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Emotional Intelligence

Nonverbal Communication and Body Language


Nonverbal communication is the process of communication through sending and receiving wordless (mostly visual) messages between people. Messages can be communicated through gestures and touch, by posture, by facial expression and by eye contact. We’re going to look at posture, clothing, gestures, facial expressions and engagement.

Nonverbal communication can convey a very different message than a verbal conversation. It can tell someone whether they are liked or disliked, interesting or boring.



Posture can be used to determine a participant’s degree of attention or involvement, the difference in status between communicators and the level of fondness a person has for the other communicator.

Examples of bad posture include slouching, towering, jaw thrusting and arm crossing. These nonverbal behaviors can indicate feelings and attitudes toward another person. An example of good posture includes standing erect and leaning forward. This communicates to a person that you are approachable, receptive and friendly.



Clothing is the most common form of nonverbal communication. The types of clothing that an individual wears convey nonverbal clues about his or her personality, background and financial status. It is important to understand that their appearance and demeanor influence how others will react to them.

A person with a sloppy appearance, messy hair and wrinkled clothes sends the message, “I don’t care.” Nonverbal elements such as body type, height, weight, hair, skin color, odors and clothing send nonverbal messages during interactions.



Gestures may be made with the hands, arms or body and also include movements of the head, face and eyes, such as winking, nodding or rolling one’s eyes.



Eye contact is the primary notion to where a message of attention is being conveyed in engagement with nonverbal communication. Eye contact is when two people look at each other’s eyes at the same time; it can indicate interest, attention and involvement.


Reading faces

Facial expressions are an important channel of nonverbal communication. Faces are accessible “windows” into the mechanisms which govern our emotional and social lives.

“Facial expressions provide information about:

  • affective state, including both emotions such as fear, anger, enjoyment, surprise, sadness, disgust and more enduring moods such as euphoria, dysphoria or irritableness

  • cognitive activity, such as perplexity, concentration or boredom

  • temperament and personality, including such traits as hostility, sociability or shyness

  • truthfulness, including the leakage of concealed emotions and clues as to when the information provided in words about plans or actions is false

  • psychopathology, including not only diagnostic information relevant to depression, mania, schizophrenia and other less severe disorders, but also information relevant to monitoring response to treatment”

Source: National Science Foundation: Facial Expression Understanding,

Adapted from Nonverbal Communication, Copyright©2012, Northeastern Educational Television of Ohio, Inc. All rights reserved.
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