (mouth smiles but eyes do not), jerky movements and clumsiness or oscillation between open body language and defensive body language.


Individuals  who are trying to deceive need to think more about what they are saying, so they may drift off or pause as they think about what to say, or hesitate during speech.

They may also be distracted by the need to cover up. Thus, their natural timing may go astray and they may over- or under-react to events. Anxiety may be displaced into actions such as fidgeting, moving around the place or paying attention to unusual places.

Reasons for deception

There can be many good reasons for deception.


Deception may be an act that is intended to get another person to say or do something.

Avoiding detection

Deception also may be more self-oriented, where the sole goal is to get away with something, perhaps by avoiding answering incriminating questions. When a person is feeling threatened in some ways, they will take defensive body postures.

Defending from attack

The basic defensive body language has a primitive basis and assumes that the other person will physically attack, even when this is highly unlikely.

Covering vital organs and points of vulnerability

In physical defense, the defensive person will automatically tend to cover those parts of the body that could damage by an attack.

The chin is held down, covering the neck. The groin is protected with knees together, crossed legs or covering with hands. The arms may be held across the chest or face.

Fending Off

Arms may be held out to fend off attacker, possibly straight out or curved to deflect incoming attacks.

Becoming Small

One way of defending against attack is to reduce the size of the target. People may thus huddle into a smaller position, keeping their arms and legs in.


Another primitive response is to tense up, making the muscles harder in order to withstand a physical attack. Rigidity also freezes the body, possibly avoiding movements being noticed or being interpreted as being prepared for attack.

Seeking Escape

Flicking the eyes from side to side shows that the person is looking for a way out.

Pre-empting Attack

Giving in

Pre-empting the attack, the defensive person may generally use submissive body language, avoid looking at the other person, while keeping the head down and possibly crouching into a lower body position.

Attacking first

Aggressive body language may also appear, as the person uses ‘attack as the best form of defense’. The body may be erect, thrust forward and with attacking movements.

Where attack and defense both appear together, there may be conflicting signs appearing together. Thus, the upper body may exhibit aggression whilst the legs are twisted together.

With careful observation, emotions may be detected from non-verbal signs. Remember that these are indicators and not certain guarantees. Contextual clues may also be used; in particular what is being said to the person or what else is happening around then.


Anger occurs when achievement of goals are frustrated.

  • Neck and/or face are red or flushed.
  • Baring of teeth and snarling.
  • Clenched fists.
  • Leaning forward and invasion of body space.
  • Other aggressive body language.
  • Use of power body language.

Fear, anxiety and nervousness

Fear occurs when basic needs are threatened. There are many levels of fear, from mild anxiety to blind terror. The many bodily changes caused by fear make it easy to detect.

  • A ‘cold sweat’.
  • Pale face.
  • Dry mouth, which may be indicated by licking lips, drinking water, rubbing throat.
  • Not looking at the other person.
  • Damp eyes.
  • Trembling lip.
  • Varying speech tone.
  • Speech errors.
  • Voice tremors.
  • Visible high pulse (noticeable on the neck or movement of crossed leg.
  • Sweating.
  • Tension in muscles: clenched hands or arms, elbows drawn in to the side, jerky movements, and legs wrapped around things.
  • Gasping and holding breath.
  • Fidgeting.
  • Defensive body language, including crossed arms and legs and generally drawing in of limbs.
  • Ready body language (for fight-or-flight)

Other symptoms of stress


Sadness is the opposite of happiness and indicates a depressive state.

  • Drooping of the body.
  • Trembling lip.
  • Flat speech tone.
  • Tears.


Embarrassment may be caused by guilt or transgression of values.

  • Neck and/ or face are red or flushed.
  • Looking down or away from others. Not looking them in the eye.
  • Grimacing, false smile, changing the topic or otherwise trying to cover up the embarrassment.


Surprise occurs when things happen unexpectedly.

  • Raised eyebrows.
  • Widening of eyes.
  • Open mouth.
  • Sudden backward movement.


Happiness occurs when goals and needs are met.

  • General relaxation of muscles.
  • Smiling (including eyes).
  • Open body language

A relaxed body generally lacks tension. Muscles are relaxed and loose. Movement is fluid and the person seems happy or unconcerned overall.

Relaxed body


The torso may sag slightly to one side (but not be held there by irregular tension). It may also be well balanced, with the shoulders balanced above the pelvis. It does not curl up with fear, though it may curl up in a restful pose. Shoulders are not tensed up and generally hang loosely down.


Breathing is steady and slower. This may make the voice a little lower than usual.


The color of the skin is generally normal, being neither reddened by anger or embarrassment, nor pale with fear. There are no unusual patches, for example on the neck or cheeks.

Relaxed limbs

Relaxed limbs hang loosely. They do not twitch and seldom cross one another, unless as a position of comfort.


Tense arms are rigid and may be held close to the body. They may move in suddenly, a staccato manner. Relaxed arms either hang loosely or move smoothly. If arms cross one another, they hand loosely. Any crossing, of course can indicate some tension. Folding arms may just be comfortable.


When we are anxious, we often use our hands to touch ourselves, hold ourselves or otherwise, show tension. Relaxed hands either hang loose or are used to enhance what we are saying. They are generally open and may shape ideas in the air. Gestures are open and gentle, not sudden nor tense.


Legs when sitting may sit gently on the floor or may be casually flung out. They may move in time to music, with tapping toes. They may be crossed, but are not wound around one another.

Note, that position of the legs can be a particular sign of hidden tension when the person is controlling the upper body and arms. When they are sitting at a table, what you see may be relaxed, but the legs may be held tense and wrapped.

Relaxed head

There are major signs of a relaxed person in their face.


The person may smile gently or broadly without any signs of grimacing. Otherwise the mouth is relatively still. When talking, the mouth opens moderately, neither with small movements nor large movement. The voice sounds relaxed without unusually high pitch and without sudden changes in pitch or speed.


The eyes smile with the mouth, particularly in the little creases at the side of the eyes. A relaxed gaze will look directly at another person without staring, and with little blinking. The eyes are generally dry. Eyebrows are stable or may move with speech. They do not frown.

Other areas

Other muscles in the face are generally relaxed. The forehead is a major indicator and lines only appear in gentle expression. The sides of the face are not drawn back. When the head moves, it is smoothly and in time with relaxed talk or other expression.

A significant cluster of body movements has to do with romance, signaling to a person of the opposite sex that you are interested in partnering with them.

From afar

From afar, the first task of body language is to signal interest (and then to watch for reciprocal body language).


The eyes do much signaling. Initially and from a distance, a person may look at you for slightly longer than normal, then look away, and then look back up at you, again for a longer period.


There are many preening gestures. What you are basically saying with this is ‘I am making myself look good for you’. This includes tossing of the head, brushing hair with hand, polishing spectacles and brushing or picking imaginary lint from clothes.


Remote romantic language may also include caressing oneself, for example stroking arms, leg or face. This may either say ‘I would like to stroke you like this’ or ‘I would like you to stroke me like this’.


Leaning your body towards another person says ‘I would like to be closer to you’. It also tests to see whether they lean towards you or away from you. It can start with the head with a simple tilt or may use the entire torso. This may be coupled with listening intently to what they say, again showing particular interest in them.


A person who is interested in you may subtly point at you with a foot, knee, arm or head. It is effectively a signal that says ‘I would like to go in this direction’.

Other displays

Other forms of more distant display that are intended to attract include:

  • Sensual or dramatic dancing (too dramatic, and it can have the opposite effect).
  • Crotch display, where (particularly male) legs are held apart to show off genitalia.
  • Faked interest in others, to invoke envy or hurry a closer engagement.
  • Nodding gently, as if to say ‘Yes, I do like you.’

Up close

When you are close to the other person, the body language progressively gets more intimate until one-person signals ‘enough’.

Close in and personal

In moving closer to the other person, you move from social space into their personal body space, showing how you would like to get even closer to them, perhaps holding them and more…

Standing square on to them also blocks anyone else from joining the conversation and signals to others to stay away.

Lovers’ gaze

When you are standing close to them, you will be holding each other’s gaze for longer and longer periods before looking away. You many also use what are called ‘doe eyes’ or ‘bedroom eyes’, which are often slightly moist and with the head inclined slightly down.

A very subtle signal that few realize is that the eyes will dilate such that the dark pupils get much bigger (this is one reason why dark-eyed people can seem attractive).

Body positions

The body in fearful stances is generally closed, and may also include additional aspects.

Making the body small

Hunching inwards reduces the size of the body, limiting the potential of being hit and protecting vital areas. In a natural setting, being small may also reduce the chance of being seen. Arms are held in. A crouching position may be taken, even slightly with knees slightly bent. This is approaching the curled-up regressive fetal position.


By staying still, the chance of being seen is, in a natural setting, reduced (which is why many animals freeze when they are fearful). When exposed, it reduces the chance of accidentally sending signals, which may be interpreted as being aggressive. It also signals submission in that you are ready to be struck and will not fight back.


Head down

Turning the chin and head down protects the vulnerable neck from attack. It also avoids you from looking the other person in the face (staring is a sign of aggression).


Widening the eyes makes you look more like a baby and hence signals your vulnerability. Looking attentively at the other person shows that you are hanging on their every word.


Submissive people smile more at dominant people, but they often smile with the mouth but not with the eyes.


Submissive gestures

There are many gestures that have the primary intent of showing submission and that there is no intent to harm the other person. Hands out and palms up shows that no weapons are held and is a common pleading gesture.

Other gestures and actions that indicate tension may also indicate the state of fear. This includes hair tugging, face touching and jerky movement. There may also be signs such as whiteness of the face and sweating.

Small gestures

When the submissive person must move, then small gestures are often made. These may be slow to avoid alarming the other person, although tension may make them jerky.

Nonverbal Communication 

Information that is communicated without using words

93% of communication is nonverbal (55% through facial expression, posture, gesture 38% through tone of voice)

Humans use nonverbal communication because:

  1. Words have limitations. There are numerous areas where nonverbal communication may be more effective than verbal (when explain the shape, directions, personalities are expressed non-verbally)
  2. Nonverbal signals are powerful: Nonverbal cues primary can express inner feelings.
  3. Nonverbal messages are likely to be more genuine: because nonverbal behaviors cannot be controlled as easily as spoken words.
  4. Nonverbal signals can express feelings inappropriate to state: Social etiquette limits what can be said, but nonverbal cues can communicate thoughts.
  5. A separate communication channel is necessary to help send complex messages: A speaker can add enormously to the complexity of the verbal message through simple nonverbal signals.

Researches in communication suggest that there are many more feelings and intentions that are delivered and received non-verbally than verbally.