Chapter 4: Nonverbal Communication

When we think about communication, we often focus on exchanging information using words. While verbal communication is important, humans relied on nonverbal communication for thousands of years before we could communicate with words. Nonverbal communication generates meaning using behaviour other than words (Depaulo & Friedman, 1998). Rather than considering nonverbal communication as the opposite of or separate from verbal communication, viewing them as operating side by side is more accurate — as part of the same system.

The content and composition of verbal and nonverbal communication also differ. In terms of content, nonverbal communication tends to communicate emotions more so than verbal communication. In terms of composition, although there are rules of grammar that structure our verbal communication, no official guides govern our use of nonverbal signals. Likewise, there are no dictionaries and thesauruses of nonverbal communication as there are with verbal symbols. Finally, whereas we humans are unique in our capacity to abstract and transcend space and time using verbal symbols, we are not the only creatures that engage in nonverbal communication (Hargie, 2011).

These are just some of the characteristics that differentiate verbal communication from nonverbal. In this chapter, we will discuss in more detail the principles, functions, and types of nonverbal communication and conclude with some guidance on improving our nonverbal communication competence.


Depaulo, B. M., & Friedman, H. S. (1998). Nonverbal communication. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (pp. 3–40). McGraw-Hill.

Hargie, O. (2011). Skilled interpersonal interaction: Research, theory, and practice. Routledge.


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Professional Communication Skills for Health Studies Copyright © 2023 by Chute, A., Johnston, S., & Pawliuk, B. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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