Improve Your Nonverbal Communication Skills

Soulbound by Bethany Adams available on Amazon

“A “majority” of the meaning we attribute to words comes not from the words themselves, but from nonverbal factors such as gestures, facial expressions, tone, body language, etc.” ~ Edward G. Wertheim

We use non-verbal cues to reinforce our communications. They can help us show our emotional state, level of interest in a topic, and regulate the flow of conversations. This episode will focus heavily on understanding the different types of non-verbal communication and what they can mean, discuss some of the patterns that can be seen, and end explaining how non-verbal cues can miscommunicate intentions or how to avoid sending the wrong message.


Nonverbal communication and cues differ vastly between cultures. This variance can be as subtle as the amount of space between people when communicating or so vast that hand gestures used by children in one culture would be very offensive in another. That said while we do have international listeners our knowledge is based on American culture so unless otherwise specified the nonverbal meanings we discuss will be for communication in America.

Episode Breakdown

  • 07:21 What is non-verbal communication?

    “When we interact with others, we continuously give and receive wordless signals.” ~

    Non-verbal communication or bodylanguage helps to reinforce or modify the messagee (what is said in words). It can show the emotional state of the speaker or listener and regulate the flow of communication.

    Bodylanguage contains messages to the other person such as if you care about what they are saying or if you are being truthful. It is also used in defining relationsips and providing feedback for the person speaking.

  • 11:22 The 5 Roles of non-verbal communication

    Edward G. Wertheim, Ph.D. listed in his chapter on “The Importance of Effective Communication” five roles that non-verbal communications play in our interactions with each other. Repetition shows the ability to understand and repeat the message. Contradiction show a difference in view to the message or speaker. Substitution is the use of non-verbal communications in place of verbal messages such as a head nod, eye roll, etc. Complementing adds to the verbal message. Finally accenting adds emphasis to a message such as pounding on a table to make a point.

  • 15:45 Types of non-verbal communication

    There are several types of non-verbal communication including we can exert some control over in conversations facial expressions, body posture, gestures, eye contact, touch, and personal space. Others such as paralanguage and physiological changes are less controllable.

    • Facial Expressions

      These include smiling, frowning, or even blinking. Facial expressions are mostly universal across culture but the intensities may vary. Children learn to read facial expressions at very early in development.

    • Body movements and posture

      These can include hand gestures, nodding, or shaking of the head. How you sit or stand shows your receptiveness to the message. An open posture is one of facing the person with hands apart and legs uncrossed. It communicates interest, openness, or readiness to listen. A closed posture with arms folded and legs crossed communicates boredom, disagreement, or discomfort

    • Gestures

      Specific movements to exchange information between people. They can be divided into four categories: emblems, illustrators, regulators, and adapters.

      Emblems are gestures that serve as words such as OK, come here, or stay. The hitchiking thumb is an emblem gesture. Of all the gestures these vary most by culture.

      Illustrators accompany words to illustrate or add meaning to a message. The circular hand motion to accompany “over and over again” is an example of an illustrator.

      Regulators give feedback to the person speaking and include head nods, “uh-huh”, or “mm-hmm”. They can express either interest and agreement or boredom and disagreement. Many people find it difficult to maintain the flow of a conversation without regulators as feedback.

      Adapters are gestures or movements done to satisfy some physical or psychological need. They can include scratching, adjusting posture, or biting fingernails. These tend to be the most regulated in public settings.

    • Eye Contact

      The amount of eye contact indicates the level of trust. It is important to maintain flow of conversation and can be used to gauge the other person’s response.

    • Touch

      Touch can show the level of intimacy. A hug, handshake, or pat on the back shows intimacy and comfort with the othe rperson.

    • Personal Space

      Another indication of intimacy is personal space. Proxemics is the study of personal space.

      • Intimate Distance (touching to 1.5 feet)

        Conversations with close friends, family, or significant others take place in this distance.

      • Personal Distance (1.5 to 4 feet)

        Friends, aquaintences, or small groups maintain this distance.

      • Social Distance (4 to 10 feet)

        This is the distance for most groups standing or sitting.

      • Public Distance (10 to 15 feet)

        This is the average distance from the teacher to students or speaker to the audience.

    • Paralanguage

      Paralanuage is the aspects of voice other than speech such as pitch, tone, or speed.

    • Physiological changes

      Sweating or blinking can indicate nervousness or concern.

  • 38:45 Recognizing patterns

    The most important point here is to look for patterns or groups of gestures. Don’t read into a single gesture. Pay attention to inconsistencies such as the non-verbal communications not matching the message.

    • Defensive Patterns

      Hands and arm gestures are small and close to the body. Facial expressions are few. Posture tends to be turned away with little eye contact.

    • Lack of Interest

      When speaking to a group of people lack of interest or boredom can be seen in glazed eyes looking down, adaptive gestures, and sitting slumped in chairs.

    • Lying or Avoiding

      Little or no eye contact, hand in front of the mouth, or body turned away can indicate avoiding a topic. Physiological include increased rate of breathing, changes in complexion, increased persperation, and changes in voice (pitch, stammering, or throat clearing).

    • Careful Reflection

      This pattern appears when people are in deep contemplation or reflection. It includes eyes looking away and returning only to answer, fingers stroking the chin, hand to the cheek, head tilted and eyes looking up. People in interviews show this pattern.

  • 46:38 When it all goes wrong

    There is no ‘fake it until you make it’ with nonverbal communication. Much advice exists on appearing confident but if you are not actually confident the nonverbal cues with contradict. There is less consious control over nonverbal communication as they are more instinctive and emotional in nature. Persons carefully controlling their body language may be trying to hide their true emotions or nervous such as when speaking in public.

    There are a few times when the nonverbal cues and gestures in one culture have different meanins in other cultures. This can be interesting to study and very helpful to know when travelling. A few examples are the thumbs-up and OK signs. In western cultures these have positive meanings but in eastern Europe and Asian countries are very negative.

IoTease: Platform

Arduino Create

Announced at Arduino Day the new environment has recently come out of beta. It is meant to replace the current Arduino dev environment with a web-based platform and tool chain. It allows users to write and share code and connect to the cloud. It is focused on supporting and teaching in the IoT realm.


  • Guided flows to help configure online services
  • Arduino Project Hub
  • Arduino Web Editor
  • Arduino Cloud

Tricks of the Trade

Live in the world but don’t be of the world.

Just like cultural differences in nonverbal communication social norms and rules can be arbitrary. Many times people will recognize these are arbitrary and assume that because of this they do not need to follow the social norms or use it as an excuse to not learn behavioral norms of society. However, when you don’t follow these arbitrary social norms you come across as rude. If you know the rules you can know when it is appropriate or not to break the rules.

Editor’s Notes:

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