Categories of Nonverbal Communication

There are 9 general categories of nonverbal communication. These are the following:

1. Kinesics

Kinesics refers to body motions and position. Kinesics affects how others perceive us and reflects how we perceive ourselves, how we perceive other people, or how we feel at the moment. For instance, a person who slouches appears to lack self-confidence. When students do not know the answer to the teacher’s question, they tend to avoid eye contact or bury themselves in their chairs. On the other hand, those who wish to say something, attempt to catch the teacher’s attention by raising their hands or by looking attentive. Kinesics also includes facial expressions. Raising an eyebrow may mean contempt, disbelief, or confusion. The direction of one’s gaze may determine whether someone is fabricating an answer or recalling information. We should however be careful in interpreting symbols, especially since these differ across cultures. It is worth repeating how context is an important factor in interpreting the meaning of nonverbal symbols. For instance, a trembling child may either be afraid of something or just feeling cold.

2. Haptics

Haptics involves the sense of touch to convey emotions. This includes hugging, kissing, holding or shaking hands, patting, and so on. Research shows that touch plays an important role in the well-being of a child. In some cultures, skin contact between men and women is considered offensive and reflects the power status depending on one’s gender.

3. Physical appearance

Physical appearance influences how people perceive us and vice versa. We judge or evaluate others according to their physical characteristics such as skin color, height, weight, facial features, and attractiveness among others. Some people determine trustworthiness, introversion or extroversion, maturity, friendliness, by just looking at one’s face; and though these generalizations are often incorrect, these perceptions often influence an individual’s success in important aspects of our life, including job search or dating. Since people tend to view people who are physically attractive as having positive traits, they fare better in terms of getting accepted in job interviews, getting favorable responses, and receiving higher grades in school. Cultures and generations differ in terms of what they find attractive. There appears to be much importance given on being thin or staying fit nowadays.

4. Artifacts

Artifacts are material things we wear or attach to our bodies to express our identities. These include earrings, makeup, tattoos, etc. Clothes affect people’s impressions of us. Uniforms of teachers, doctors, or policemen, for instance, tend to display professionalism and draw respect from people. Colors also communicate something about what image we are trying to portray.

5. Proxemics

Proxemics refers to the use of space or distance. Different cultures dictate what distance is acceptable in terms of distance in conversations and this often reflects the interlocutors’ relationship with each other. Gronbeck and colleagues (1994) classified distance into four categories: public distance ranging from 12 feet and above; social distance, ranging from 4 to 12 feet; personal distance, ranging from 11/2 to 4 feet, and intimate distance, ranging up to 11/2 feet. Invading one’s private space causes discomfort and may imply a challenge on one’s power. Physical space also determines power status and the culture of interaction among groups.

6. Environmental factors

Environmental factors refer to the elements of a surrounding or setting. Colors, lighting, arrangement of furniture, design, among many others, affect our actions. Seats arranged in a circle provides a more relaxed atmosphere and encourages interaction as compared to chairs lined up in rows. Upbeat music in malls creates a happy atmosphere while relaxing music is often played in upscale restaurants. Fast food joints on the other hand make use of stiff chairs to keep people from being comfortable and staying too long so as to provide space for other customers.

7. Chronemics

Chronemics is the use of time to reflect personal and cultural identities. In some cultures where time is valued highly, being late in a meeting is considered disrespect for another person’s time. In the Philippines, our concept of time is not as rigid as other countries’ and reflects how we view time. Time is also associated with power status in some contexts, such as in the classroom or office settings, in which teachers and bosses are allowed to be late while students and employees aren’t. Meeting with most professionals and important people are by appointment and usually requires waiting. We tend to spend time on more important things, with important people, or those who make us happy. On the other hand, we refuse to waste time on inconsequential matters.

8. Paralanguage

Paralanguage involves the vocal elements of communication such as pitch, vocal quality, volume, intonation, accent, pronunciation, rhythm, pace, and sounds produced by clearing the throat, murmuring, or sighing. Voice may be modulated to influence how others would perceive us, express our emotions, and imply the importance or weight of our message.

9. Silence

Silence is also a nonverbal symbol associated with different meanings, including anger, awkwardness, or contentment. Your parents or partner giving you the silent treatment may communicate the fact that you must have done something wrong to displease them.