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Engaging in Nonverbal Communication

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Communication is always much more than just a matter of speaking. Aside from your spoken message, there is plenty of other factors to take in mind when analyzing various interactions between people. It’s also important to remember that you can make a message to people without any words at all – you wave your hand to greet somebody, you pat somebody on the shoulder to express compassion and support. There is quite a lot of such nonverbal ways to communicate. According to Chapter 5 of Communication Mosaics, there are ten main forms of nonverbal behavior: kinesics (face and body motion), haptics (touch), physical appearance, olfacticts (smell), artifacts (personal objects), proxemics (personal space), environmental factors, chronemics (perception and use of time), paralanguage (vocal qualities) and, of course, silence.

For this journal entry I have tried to behave in a specific way in order to test the way people react to my behavior, focusing on the nonverbal cues they tend to use. Specifically, I acted nonverbally in ways contrary to social norms and/or expectations in order to see how people would react to my actions.

Firstly, I decided to sit for a while in the doorway of a local convenience store, making it necessary for people to do something to me in order to step inside or outside. I’ve had people ask me what’s wrong pretty often, but that wasn’t what I was really looking for: I was interested in the nonverbal aspect of their actions. One older woman, for example, asked me if there was anything wrong in a gentle, soothing voice and then proceeded to touch my sleeve. She obviously thought there was something wrong, and wanted to help, so she used the paralanguage qualities and haptics appropriate for the situation. On the whole, women and girls were kinder and less stubborn and invasive than men. Quite a lot of women just tried to pass through the door while I was sitting there. As for men, though, several of them actually took me by the arm and tried to make me stand up. Not all men, however. There were two guys that looked pretty shy, and they acted very different: without saying a word they tried to pass through the door, avoiding haptic contact at all costs. So it seems that shy men are less likely to use traditional masculine tactics that often violate personal space.

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In a different experiment, I decided to make an unexpected reaction/response to greetings directed towards myself. So when somebody said “Hi” to me, I responded with a grimace of disgust and a loud “Yuck!”. In other words, my answer to the familiar formula was a totally inappropriate kinesic and paralingual exclamation. The way my friends behaved in reaction to that is quite predictable: most of them just chuckled or dismissed me with an “oh, whatever” or rolled their eyes. The notable difference from the shop doorway situation is that this time I did not prevent people from doing what they needed to do: they had no need to move me aside or make me stand up. So the reactions were pretty indifferent and natural for a person reacting to a silly situation that doesn’t really matter that much. One time I got a similar but longer and louder “Yuck!” in response, but this was probably due to the fact that the person responding was my best buddy: he thought it was a joke and so he carried on with it.

Experiments such as these might allow us to have a deeper insight into the nonverbal behavior patterns which we don’t usually notice in everyday life. We don’t split up our behavior into haptics and kinesics and paralanguage – we just take it all for granted. But if we do take these things apart, it might make us think about ourselves and then try and improve the way we behave or at least to know the way we have to behave in order to achieve things we want to achieve.        

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