COM 200 Ashford University Biased Language Discussion

Use and cite Bevan(Section 4.1) to define and explain biased language.

Share an example of biased language you have seen in some computer-mediated interaction.

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Answer the following three questions:

How does biased language reflect the attitudes, behaviors, and perception of the sender?

How might biased language impact the attitudes, behaviors, and perception of the receiver of the content, and/or the sender, or both?

What is the significance of biased language in computer-mediated contexts specifically?

For this discussion forum, your initial post should be 300 to 350 words in length.

Verbal and Nonverbal Communication:
Making Every Word and Gesture Matter
Jose Luis Pelaez/Iconica/Getty Images
Learning Outcomes
After reading this chapter, you should be able to
█ De ine verbal communication and understand the history and functions of language.
█ De ine nonverbal communication and discuss its functions.
█ Describe the various types of nonverbal communication that can be used in interpersonal interactions.
█ Explain how verbal and nonverbal communication have evolved in the digital age.
█ Use strategies to strengthen verbal and nonverbal communication competence.,ch04,ch04intro,sec4.1,sec4.2,sec4.3,sec4.4,sec4.5,ch04summary&content=all&cli…
Janelle has been dealing with acne for years, but she is becoming increasingly frustrated about being an adult who still struggles with pimples. It is her irst
visit with Dr. Abraham, a dermatologist, and she is nervous as she waits in the exam room. When Dr. Abraham enters about 20 minutes later, he reads Janelle’s
ile. He does not make eye contact with her or shake her hand, though he does offer a perfunctory, “Hello, how are you? I’m Dr. Abraham.” Janelle is
immediately put off by Dr. Abraham’s indifferent introduction. He asks her a few brief questions, writes down her answers, and performs a quick examination
of her skin. In a wavering voice, Janelle responds to Dr. Abraham’s questions but keeps her eyes ixed on the loor. After about ive minutes, Dr. Abraham
suggests she use two prescriptions, which she can collect from the nurse at the front desk, and return in ive weeks for a follow-up appointment. Almost as an
afterthought, he asks Janelle if she has any questions. Janelle whispers, “No, thank you,” and is barely able to hold back her tears of disappointment.
Have you ever had an awkward or frustrating encounter such as this? As you learned earlier in this text, whenever people communicate, they attempt to
create shared meaning by encoding messages in symbols and by decoding or interpreting the symbols used by others. These symbols may be verbal,
consisting of words in oral or written forms such as Dr. Abraham’s greeting and Janelle’s answers to his questions. Symbols can also be nonverbal messages
such as the tone or volume of your voice, your facial expressions, touching others, use of personal space or distance, and body movement and gestures.
Janelle’s soft and wavering voice, Dr. Abraham’s lack of eye contact, and even the time Janelle spends waiting for the doctor are examples of nonverbal
When you communicate with others, your attention is not only focused on the words that are said but also on the characteristics of the other communicator’s
voice, their body language and physical distance from you, and even the environment in which the interaction is occurring. In the example above, Dr. Abraham
uses appropriate verbal communication when he greets his patient, examines and diagnoses her condition, asks questions, and provides her with a treatment.
But his nonverbal communication makes the visit unpleasant for Janelle; his lack of “bedside manner” changes the overall meaning of the medical encounter
for Janelle, making her feel invisible in the eyes of Dr. Abraham. This, in turn, impacted the information that she shared with him and the kind of treatment she
You process others’ nonverbal messages at the same time that you process their verbal messages, and you make judgments about others based on a
combination of both. Others simultaneously make these same judgments of you. Nonverbal messages are usually more believable and more reliable than
verbal messages. Verbal communication, or language, is crucial in forming and maintaining social relationships, and being competent in your verbal
communication is essential to your personal and professional success. But an understanding of nonverbal communication is also essential given the sheer
number of nonverbal messages. In fact, indings from a variety of research studies suggest that 60–65% of meaning in social interactions is derived from
nonverbal messages (Burgoon, 1994).
To account for the importance of both of these types of messages, Chapter 4 examines verbal symbols and nonverbal messages as they are used in
interpersonal communication contexts. We combine information about verbal and nonverbal communication into a single chapter to understand how each are
important individually as well as to emphasize how much we rely on both types of messages in our interpersonal communication. We begin by exploring
verbal communication with a brief history of language acquisition and the English language in the United States. Next, we consider the ways that nonverbal
communication functions in our interactions and discuss different types of nonverbal communication messages. We also explore verbal and nonverbal
elements of communication, including how both operate in online settings, and we identify ways in which we can improve both our verbal and nonverbal
communication competence.,ch04,ch04intro,sec4.1,sec4.2,sec4.3,sec4.4,sec4.5,ch04summary&content=all&cli…
4.1 Verbal Communication
As we discussed in Chapter 1, language is a system of human communication that uses a particular form of spoken or written words or other symbols.
Language is the primary code humans use to communicate. Language is so vital to who we are as humans that it shapes how we think and how we view the
world around us. In essence, we need language as a ilter through which to cognitively process and perceive our inner and outer worlds. (We will return more
to these ideas when we discuss culture and language later in this chapter.) Language is also crucial in forming and maintaining social relationships and is
essential to personal and professional success. You may consider speech natural and not always pay close attention to the words you use. However, you make
language choices whenever you speak, although you may not always do so consciously. You become a more competent communicator when you become a
more conscientious creator of messages. You can do this by making sure that your language is appropriate for the situation, the other person to whom you are
speaking, and the purpose of the communication.
Many languages, including English, have formal and informal language. Formal language is more careful and more mannered than everyday speech. It is used
to express serious thought, which is generally clear, accurate, and not overly emotional. It avoids colloquialisms, slang, and biased language. Formal language is
the standard speech of the academic world and the appropriate language in most business and professional settings, with clients or customers, in professional
writing, and in public speaking situations. There are some formal systems of language that are used in academic settings, such as MLA or APA style. These set
norms of writing carefully credit sources and structure formal writing.
In contrast, informal language describes a wide range of common and nonstandard English, including jargon, colloquialisms, idioms, and slang. Informal
language is appropriate in casual conversation with peers or in special circumstances. For example, would you use the words “woke,” “lit,” or even “huge” in a
formal essay assigned for one of your college courses? Hopefully not, as informal language is usually not appropriate in written communication or in
professional and academic settings. Breaking these sorts of “rules,” which are usually unspoken, could also run the risk of harming how others view you and
damage your “face,” or their impression of you. (Read the Web Field Trip feature for a quick look at the history of the English language and its evolution.)
Web Field Trip (
The History of Language
Researchers agree that one characteristic sets humans apart from their animal cousins: communication. Language—in both spoken and written form—is
unique to human beings and is considered by some to be the most exceptional behavior that humans can enact. Although there is no speci ic date that we can
pinpoint as to when language irst emerged, we can estimate that our ancestors have been verbally communicating for approximately a million years. In fact,
physiologically, human beings are the only animals who are capable of producing spoken language. When humans started walking on two legs instead of four,
the descent of the larynx—the organ that forms part of the air passage to the lungs and that contains our vocal chords—allowed the tongue to move in a way
that could produce a variety of sounds, which were then used as a basis for verbal communication. The concurrency of these physiological developments
means that the formation and growth of language likely occurred during the origin of modern human behavior.
Scholars do not uniformly agree on how to classify languages, and it is almost impossible to conduct a global census of all language speakers, so the number of
estimated languages and number of speakers of each language around the world varies from source to source.
Although no common global language exists, political, economic, and technological changes have dramatically increased the use of English over the past few
decades (Campbell-Laird, 2004). Its use predominates in business, science and technology, and international maritime and aviation transactions. More than
half of the world’s books and three-quarters of international mail are written in English, and English sites dominate the Internet (Tonkin & Reagan, 2003). Like
other languages, English is always growing and evolving. Old words continually gain new dictionary de initions, and new words are constantly being added to
the vernacular—that is, the variety of language used by speakers in informal situations—through the creation of slang terms and newly coined words such as
hangry and bingeable, which were recently added to Merriam Webster’s dictionary (“We Put a Bunch of New Words in the Dictionary,” 2018).
The U.S. Constitution does not designate an of icial language; however, the widespread use of English has made it the recognized language, or de facto
language, of the United States (Of icial English, 2010). Thus, it is not surprising that over 20% of individuals living in the United States—or 59.5 million people
—speak a language other than English at home, according to data from the 2010 census (Rumbaut & Massey, 2013). Like many languages, American English
has various dialects—geographic or social differences in the way groups of people use the same language. People who speak different dialects can usually
understand one another because they have the same language. However, they have different vocabularies and unique phonology—the way the language
sounds. For example, it is easy to recognize differences between British and American English. The two dialects have both vocabulary differences (such as
petrol versus gasoline and lift versus elevator) and different phonology. The early settlement patterns of the eastern United States mentioned earlier resulted
in three primary dialects of American English: Northern, Midland, and Southern. A Western dialect began to develop in the late 1800s that was in luenced
primarily by Northern Midland speech. However, the original Spanish-speaking populations and immigrant Chinese also affected the Western dialect. Figure
4.1 shows a regional map of American English dialects.
Figure 4.1: National map of regional dialects of American English

American English has many dialects, and, as the map indicates, many are associated with a geographic region of
the country.,ch04,ch04intro,sec4.1,sec4.2,sec4.3,sec4.4,sec4.5,ch04summary&content=all&cli…
Source: Boeree, C. G. (2004). Dialects of English. Retrieved from Shippensburg University website at
( . Used by permission.
The in luence of other immigrants (such as populations of Jews and immigrants from countries such as Ireland, Italy, and Poland) created regional variations
and other dialects in the eastern region of the United States. Even today it is easy to see how different words came to be used for common objects in different
regions of the United States. Table 4.1, for example, illustrates American English vocabulary differences for a well-known sandwich and beverage.
Table 4.1: Vocabulary differences in dialects of American English
Food type
Region of the United States
New York
Submarine or sub
Northern and North Midland east of the Susquehanna
Northern and North Midland west of the Susquehanna
Cold drink
South and South Midland
Coke (also cola, soft drink, soda pop, soda water, and
Rhode Island
Source: Boeree, C. G. (2004). Dialects of English. Retrieved from Shippensburg University website at ( .
Used by permission.
The Role of Language
We can use language for any number of reasons or to accomplish many different types of goals. Language
serves as an abstraction of reality,
sustains and transmits culture,
expresses imagination and creativity, and
expresses con irming and discon irming messages.
These four roles that language serves are particularly important for understanding how and why we verbally communicate in interpersonal settings. Each of
these functions is discussed next.
Language Serves as an Abstraction of Reality
Language is powerful because you can use it to construct your reality. You use the words of your primary language to represent tangible and abstract objects.
You often form a mental picture of the object as you say a word and are thus also able to mentally create your world. In this way, you associate words with the,ch04,ch04intro,sec4.1,sec4.2,sec4.3,sec4.4,sec4.5,ch04summary&content=all&cli…
objects they represent. However, the word is not the “thing” itself, but simply an abstract symbol, which is anything that conveys a meaning, such as the
words, pictures, sounds, marks, or objects we use to represent something else that is apart from tangible existence and that exists only in the mind. A symbol
can be written, spoken, or nonverbal in nature. Drawings, photographs, and music can be symbolic. Even objects such as homes, automobiles, clothing, and
jewelry can be symbols. In fact, they are often referred to as status symbols. Your mental image of the symbol is of your own making; for this reason, symbols
do not have the exact same meaning to everyone.
For example, the word freedom is not something that you can see, hear, or touch . However, when you hear the word freedom, you imagine or visualize
something in your mind. This mental image is what the word means to you. For example, if someone has immigrated to the United States from a country where
they suffered from religious persecution, freedom might mean practicing religion without fear. If one has been in prison for many years, freedom could mean
having the choice to be able to walk in a beautiful park. To someone else, freedom might conjure up patriotic images of the U.S. lag or Fourth of July ireworks.
What mental picture do you associate with the word freedom? Although we have different pictures in our minds when we hear or use a word and share a
common language, we can communicate with one another because words have common denotations. The denotation is the dictionary de inition or
description of what the word represents—a de inition that most can agree on. For example, if you look up the word grandmother in a dictionary, you will ind
it described in a manner similar to the following:
Grandmother: The mother of one’s father or mother.
The dictionary de inition, or denotation, gives you the essential characteristics of what a grandmother is and helps you construct a basic mental picture of it.
The denotations of concrete words such as grandmother are generally clear and descriptive. If you did not know what a grandmother is, it would be fairly easy
for you to learn what it is from this denotation.
Abstract words such as freedom also have denotations. However, the denotation of an abstract word is less speci ic and more subject to personal
interpretation. For instance, a dictionary de inition of the word freedom reads something like the following:
Freedom: The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants or to exercise choice and free will.
The de inition, or denotation, of this abstract word is probably broad enough to encompass the various interpretations different people might give to the
word. However, it does not speci ically tell you what type of power or right that freedom provides or what obligations or duties you might have from which
you need to be freed. What is meant by the word power, for example? Does it refer to physical strength, control or in luence over others, or spiritual power?
What is meant by free will? Answers to these questions are subjective; each person will answer them in their own way based on their own perceptions, selfconcept, and past experiences.
In addition to denotations, words also have connotations. The connotation is created by the personal association you have with a certain word or the
emotional meaning or impact of the word to you. Connotations are frequently shared among members of a particular society, but they also contain elements
that are unique to each person. Connotative meanings exist along with denotative meanings, and they are generally either positive or negative. For example,
when we irst mentioned the word grandmother, you likely immediately imagined your own grandmother. But maybe what you picture is the general image of
a grandmother in our society—an image of an older woman with gray or white hair who wears glasses and is warm and welcoming. We can have connotations
for any number of things that we use language to describe, including the things that we like and the food that we eat. For example, the Corn Re iners
Association was concerned that consumers were linking the term high fructose corn syrup with obesity. This connotation of high fructose corn syrup was so
detrimental to sales of their food products containing the ingredient that, in 2010, they applied to the federal government to rename the ingredient on their
labels as corn syrup instead (Fredrix, 2010).
Language Sustains and Transmits Culture
Written and spoken verbal messages are a primary method that individuals use to
sustain their culture and to educate and transmit elements of their culture to others.
We learn about our own and others’ cultures by reading books, searching online,
and talking with others about their cultural experiences. Culture is passed down
from generation to generation in multiple verbal forms: through spoken stories or
oral histories, by writing down old family recipes, and via poetry, literature, and
song. If we share a language with another culture that we are visiting, we rely on that
form of communication in multiple ways: by asking natives for directions, by looking
to street or public transportation signs to determine where we are and to ind our
way, and by reading written descriptions of places and things when visiting a
culture’s museums, parks, or memorials. (See the IPC Research Applied feature for
some insight into what your name conveys about you.)
krisblackphotography/iStock /Getty Images Plus

Language allows us to pass down aspects of our culture, such as
recipes, from generation to generation.
IPC Research Applied (
In addition, many communication theorists believe that the language that we use determines how we think and how we behave. In the early 1900s,
anthropologist Edward Sapir posited a theory that there was a connection between culture and language. Sapir believed that the very structure of human
language shapes our perceptions and how we view the world. Sapir’s student, Benjamin Whorf (1940), took Sapir’s idea and then developed what is known as
the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, which states that language is not just a way of voicing ideas, but it also shapes and determines those ideas. The hypothesis states
that we cannot think outside the con ines of our language. In other words, we are so immersed in our language and our culture that we do not recognize how
it in luences our view of the world. For example, in Japan, privacy is not prioritized to nearly the extent that it is in the United States. As such, the Japanese had
no word for privacy, and instead adapted our English word: “praibashii” (Worsley, 2012).,ch04,ch04intro,sec4.1,sec4.2,sec4.3,sec4.4,sec4.5,ch04summary&content=all&cli…
Language Expresses Imagination and Creativity
Our capacity for language is endless and it allows us to have a rich and vivid mental life in which we can suffer regret, reminisce about events that occurred
decades ago, have complex wishes and yearnings, and re lect on what it is like to be ourselves. Language allows us to have not only real experiences, but
experiences that we simply imagine. Through language, you can create and play with ideas that do not exist in the real world. You can recite stories, poems,
rhymes, and riddles and engage in games of pretend by yourself or with others. Unlimited combinations of symbols are possible and, therefore, so are “mental
creation[s] of possible worlds” (Chomsky, 2004, para. 12). Our use of symbols to represent physical objects, ideas, and emotions gives us the capacity to build
cities, to make laws, and to create art and music. Verbal communication then gives us the unique ability to work together as social creatures to put those ideas
into reality.
In addition, if there is not a symbol for what you are envisioning in your mind, you can use language to create one. Over time, we have agreed to make various
sounds and written combinations of letters and marks stand for certain objects in the environment, for certain behaviors, or for experiences we pick up
through our senses or that register in our nervous system and we call emotions (Hayakawa, 1964). Our ability to be creative and imaginative with language is
evident in the fact that 15,000 to 20,000 words are added to the English language per year. For example, the word youthquake, which is “a signi icant cultural,
political, or social change arising from the actions or in luence of young people,” was the 2017 Oxford word of the year (“Word of the Year 2017 Is…,” 2017,
para. 4). This imaginative function of language thus allows you to lex your creativity in ways you never thought were imaginable (Halliday & Webster, 2004).
Language Offers Con irming and Discon irming Messages
As you have likely igured out, language is a powerful tool for human understanding, and even just for basic survival. It can also be harmful or helpful in our
interpersonal relationships. Through verbal communication, we can con irm or discon irm those with whom we interact. A con irming message is one that
provides a basic acknowledgment that the other person is present and demonstrates your acceptance of them, how they de ine or view themselves, and the
relationship that you share. Using con irming messages is associated with greater openness and shows that you positively regard the other person (Dailey,
2006). Imagine your best friend is involved in a frustrating romantic relationship and often wants to discuss this relationship with you. After a while it begins
to bother you, especially when your friend fails to take your advice, and it may be a struggle for you to continue to use con irming messages. However, you can
still do so in a number of ways, such as by maintaining focus on the situation and being involved in the interaction. This does not mean that you always agree
with your friend but that you recognize your friend’s point of view. You can engage in a dialogue by being a simultaneous sender and receiver and express
concern in a respectful way. And you can ask questions to re lect back what your friend says and show that you understand. In this way, you are being both an
effective and appropriate communicator with your friend, demonstrating your interpersonal communication competence by taking responsibility for your
communication, acknowledging that your view is one of only many, and respecting others. Table 4.2 presents examples of con irming messages.
Table 4.2: Examples of con irming messages
Example message
Communicator maintains focus
on the situation
Gives the other communicator exclusive attention
“Okay, I’ll put my laptop down so I won’t be distracted.”
Communicator is involved in the
Recognizes the other communicator’s point of view, even if
there is disagreement
“I hear what you are saying, but I’m not sure if that is the
way that I would go about it.”
Communicator is engaged in a
Simultaneously sends and receives messages and
expresses concern in a respectful way
“I’m listening to you, and I am worried about what I am
Communicator shows that he or
she understands
Asks questions to re lect back what the other
communicator has said
“It sounds to me as if you are upset—am I right?”
In contrast, a discon irming message does the opposite of a con irming message: You not only disregard the other person as an individual, you also ignore
what the person says. The discon irming message is thus one where you clearly indicate that that individual is not worth your time or effort and that you have
a negative regard for that person (Dailey, 2006). Consider again your friend who is in a frustrating romantic relationship. When you feel irritated by the
discussions with your friend, you might start to use discon irming messages in a number of ways: ignoring your friend and her situation; not giving your
friend a chance to speak; immediately evaluating your friend’s situation; or discouraging or interrupting your friend during the conversation. Table 4.3
presents examples of discon irming messages.
Table 4.3: Examples of discon irming messages
Example message
Communicator ignores the other
Does not give the other communicator or the situation
exclusive attention
“I don’t want to talk again, so I’m going to let this call
go straight to voicemail.”
Communicator dictates the focus of
the conversation
Does not give the other communicator a chance to speak
“Enough of this. You need to listen to what I have to
Communicator makes assumptions
about the interaction
Evaluates and responds to the other communicator’s
situation before hearing details
“I don’t need to hear your side; I already know what
you should do.”
Communicator dominates the
Discourages or interrupts the other communicator during
the conversation
“Do we really need to talk about this again, for the
millionth time?”
Consistently discon irming a person is not recommended, as it can reduce the person’s self-esteem and damage your relationship. For example, engaging in
the demand/withdraw con lict pattern in a parent–adolescent child relationship—where one individual nags and dominates and the other person ignores and
avoids—is associated with lower self-esteem for both family members (Caughlin & Malis, 2004). Further, romantic partners across four countries—the United
States, Brazil, Taiwan, and Italy—who use this demand/withdraw discon irming message pattern also have lower relationship satisfaction (Christensen,
Eldridge, Catta-Preta, Lim, & Santagata, 2006). If you suspect that you are using messages such as those described in Table 4.3—ones that dominate, dictate, or
ignore—try to be more aware of how the other person reacts when you use discon irming messages. Do they seem upset or hurt or become unusually quiet?
Being more aware of the other communicator by trying to take that person’s perspective can help you replace discon irming messages with con irming ones.
Acknowledging the other communicator’s view of the situation in this way exempli ies one of the principles of competent communication discussed in Chapter
The Four Functions of Language
Narrated video discussing the four functions of language, including abastraction
of reality, sustaining and transmitting culture, expressing imagination and
creativity, and expressing and discon irming messages.

0:00 / 3:50

Biased Language
Some language is considered improper or unacceptable in almost all contexts. For example, biased language presents information in a way that shows
preference for or against a certain point of view, shows prejudice, or is demeaning to others. Biased language usually refers to the use of words that
intentionally or unintentionally offend people or express negative attitudes concerning a person’s race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability, or
illness. This type of language has no place in professional or academic situations and should also be avoided in personal communication. Biased language is
not objective; rather, it is offensive, negative, and reveals an individual’s prejudices. Such language thus obstructs open-minded communication and
cooperation between individuals and communities. With regard to communication competence as we irst discussed in Chapter 1, use of biased language
re lects the ineffectiveness and inappropriateness that comprise communicative incompetence while also demonstrating disrespect, a lack of responsibility for
your communication behavior, and a failure to acknowledge that yours is not the only view.
Racist language, for example, is the use of language to demean or insult people on the basis of their race or ethnicity. Intentionally using racial slurs
constitutes racist language, but you can also insult people and express negative attitudes about race unintentionally when you use stereotypes regarding race
or emphasize someone’s race unnecessarily in your communication. For example, Nazi propaganda intentionally dehumanizes Jewish people by labeling them
as untermenschen, or subhuman, and referring to them as rats, stating that they needed to be exterminated like a virus (Smith, 2011). Over time, these
linguistic characterizations allowed the Nazis and German citizens to justify the horrors they were seeing and committing during World War II (Smith, 2011).
Pointing out someone’s race when it is irrelevant can also be considered racist language, as when you state, for example, “I had an appointment with my Latino
dentist yesterday.”
Language re lects changes in society, and some language that is biased against speci ic groups of people and that might once have been used regularly is now
considered improper and inappropriate. At one time, for instance, the word man was considered a generic word that referred to all humans. Today, such usage
is considered sexist language because it excludes individuals on the basis of gender. It is considered inappropriate today to use the term man and the
pronouns he, him, and his to refer to people of both genders. Instead of saying, “Every employee must schedule his vacation,” you might make the word
employee plural and say, “All employees must schedule their vacations.” Increased use of such gender-fair language has the real potential to continue to
neutralize gender inequality in the workplace (Morgenroth & Ryan, 2018).
To communicate in an unbiased manner, you must be aware of and sensitive to the use of terms that others consider demeaning or offensive and refer to
people using the terms that they prefer to describe them. You must be particularly wary of language related to gender, sexual orientation, age, physical
disability, or illness. For instance, including references to gender, when unnecessary, can be considered demeaning. Medical personnel, for example, can be
male or female, so it is unnecessary and often insulting to state, “I had a male nurse when I was in the hospital recently,” or “I met a lady doctor.” Your language
choices re lect your attitude toward a subject, so avoid derogatory phrases such as “little old lady” to refer to an older person or “handicapped” to describe a
person with a disability. Instead emphasize the person irst in the language, not the age, the disability, the race, or the illness. Use phrases like “people who are
visually impaired” or “a man who is 75 years old” instead of “the blind” or “an old guy.” If you are not sure which terms are best, ask the person you are
referring to or others for guidance.,ch04,ch04intro,sec4.1,sec4.2,sec4.3,sec4.4,sec4.5,ch04summary&content=all&cli…
4.2 Nonverbal Communication
Though we have thus far discussed verbal and nonverbal communication separately, they typically are encoded and decoded together in an interaction, and
we rely on both to achieve shared meaning between communicators. Speci ically, nonverbal communication may
reinforce, complement, or emphasize the words you speak;
stand in for verbal communication entirely;
interrupt or distract from verbal communication and be a communication barrier or a form of noise; or
con lict with or contradict the verbal message entirely.
In the following sections, we examine nonverbal communication by identifying some of the important functions that this type of communication serves in our
interactions with others. We also describe some of the different types of nonverbal communication, including voice, touch, body movements, and personal
space and distance. As we discuss the different functions and types of nonverbal communication, it is important to remember that this type of message is
bound by culture. This means that certain nonverbal messages are interpreted differently in different cultures, and that cultural mores determine what
nonverbal behaviors are appropriate in particular situations. As you read the sections below, consider how members of co-cultures that you are a part of may
communicate differently than the dominant U.S. cultural examples that we present here.
The Role of Nonverbal Communication
When you communicate nonverbally, you use every way other than language to send messages. Some of these messages are conscious and intentional, but
many are innate, unconscious aspects of your unique voice or body that you can do little to change. These nonverbal messages serve four important roles in
interpersonal communication, including
managing your impressions and identities,
managing and interpreting your relationships,
regulating the low of interactions, and
engaging in and detecting messages of emotion, in luence, and deception.
We discuss these roles next and then describe forms of nonverbal communication that are central in our interactions with others.
Manage Impressions and Identities
Even before another person opens her mouth to speak, you have likely already started to form an impression of her based on how she looks, what she is
wearing, her posture, and whether she makes eye contact. At the same time, that other person is forming an impression of you using similar nonverbal cues.
Physical appearance and body movements are particularly important in forming irst impressions because these are the two visual cues that are noticed irst
(Guerrero et al., 2008). Research identi ies the importance of these initial impressions. For example, in one of the irst studies on how individuals form
impressions of others, researchers found that we tend to make accurate and enduring judgments about others we have just met (those we have zero
acquaintance with) in only a short amount of time (less than 5 minutes) and with limited information—primarily the other person’s physical appearance
(Albright, Kenny, & Malloy, 1988). This is true online as well: in online dating pro iles and on social media sites, nonverbal messages such as photos “carry
greater impression formation weight” than written self-disclosures and descriptions (Toma & D’Angelo, 2017, p. 154).
As we form impressions of others via nonverbal messages, we also work to manage the impressions others have of us. Again, nonverbal communication is
important in managing others’ impressions, as evidenced when we dress up for a irst date or practice our handshake before an important job interview. The
impressions we believe others have of us then contribute to our identities (and vice versa) by serving as the looking-glass self discussed in Chapter 2. There is
evidence for this link between impression and identity in a number of contexts. In the health context, the nonverbal message of the physical appearance of
nurses’ uniforms is an important aspect of their identities for patients (Tam, Ng, & Kowitlawakul, 2018). Speci ically, wearing a white nurse’s uniform is
preferred by patients in a Singapore hospital because doing so conformed to their stereotypical schema of a “nurse” (Tam et al., 2018). With regard to social
media content, a Facebook friend’s embarrassing post about you is likely to elicit a nonverbal response in the form of nervous laughter, raised eyebrows, head
shaking, or sharp exhaling (Oeldhorf-Hirsch, Birnholz, & Hancock, 2017). Further, according to the indings of Oeldhorf-Hirsch and associates (2017), the
degree of embarrassment you might feel about your friend’s Facebook post is likely related to how inconsistent you feel the content is with your identity (e.g.,
your friend said that you fell down, but you are a dancer and viewed by many as graceful, so this information is inconsistent with how you see yourself).
Across contexts and using a variety of nonverbal cues, these studies show that nonverbal communication is an important factor in how we perceive others and
how others perceive us.
Manage and Interpret Relationships
In Chapter 1, we discussed the distinction between content and relationship messages and noted that we tend to gather more relationship information
through nonverbal communication. This means that instead of verbally talking about your relationship, you tend to rely on nonverbal cues such as touch,
personal space, facial expressions, and body movements to help you interpret the relationship. Nonverbal messages can in fact provide us with a great deal of
relational information: what type of relationship it is; how intimate, close, or involved the individuals are; how comfortable they are with each other; and even
whether the relationship is more formal or informal in nature. The next time you are in a public place, take a moment to observe, from a distance, two people
communicating. Even if you cannot hear the discussion, you will be amazed by how much you can learn about the communicators simply by observing the
nonverbal messages used during their interaction. For example, whether and how they touch can give you clues about the type of relationship they have. The
volume and pitch of their voices will indicate to you whether the topic they are discussing is something they are excited about or ind boring. Being more alert
about nonverbal messages used by yourself and others can give you greater insight into your own relationships as well.
Regulate Interactions
Do you ever wonder how we are so seamlessly able to take turns in an interaction? How do we know when to speak and how do others know when it is their
turn to talk? It is very rare for us to inish a point and then say, “It is your turn to speak now.” Instead, a variety of subtle nonverbal cues serve this purpose,
and there are different ways that we can use such cues to regulate an interaction. First, we exercise turn-requesting cues if we wish to speak. For example, we
may raise our hand or lean in toward the other communicator. But if we do not want to talk, turn denying, we might look away, lean back, or shake our head.
Turn yielding occurs when a speaker is done and wants to invite others to contribute to the discussion. This individual could signal this shift by extending his
arms and hands outward or by altering the pitch of his voice. However, if the speaker would like to continue talking, turn maintaining, she might put out her,ch04,ch04intro,sec4.1,sec4.2,sec4.3,sec4.4,sec4.5,ch04summary&content=all&cli…
hand or raise the volume of her voice to stop a partner’s turn request. Such nonverbal messages are thus integral tools we can use to manage the low of
Engage in and Detect Emotional, In luence, and Deception Messages
The inal function of nonverbal communication involves the pursuit of three speci ic communication goals. The irst is to express emotion, and we depend on
nonverbal communication a great deal when we want to share how we are feeling. For example, crying, frowning, hugging, and speaking in a higher pitch can
indicate sadness, whereas smiling, shouting, and jumping up and down are typically nonverbal cues of happiness. However, it is rare for someone to
experience and express a single emotion. Instead, we tend to experience and express a mixture of emotions, which are called affect blends. For example, if
your romantic partner proposes to you, you are likely to be both surprised and happy, and you will nonverbally express elements of both emotions. We also
use nonverbal communication to determine what emotions others are experiencing. For example, a study by Sally Planalp (1998) that asked participants to
simply consider how they could tell when someone else was feeling an emotion found that a combination of vocal, facial, and body cues were frequently used
to decode another person’s emotions and that verbal cues (i.e., language) were considered less often.
Nonverbal communication is also instrumental in in luencing or persuading others.
For example, advertisements in our culture often use attractive, it individuals to
represent products. Descriptions of products and services also rely on vocal
characteristics such as a soft voice that is not monotone or too high or shrill. In our
culture, attractive voices such as these are viewed as more competent and more
socially skilled (Semic, 2007). In political campaigns, every element of candidates’
appearances, down to what they wear and how approachable they seem, is
constantly monitored and scrutinized by the media and voters. We also employ
nonverbal cues on an interpersonal level when we try to persuade others. One
analysis (Segrin, 1993) found that we are more likely to convince someone to behave
or act in a certain way if we engage in the following nonverbal behaviors: increase
eye contact, lightly touch the person on the arm or shoulder, stand at a close but
comfortable distance from the person, or wear formal, higher-status clothing. This
study also found that these nonverbal tactics are as effective as verbal messages for
gaining compliance in interpersonal interactions (Segrin, 1993).
Finally, nonverbal communication can be used to deceive others and to detect the
Thomas Barwick/Stone/Getty Images
deceit of others. Unlike emotion and in luence, however, the decision to focus on
nonverbal communication in deception situations is not an effective strategy. Most of █ Vocal, facial, and body cues can reveal our emotions and help us
us believe that we can correctly detect deception, but our accuracy rate is decode others’ emotions. What emotions would you say are being
approximately 55%, which means we are about as likely to detect deception as we communicated in this photo?
are to correctly predict heads or tails in a coin toss. It is possible our accuracy rate is
low because many communicators know that certain nonverbal cues—such as
averting eye contact, idgeting, or pausing before speaking—can decrease the credibility of a lie and thereby know to conceal such nonverbal cues. In a
landmark study (Park, Levine, McCornack, Morrison, & Ferrara, 2002), college students were asked to recall actual situations where deception was detected
(where either they were themselves caught lying or they found out someone else was deceiving them). In only 2.1% of these instances were nonverbal
behaviors (along with verbal messages) instrumental in detecting deception at the time the lie was told. Instead, the most common methods of discovery were
information from others, a combination of methods, and physical evidence (Park et al., 2002). The takeaway message is to depend less on nonverbal
communication if you suspect someone is lying to you. Instead, focus on the bigger picture, listen for verbal inconsistencies, and study the observations made
by other communicators.,ch04,ch04intro,sec4.1,sec4.2,sec4.3,sec4.4,sec4.5,ch04summary&content=all&c…
4.3 Types of Nonverbal Communication
Because nonverbal communication involves every way other than language that we can communicate, many different nonverbal cues exist. How we look and
dress, whether we touch someone or not, the sound of our voice, and even how we smell can encode a message to others. Describing all the different forms of
nonverbal communication is beyond the scope of this text. Instead, we will focus on the following four types of nonverbal communication:
body language (referred to as kinesics)
vocalics (referred to as paralanguage)
touch (referred to as haptics)
personal space (referred to as proxemics)
We signi icantly rely on these four types of nonverbal communication during our interpersonal interactions, and each type is discussed in detail next. (Check
out the Web Field Trip feature for a quick overview of nonverbal behaviors.)
Web Field Trip (
Body Language/Kinesics
Body language, also called kinesics, is a broad category of nonverbal messages that includes any way that our body can move, including nodding your head in
response to something someone says, leaning forward or backward, and crossing your legs. Facial expressions and eye behaviors are also types of kinesics
because they involve speci ic body movements. In fact, anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell (1952) identi ied 250,000 different kines, which are the smallest
identi iable body movements, in the facial region alone.
A wealth of unspoken information is communicated with your body, and gestural communication, which is communication related to how you use and move
your body, plays a crucial role in interpersonal communication. These gestures usually reinforce or complement the verbal message, although you can also use
gestures without words. In these instances, gestures may carry the entire burden of the communication. Although the hands are the most common body parts
used for gesturing, you can use other parts of your body, such as when you shrug your shoulders, nod your head, or wink. Table 4.4 describes some common
gestures that are used in the United States. Consider how you would interpret each one in an everyday conversation and how these interpretations might
differ if you were communicating with someone from a different culture.
Table 4.4: Five common gestures used in the United States
Possible meaning(s)
Shaking your inger at
Creating a ist with your index inger pointing outward and
then moving the inger left and right three or four times
A reprimand for doing something incorrectly
Knocking on wood
Creating a ist with knuckle down and then moving it upward
and downward in short movements
A superstitious behavior that is intended to ward off bad
Shrugging your shoulders
Moving your shoulders upward and downward several
An act that indicates someone is unsure or does not know a
piece of information; can also be a way to move rhythmically
or in time to music
Rubbing your stomach
Making a circular movement with your hand on your
stomach, palm inward
A gesture that shows that someone is hungry
Twiddling your thumbs
Interlocking the ingers of your hands and then moving your
thumbs in circles around each other
An act of boredom or not knowing what to do in a particular
Many gestures are emblems, which are gestures that have a clear and unambiguous verbal equivalent in a given culture (Poyatos, 2002a). When you use an
emblem, you are doing so consciously and you likely do not need any verbal communication to get your point across. The hand signals that baseball and
football coaches communicate to their players during games are emblems; they are used because verbal communication is dif icult due to noisy stadiums, and
they prevent the other team from understanding what is being communicated. Most emblems are culturally determined and can get you into dif iculty if you
use them in other countries. In the United States, some emblematic gestures are the thumb-up-and-out hitchhiking sign, the circled thumb and index inger
“OK” sign, and the “V” for victory sign. However, the thumb-up sign in Iran, for example, is an obscene gesture, and the OK sign has sexual connotations in
Ethiopia and Mexico (Liebal, Muller, & Pika, 2007).
Facial Expressions
The face is a inely tuned visual channel for sharing information with the ability to produce a range of expressions from the very subtle to the very dramatic.
For example, arching an eyebrow can convey a look of disbelief or a greeting or acknowledgement (Doherty-Sneddon, 2003). Researchers do not agree on
how many facial expressions can be formed, but psychologist Paul Ekman, who has studied facial expressions for more than 50 years, has catalogued more
than 10,000 human expressions. His research suggests that some facial expressions are almost universal and others are culturally speci ic (Ekman, 1971). For
example, people in all cultures seem to react to fear with similar facial expressions; however, people in different cultures are frightened by different things
(Grif iths, 2008). Seven facial expressions—contempt, fear, surprise, anger, disgust, sadness, and happiness, as you can see in Figure 4.2—appear in all or most
cultures and are widely accepted by researchers as universal (Duenwald, 2005).
Figure 4.2: Universal facial expressions and emotions

Certain facial expressions associated with speci ic emotions are consistent across cultures.,ch04,ch04intro,sec4.1,sec4.2,sec4.3,sec4.4,sec4.5,ch04summary&content=all&c…
Source: Paul Ekman, Ph.D./Paul Ekman Group, LLC. Used by permission.
( ig4-2) is available.
A few facial expressions appear to be innate, but others are learned. For example, just moments after birth, newborn babies make expressions of disgust in
response to bitter tastes. As children mature, they learn to produce speci ic facial expressions, to understand the facial expressions of others, and to modify
their own expressions to match those of others. Display rules speci ic to our dominant culture assist us in learning this type of information by helping us
determine which facial expressions to use, how intensive the expression should be, or whether we should express ourselves at all. Being able to understand
and produce appropriate facial expressions is essential to a child’s social development, and problems doing so are often signs of developmental disorders
such as autism (Doherty-Sneddon, 2003; see the Everyday Communication Challenges feature at the end of this section for more on this topic).
Most adults are adept at controlling their facial movement and masking their feelings, if they work at it. However, this voluntary facial control is only one way
that facial expressions are produced. Other facial expressions are spontaneous and involuntary, so they are much more dif icult to disguise. These
spontaneous expressions, called nonverbal leakage because our emotions involuntarily leak out, occur as a direct result of an emotional experience or
feeling. So, when you feel sad or happy (two of the suggested universal emotional expressions mentioned earlier), your face will naturally re lect those
feelings, unless you deliberately try to mask the expression.,ch04,ch04intro,sec4.1,sec4.2,sec4.3,sec4.4,sec4.5,ch04summary&content=all&c…
Paying attention to and accurately interpreting the facial expressions of others is an extremely important skill you must acquire to be a competent
communicator. Ekman (1999) also found that emotional expressions are crucial to the development and regulation of interpersonal relationships. Facial
expressions are involved in forming attachments with people in infancy as well as in courtship, and they are associated with the regulation, increase, and
decrease of aggression. As with all forms of communication, nonverbal messages may be unclear or ambiguous, so providing feedback or questioning
someone to make sure your interpretation of facial expressions is correct is an essential part of the communication process. Doing so assists in creating
shared meaning and taking responsibility for your communication behavior—two communication competence principles we discussed in Chapter 1.
Eye Behavior
One of the most important aspects of nonverbal communication is eye behavior.
Were you aware that every culture has unwritten rules about when it is permissible
to look at someone, where you can look, and how long you can look? For example, in
the United States, strangers usually think nothing of stopping someone on the street
who is pushing a stroller to gaze at the baby, and caregivers usually think nothing
about letting them do so. In Japan, however, direct eye contact makes many Japanese
people uncomfortable and may be interpreted as an attempt to intimidate or an
indication of hostility. Instead, it is advisable to gaze at a person’s forehead or chin
most of the time (Gesteland & Seyk, 2002).
Eye behavior communicates in many important ways. You can widen, narrow, close,
or roll your eyes. You can raise and lower your gaze, and you can wink. Laughter is
also re lected in the eyes, and they become bright when you laugh; however, your
eyes can also glaze over when you are bored, and tears can fall from your eyes with
sadness (Esposito, Bratanic, & Keller, 2007). Your eyes can send messages of love,
hate, dominance, and empathy, and they are important indicators of your feelings.
Christopher Robbins/Iconica/Getty images
█ You can use eye gaze to monitor the other communicator during a
The act of ixing your eyes on someone is called eye gaze. When you communicate conversation and determine when it is your turn to speak.
with another person, eye gaze serves two primary purposes: (1) to help you monitor
the conversation and know when it is your turn to speak and (2) to obtain feedback
(Esposito et al., 2007). Eye gaze typically does not involve steady ixation on one location on the face. Our gaze tends to move around the other person’s face in
brief ixations, primarily on the other person’s eyes and mouth. Having someone gaze at you can be pleasant, especially if you look at someone you are
attracted to and he or she returns your gaze. However, if you gaze at a person to the extent that it causes discomfort, the person may interpret the eye
behavior as threatening or intimidating.
Your voice reveals a great deal about you. Your vocal quality or tone, rate of speech, volume, pitch, and rhythm, along with your silences and the vocal illers
you use when you pause often communicate your feelings, intentions, and meanings in powerful ways. These vocal elements are called paralanguage. When
people are angry, their voices usually get louder and shriller. When tired, their voices are often lat and more monotone. Trainers often instruct people in
customer relations jobs to smile when they talk with customers on the telephone because the facial smile also tends to “put a smile in your voice.”
You can recognize people by their voices. In fact, your individual voice is unique, and you can be identi ied by a voice print, a computer-generated analysis that
can distinguish one person’s voice from another. How often have you heard someone talking as they walked by and knew who they were before you looked
up? In addition to the primary vocal characteristics that give your voice its distinct character, you also use other aspects of paralanguage, such as sounds and
silence, to send nonverbal messages about your attitude. Let’s examine how aspects of your voice and elements of paralanguage contribute to your
communication with others.
The timbre (pronounced “TAM-ber”) of your voice refers to its overall quality and tone and is often called the “color” of your voice. Timbre is often regarded
as one of the primary characteristics of a person’s voice. It is what makes your voice either pleasant or disturbing to listen to. Adjectives often used to describe
the timbre of a person’s voice include clear, brassy, mellow, breathy, resonant, piercing, harsh, nasal, warm, melodious, thin, and lat. Vocal exercises or singing
lessons can assist in changing the timbre of your voice.
One of the most important ways you convey messages with your voice is through pitch. Vocal pitch describes where your voice is on the musical scale and
determines whether singing voices are soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, or bass. Your pitch goes up and down the musical scale as you express different thoughts
and feelings. When you are excited, for example, you usually unconsciously tighten the muscles in your throat, which causes your voice to rise in pitch.
Changes in pitch are called vocal in lection and can affect how interesting you judge a person to be. Someone who speaks at the same pitch all the time, with
no changes in their voice to express emotions, speaks in a monotone, and you may ind it boring and dif icult to pay attention to that speaker. Vocal in lection is
also an important element in creating meaning. For example, try this exercise: Say the sentence “I never said he stole money” six times, emphasizing a different
word each time. The irst time you say the sentence, emphasize the word I: “I never said he stole money.” The second time, emphasize the word never: “I never
said he stole money.” Continue the exercise, emphasizing each of the last four words as you repeat the sentence. Did you get a different meaning from the
sentence each time?
Tempo refers to your rate of speech—how slowly or quickly you talk. Your speech tempo is in luenced by whether you lengthen the syllables of a word (called
a drawl) or shorten the syllables (called clipped speech). It is also in luenced by how fast you deliver the sequence of words in a sentence, by how often you
pause, and by how long you hold that pause between words or sentences. Though tempo is not linked to the language that you speak—meaning that people
who speak different languages do not tend to speak at different speech rates (Vaane, 1982)—the accent that you use can make a difference in your perceived
competence. Giles (1992) found that individuals with different English accents who had a faster vocal tempo were viewed as more competent. Tempo can also
indicate power, self-assurance, or dominance, as when you speak very deliberately and distinctly. On the other hand, if you speak very slowly or hesitate when
you talk, the tempo of your speech can show a lack of self-con idence or suggest that you are uncertain about what you are saying (Poyatos, 2002b).
Nonverbal Vocalizations
Some of the vocal features that can convey meaning are speci ic sounds, noises, and behaviors called nonverbal vocalizations. These vocalizations include
laughing, crying, shouting, sighing, gasping, panting, yawning, coughing or clearing the throat, spitting, belching, hiccupping, and sneezing. These behaviors,,ch04,ch04intro,sec4.1,sec4.2,sec4.3,sec4.4,sec4.5,ch04summary&content=all&c…
sounds, and noises—along with others humans can produce such as “grrr” to indicate anger or frustration, “psst” to get someone’s attention, or “ah” when we
see a beautiful sunset—help us express our ideas and feelings without words (Poyatos, 2002b). Vocalizations can be voluntary or involuntary, but they modify
our communication and send a nonverbal message.
Pauses and Silences
The presence or absence of pauses or moments of silence, how often they occur, and how appropriate or inappropriate they are to the conversation can be
important messages in our communication. “I do not want you to disturb me” is the message of the person sitting next to you in an airplane if he or she
remains silent and does not initiate conversation or greet you when you arrive, and most of us get the message (Penna, Mocci, & Sechi, 2009). In addition,
giving someone “the silent treatment” is one method of expressing that we are upset with someone, though this communication message is linked to
destructive relationship outcomes such as decreased romantic relationship commitment (Wright & Roloff, 2009) and adult child–parent relationship
dissatisfaction (Rittenour et al., 2019). Interestingly your use of the silent treatment with one of your parents can also negatively impact your own self-esteem
(Rittenour et al., 2019), suggesting that silence can harm how you view yourself as well as your close relationships. As such, be carefully strategic about using
silence when you are upset, or this vocalic message runs the risk of building a communication barrier between you and your loved ones.
In recent years, researchers have begun focusing on the study of touch, called haptics, and how it contributes to interpersonal communication. Indeed,
physically touching another, says Dacher Keltner, a psychology researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, is the irst nonverbal cue that we learn, and
it remains “our richest means of emotional expression” throughout our lives (Carey, 2010, para. 3).
Touch can be receptive, such as when we receive a pat on the back. It can also be
expressive and convey a wide range of emotions from a slap in anger to a gentle
touch that communicates empathy to a high ive that expresses jubilation. A touch
can soothe and comfort or it can push someone away. Touch can often convey a
wider range of emotion than a gesture and sometimes more quickly and more easily
than words. In a series of experiments, volunteers tried to communicate a list of
emotions by touching a blindfolded stranger. The participants were able to
communicate eight distinct emotions, from gratitude to disgust to love, some with
about 70% accuracy (Carey, 2010).

Touch can be expressive and convey a wide variety of emotions—
often more than can be expressed by a gesture.
Across and within cultures, people often object to being touched, unless it is by
someone with whom they are in a close relationship and to whom they have given
tacit approval for the touch. In a business environment, a handshake is one
exception, particularly in the United States upon meeting someone or leaving. A high
ive or ist bump has also become popular as an informal touch among friends or
peers—but not with people in positions of authority, unless they initiate the gesture.
Kissing and extended periods of touch, in contrast, are typically reserved for
romantic partners or our immediate family members. Therefore, consider your
relationship when you touch another person; that is your best guide to what type of
touch to use and how long it should last.
Touch is also related to our physical health in a number of different ways. For
healthcare providers, touch can communicate caring while also helping to exert their professional in luence (Kelly et al., 2018). For example, physicians who
lightly touched their patients on the forearm when seeking a verbal promise for them to take their prescription medication received more compliance than
physicians who asked for the same promise without touch (Gué guen & Vion, 2009). For patients, touch can reduce anxiety related to medical procedures and
may reduce physical and behavioral symptoms of dementia. Speci ically, patients whose hands were held during cataract surgery conducted with a local
anesthetic experienced signi icantly less anxiety than patients whose hands were not held (Moon & Cho, 2001). Further, dementia patients receiving
therapeutic massage or touch engaged in less physically aggressive behavior than patients who did not (Wu, Yang, & Wang, 2017). Together, these studies
show the bene its and power of touch for both patients and providers.
Personal Space/Proxemics
Another nonverbal cue that affects interpersonal communication is the use of physical space. The study of physical space is known as proxemics. This term
was irst suggested by anthropologist Edward T. Hall in his 1966 book The Hidden Dimension. Hall (1966) suggested that, in the United States, communicating
with others happens from one of four primary personal space distances. Your personal space can be thought of as the invisible bubble you carry around your
body at all times. These distances, which Hall referred to as spatial zones, are illustrated in Figure 4.3.
The intimate zone, a distance of between 6 to 18 inches, is reserved for close, intimate relationships. A distance of 18 inches is about the length of
your arm, so at an intimate distance, you can literally reach out and touch someone.
The personal zone, from about 18 inches to about 4 feet, is the distance used for everyday encounters. This is the distance that feels most
comfortable to Americans when they carry on a casual conversation with a friend or coworker. At this distance, people can move their arms around
freely to gesture, without inadvertently touching someone, and this distance allows a normal tone of voice and volume.
The social zone, a distance of approximately 4 to 12 feet, is sometimes known as a business distance. It is the distance generally used in business
meetings at a large conference table and at other formal occasions. Most of ice desks are between 30 and 42 inches wide, so if one person sits at a
chair behind the desk and another person sits on the opposite side of the desk, the two individuals will be positioned in this social zone to carry on a
formal conversation such as a job interview.
The public zone, between 12 and 25 feet, is the distance maintained by public igures when they speak to an audience, such as at a podium in a formal
public speaking situation.
Figure 4.3: The four primary distances in U.S. culture,ch04,ch04intro,sec4.1,sec4.2,sec4.3,sec4.4,sec4.5,ch04summary&content=all&c…

Hall (1966) proposed that communication can occur in four distinct
personal distance zones: intimate, personal, social or business, and public.
Source: Adapted from Hall, E. T. (1966). The hidden dimension. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
It is interesting to observe behavior when these personal spatial zones are violated. In a crowded elevator, for example, people are often unable to maintain at
least 18 inches between themselves and other people. Instead, they may be forced to stand within someone else’s intimate zone. Some people try to deal with
this invasion of space in one of two ways. First, they will try to create as much distance between themselves and others as possible. The irst person getting
into the elevator will usually stand as far as possible to one side, the second person will stand at the opposite side, and a third person will stand in the middle,
equidistant from the other two. Second, all three people will generally face forward and minimize their nonverbal signals. They will usually avoid eye contact
with one another and reduce their facial expressions and body movements.
The distance between people can also send messages about the nature of their relationship. For example, Figure 4.4 illustrates a typical of ice arrangement in
which two people sit across a desk from each other. This positioning puts people at a social or business distance from each other where communication tends
to be more formal. Studies also show that this positioning tends to promote competition or is the distance that people maintain when they do not like each
other (Hill, Rivers, & Watson, 2008). Simply moving one chair to the side of the desk, as shown in Figure 4.5, reduces the distance between people and puts
them at a personal distance from each other. Communication at this distance tends to be more relaxed and informal, and people tend to sit next to or adjacent
to those with whom they have a cooperative relationship.
Figure 4.4: Social or business

Sitting or standing across from
someone tends to be the typical
distance for more formal
Figure 4.5: Personal zone

Moving a chair can change the social
distance to a personal distance and create a
more informal communication environment.
Everyday Communication Challenges (,ch04,ch04intro,sec4.1,sec4.2,sec4.3,sec4.4,sec4.5,ch04summary&content=all&c…
The following interactive scenario invites students to practice identifying and making distinctions between forms of
nonverabl communication.
4.4 Verbal and Nonverbal Communication in the Digital Age
Verbal communication is an essential part of communicating in our increasingly online world. Mediated communication channels, especially ones that allow us
to directly interact with others such as mobile phones and social media, rely primarily on language to achieve shared meaning. This is not to say that we only
communicate using verbal messages in online environments; as we discussed in Chapter 1, we can use emojis, “likes,” photos, punctuation, and capitalized
words as nonverbal symbols that provide additional meaning to the words we write. We can also now communicate using videoconferencing technology and
online videos on our computers, tablets, and mobile phones—devices that allow both verbal and nonverbal messages to be encoded and decoded. As in our
face-to-face interactions with others, both verbal and nonverbal messages are important when we communicate via mediated channels. Though we have not
yet perfected a way to touch or smell one another over mediated channels, our current digital nonverbal communication is an improvement over earlier
channels, such as pagers, fax machines, e-mail, and listservs, which relied almost exclusively on written text. The following section describes the unique
importance of both verbal and nonverbal communication in the digital age.
Verbal Communication in Mediated Contexts
As we noted above, we simply could not communicate online without verbal communication, usually in the form of written language. When computermediated communication (CMC) began to grow and became a common way for us to communicate, communication researchers became more interested in
understanding how communicating via CMC was different from interacting face-to-face. This early research on the differences between CMC and face-to-face
interactions found that users rated CMC as less personal, more negative and task-oriented, and more focused on the self because online environments
predominantly relied on verbal communication (Walther, 1992). Now, however, there is less of a division between CMC and face-to-face interactions because
there are a greater variety of online and mediated methods of communication, and mediated audio and video technologies are increasingly available. In other
words, though we once relied on e-mail text that we read on a computer screen, we can now use our smartphones to instantly snap and share photographs
online and to video chat with our friends via Skype or FaceTime. The addition of these sounds and visuals means that nonverbal communication is more
prevalent online; together, nonverbal and verbal communication provide us with more information and context when communicating via mediated channels.
But unlike in face-to-face interactions, where we derive 60–65% of meaning from nonverbal communication (Burgoon, 1994), verbal communication—be it via
text message, social media posts, tweets, blog entries, or e-mail—is still the primary currency in our digital interactions with others. In fact, the sheer number
of verbal messages that are exchanged via digital and new media is staggering, and this growth is primarily due to increased mobile phone use. Indeed,
mediated verbal messages that once were only able to be sent and received via a computer are now also available on mobile phones, including e-mail, social
media, online video games, video chatting, and text messaging. According to Domo (n.d.), almost 13 million text messages were sent worldwide per minute in
2018, and almost 47% of the world’s population, or 3.8 billion people, had access to the Internet. Further, Americans prefer texting rather than calling on their
smartphones (Jaye, 2018), and texting is the most common method teens report using to get in contact with a close friend (Lenhart, 2015).
Using mediated channels to communicate verbal messages, be it via texts, social media posts, or e-mail, can provide you with time to construct your message
and a permanent record of what you said, and this can be helpful when you are engaging in formal interactions or with business and professional associates.
The speed, convenience, and permanence of texting likely contribute to its frequent and preferred usage. Compared to other ways that we can interpersonally
communicate, texting does not offer as many message cues (Burgoon et al., 2002), which can provide additional context, such as the emotions that an
individual is feeling, or even contradict the verbal message entirely, such as when one’s tone of voice indicates that the person is being sarcastic about what
she is saying. However, advances in texting now allow us to insert emojis, GIFs, photos, sound iles, and videos, providing an array of nonverbal communication
messages that were not available even a few years ago. In fact, social media messages that include an emoji were rated as easier to understand and more
believable than messages with no emoji or an emoji inappropriate for the message’s context (Daniel & Camp, in press). Further, emoji use can assist in
distinguishing between members of individualistic and collectivistic cultures: by examining emoticon (or emoji) usage patterns on Twitter in relation to
Hofstede’s national culture scores and national indicators across 78 countries, Park, Baek, and Cha (2014) found that people within individualistic cultures
favor horizontal and mouth-oriented emoticons like :), which are more expressive and re lective of these cultures’ encouragement of emotional expression,
while those within collectivistic cultures favor vertical and eye-oriented emoticons like ^_^ that suppress communication of feelings (Park et al., 2014). Thus,
we are now able to provide a wider range of nonverbal communication information via emoji usage in texts and social media posts, which not only contributes
to greater understanding, but also indicates in luences from our cultural membership.
Nonverbal Communication in Mediated Contexts
Compared to verbal communication, researchers and communicators initially considered digital or mediated contexts less useful channels for nonverbal
communication. Consider CMC in the online classroom: Online you do not have the bene it of facial expressions, vocalics, and other nonverbal cues that you
would have in a physical classroom, but you have more opportunities to contribute than you would have in a physical classroom where time constraints and
group size may limit the number of people who can participate in a discussion. As another bene it of nonverbal communication online, it is also possible to
transmit auditory nonverbal signals in digital contexts. In addition to still images, devices with built-in cameras allow users to send and receive videos. On
YouTube, almost 4.5 million videos are viewed per minute (Domo, n.d.). Videoconferencing applications such as Skype, Zoom, and FaceTime also allow
individuals to see, hear, and speak to one another in real time, over great distances, and with relative ease. We can “like,” “love,” or “share” posts on social
media, easily stream high quality video on our mobile devices, and we can cycle through multiple pro ile photos to determine how to visually represent who
we are to others (Hum et al., 2011).
As we have mentioned before, social media now makes it easier for us to send and receive nonverbal messages through visual channels. Some social media
platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat primarily rely on communication through visual images. Such platforms have exploded in popularity with social
media users in the last few years. According to the Pew Research and Internet Center, 73% of Americans visit YouTube (which is more frequently used than
Facebook), 35% use Instagram, and 27% use Snapchat (Smith & Anderson, 2018). Research inds that Instagram users who frequently post photos of
themselves may do so to display a strategic individual “brand” that communicates their carefully curated visual identity to others (O’Donnell, 2018). But these
visually-based social media posts can impact relationships as well: con lict related to romantic partners’ Instagram sel ie-posting behaviors was positively
related to negative relationship outcomes (Ridgway & Clayton, 2016), suggesting that visually presenting oneself on this social media site can take a toll on
romantic relationships.
Options for communicating via mediated channels are continuously emerging, and as they do you should respond by adapting your verbal and nonverbal
messages to communicate competently and achieve shared meaning in these digital and online contexts. Simply having these additional mediated channels to
communicate provides you with more options for interacting with others. Shifting seamlessly back and forth between face-to-face and mediated
communication with a relational partner can increase how satis ied we are with that relationship (Caughlin & Sharabi, 2013) and can provide us with,ch04,ch04intro,sec4.1,sec4.2,sec4.3,sec4.4,sec4.5,ch04summary&content=all&c…
adaptability and lexibility in our interpersonal communication with others. (See the IPC in the Digital Age feature to learn more about social norms in online
IPC in the Digital Age (,ch04,ch04intro,sec4.1,sec4.2,sec4.3,sec4.4,sec4.5,ch04summary&content=all&c…
4.5 Developing Verbal and Nonverbal Communication Competence
You have already begun the work of becoming a more competent communicator by increasing your knowledge of language and how language works. Our
ability to communicate both verbally and through mediated channels has a signi icant impact on our interpersonal communication.
Nonverbal communication is also an important aspect of interpersonal communication. People vary in their ability to send and receive nonverbal messages,
and dif iculty understanding or interpreting nonverbal messages can be a serious challenge in interpersonal communication, particularly for individuals with
health conditions such as ASD, PTSD, or TBI, and can compromise our communication competence. Success in your personal life, in school, and in the
workplace thus depends on your communication skills now more than ever. To be a competent communicator, it is important to analyze your own
communications, observe how others communicate, and learn how to practice and adjust your skills in different contexts. Language skills include the ability to
speak and write well and an understanding of grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and language usage. However, research shows that another crucial
skill is the ability to adjust language, make appropriate language choices, and accurately interpret messages (Halliday & Webster, 2004). These are speci ic
examples of the skill, knowledge, and motivation factors in facilitating communication competence, so understanding and implementing these skills can
improve your communication competence.
Similarly, if you pay more attention to your own nonverbal behaviors and those of the people with whom you interact, you can make appropriate nonverbal
communication choices too. Doing so will increase your knowledge, which then will help you to be a more motivated and skilled nonverbal communicator. The
following strategies emphasize actions you can take to continue to improve both your verbal and nonverbal communication competency in a variety of
Analyze Your Own Communication
When you communicate, be conscious of the language you use and the nonverbal signals you send. Consider
the purpose (What is my goal in this interaction?),
receiver (Who am I communicating with in this interaction?), and
topic (What are we communicating about in this interaction?) of the communication.
Taking all three of these factors into account, as well as any additional important in luences such as intercultural communication differences or potential
communication barriers such as time restrictions, will allow you to be mindful about the interaction. This, in turn, will help you tailor and craft how you will
communicate either ahead of time or in the moment as the interaction unfolds. Try this exercise:
Make a video of yourself talking with a friend or family member. Then review the video and critically analyze the language and types of nonverbal
signals you use during the interaction. Is your word choice and vocabulary suitable for the situation, for the context, and for the topic of the
interaction? Is your language biased or neutral? Then listen to your voice and consider the different vocalic elements. Also observe your body
language and determine how you use your eyes, your face, your body, touch, and personal space when you interact with the other communicator.
Using Table 4.5, assess each of the issues concerning your vocal and visual behavior and ask the other communicator to perform the same
Table 4.5: Assessment of vocal, visual, and touch behavior
What adjective could be used to describe your voice? For example, is it harsh, commanding, shrill, or melodious? Is it pleasant
or unpleasant?
Does your voice have suf icient vocal variety?
Do you vary the pitch of your voice to keep listeners interested in what you have to say?
Do you talk at a rate of speech that allows people to follow you easily, or do you speak too quickly or too slowly at times?
Do any nonverbal vocalizations or dysfluencies interfere with your vocal effectiveness and appropriateness?
In what areas of your vocal communication do you think that you excel? What areas could use some improvement?
Do any of your vocal characteristics distract from or conflict with your verbal message?
Eye behavior
Do you generally make eye contact with people during a conversation?
Have you been told that you make extended eye contact that could be construed as staring?
Do you look at people appropriately or do you have any tendencies to violate norms about where you look?
Facial expression
Do you make facial expressions such as frowning or scowling of which you are not conscious?
Are your facial expressions natural?
Do you smile appropriately or inappropriately?
Do your facial expressions communicate that you are friendly or aloof?
Body posture and
Do you nod your head appropriately to provide feedback to others when they communicate?
Do you lean forward when you interact with others to show interest in them?
Is your body posture open and friendly, or do you tend to look uncomfortable in the presence of others?
Hand and arm gestures
Do you gesture naturally when you talk to reinforce your verbal messages?
Do you gesture so much that you appear flighty or nervous?
Do you hide your hands, keep them at your sides, or fold your arms, which can make you appear unapproachable?
Personal space
Do you stand too close or too far away from others?
Do you move closer and farther away from others along with the natural flow of conversation?
Do you notice others moving away from you when you are speaking with them?,ch04,ch04intro,sec4.1,sec4.2,sec4.3,sec4.4,sec4.5,ch04summary&content=all&c…
In what areas of your visual communication do you think that you excel?
What areas could use some improvement?
Do any of your visual characteristics distract from or conflict with your verbal message?
How much do you touch others? Are you aware of how much others seem to want to be touched during a conversation?
Does touching come naturally to you or do prefer not to touch or be touched?
Do you touch others in a way that is appropriate for your relationship or the situation?
How do others react when you touch them? How do you respond when you are touched?
Do they (or you) stiffen up or seem comfortable?
In what areas of your haptic communication do you think that you excel?
What areas could use some improvement?
Do any of your touch messages distract from or conflict with your verbal message?
The more you know about your communication choices, the better able you are to evaluate the appropriateness of your choices and to adjust the
communication as needed. This allows you to be more appropriate in your communication, contributing to your communication competence. Strive to use
language that is most suitable to the situation, language that is not biased or unethical, and to be cognizant of how your body language, vocalics, touch, and
treatment of personal space affect your interactions with others.
Observe How Others Communicate
Develop a habit of observing others in interpersonal communication settings, especially during your own interactions with others. Just as you monitor your
own language choices and nonverbal signals, observe how others behave in different interactions. Pay attention to their language, vocal, spatial, and touch
techniques. Consider how they use body language to build rapport.
Sometimes it is a good idea to match the verbal and nonverbal communication styles of the other communicator. Consider again communication
accommodation theory (CAT), which was introduced in Chapter 3. How does the communication either converge or diverge during an interaction? What
happens if the communicator overaccommodates? Table 4.6 provides some examples of elements that you can monitor during an interaction.
Table 4.6: Verbal and nonverbal elements to monitor during an interaction
Communication types
What to look for
Spoken or written language
Is the language used formal or informal?
Is the language used appropriate for the situation or context in which the interaction is taking place?
Does the communicator use jargon or language that is not easily understood?
Does the verbal message correspond with or contradict the nonverbal messages that are being used?
What type of touch is occurring (e.g., kiss, handshake, hug)?
What emotions or moods are being expressed via body movement or the facial expressions?
How close or distant are the communicators from one another?
Do both seem comfortable with the amount of space that is between them?
Practice and Adjust Your Communication Skills
Develop strategies for improving your verbal and nonverbal communication skills, and be sure to practice. For example, reading as much as possible can be an
excellent way to build your vocabulary. A similar strategy can also help you identify elements of nonverbal communication that you can improve and practice.
Consider again Table 4.5 and your assessment of your nonverbal communication. See Table 4.7 to learn more about other strategies that can help you practice
and improve such communication skills. But be aware that you may need to adjust your language and nonverbal communication for different interactions.
Table 4.7: Strategies for practicing and improving your communication skills
Read frequently, and read a variety of sources, such as newspapers, books, and
even social media posts.
To ind and learn new terms and understand and
use them in new contexts
Have a large and varied vocabulary to give you more word choices.
To help you encode and decode language
accurately and appropriately
Offer feedback to other communicators about how you interpret their messages by
rephrasing: “Let me make sure I understand” or “Are you saying that . . .,” for
To help you and the other communicator negotiate
and agree upon meaning in an interaction
Assess your nonverbal communication behaviors.
To learn how you uniquely nonverbally
communicate and identify possible areas of
Use feedback from others to adjust your nonverbal communication.
To better re lect the social norms of an interaction
or the personal preferences of another
Summary and Resources
Communication serves a wide range of needs in our lives, and language is the primary code we use to communicate with others. Language can be formal or
informal. As children, you irst learned the instrumental function of language as a means of expressing your needs, wants, and desires. As you became older
and began to master your native language, your words began to help you form and maintain relationships.
We sometimes tend to take our use of language for granted, but good verbal skills are essential for personal and professional success, and they are critical to
forming and maintaining relationships. Words are powerful tools; they create your reality, re lect your attitudes, and have multiple intentions and
interpretations. Words do not have inherent meanings; rather, meanings are in people and are sustained and transmitted by culture. Meanings are always
personal and are the result of many factors, including your personality, experiences, and the context in which the communication occurs. This interactional
function of language helps you de ine yourself and your membership in groups and aids you in persuading others. Language also allows you to create worlds
that do not exist in the physical realm but only in your imagination, to participate with others in social customs, and to help establish your identify and
distinguish yourself from those around you.
Language can be a primary communication vehicle during interactions, but nonverbal cues are also an important aspect of interpersonal communication.
Nonverbal communication is the transmission of messages without the use of words, and this type of communication includes a wide range of vocal and visual
signs and behaviors. Nonverbal messages have different characteristics, but they share common purposes; they primarily communicate your emotions and
attitudes and contribute information to your conversations about how you are feeling and what you are thinking. They can also be a way to provide feedback
to others, to show interest in them, and to help you regulate and maintain your conversations with other people. Some of the messages you send nonverbally
are conscious and intentional, but many are innate aspects of your voice and body that you cannot easily change. Still, other nonverbal communication is
unconscious and the result of habits you have developed.
Nonverbal messages serve a variety of functions in interpersonal communication either in combination with or instead of verbal messages. You send messages
to people by means of both nonverbal vocalizations and visible signs. Primary vocal characteristics, such as the quality and tone of a voice, are unique to each
individual. But other vocal features, such as sounds, noises, behaviors, and pauses and silences, also contribute to your interpersonal communication.
Similarly, some body language is personal and has meaning only to the communicators, but other visual signs convey a standard, shared meaning in a
particular culture. When some visual signals, such as hand gestures, are used outside a speci ic culture, they may have entirely different interpretations and
thus be misinterpreted.
You can improve both your verbal and nonverbal communication skills by analyzing your communication, observing others as they communicate, and
practicing and adjusting your communication. Some ways to improve your verbal communication competency are to improve your vocabulary, to increase
your awareness of the language you use, to make appropriate language choices, and to adapt your language to communication situations. It is important to
provide feedback and check for understanding to make sure that both the sender and the receiver of the communication share the meaning of words, and you
must modify your language to ensure that your use of language is appropriate. The same is true for nonverbal communication. It is important to be more
aware of what signals you send and how such signals are interpreted because you are then better able to adjust your behaviors for different interactions. Over
time, this higher level of attention to both your verbal and nonverbal communication will help you increase your overall interpersonal communication
Critical Thinking and Discussion Questions
1. Think again about the discussion from Chapter 3. What do you think is the relationship between language and culture? How do they interact with one
another, speci ically in your dominant culture?
2. In what ways are denotative or connotative meanings uniquely important in achieving shared understanding in an interaction?
3. Recall a conversation where someone used discon irming or biased communication toward you. How did you respond and how did this response alter
the tone of the interaction?
4. Think about a recent interaction you had. Did you derive more meaning from nonverbal or verbal communication in that encounter? Why was that
type of message more important?
5. What form of nonverbal communication do you tend to focus on when communicating with others? Why do you think that you emphasize this
particular type of nonverbal communication?
6. Consider the different forms and functions of verbal and nonverbal communication discussed in this chapter. Are there other functions of both verbal
and nonverbal communication?
Key Terms
Click on each key term to see the de inition.
A word or gesture that relates to an idea or concept that exists only in the mind and does not represent a tangible object.
The mixture of emotions communicators can experience and express during an interaction.
Language that presents an attitude that is not objective or balanced, is prejudiced, or uses words that intentionally or unintentionally offend people or express
an unfair attitude concerning a person’s race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disability, or illness.
con irming
A message that provides a basic acknowledgement that the other person in an interaction is present, accepted, and that the relationship is important.
A personal association you have with a certain word or the emotional meaning or impact of the word to you.
A language that may not be recognized legally but is informally recognized as the most known or used.
The dictionary de inition or descriptive meaning of a word.
A variety of a language that is spoken in a geographic or social group of people that differs in grammar, pronunciation, and structure from others’ use of the
same language.
discon irming
A mess…

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