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Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal Communication

Author: Zach Lamb

Recognize the role of nonverbal communication.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello, welcome to sociological studies. Today we're going to talk about the importance of nonverbal communication. It's been noted that about 2/3 of communication happens nonverbally. That's a staggering amount.

So nonverbal communication is extremely important. Our facial expressions, gestures, body movements, eye contact, or lack thereof, and touches, for example, all combine to either support what we're saying with our words. Or even undermine what we're saying with our words.

The goal of good communication is to align your body language with what you're saying verbally. And the rules of nonverbal communication and what nonverbal communication means is socially constructed. It's never written down and studied, but you learn it through socialization. Through being a member of society.

So personal space, where you place your body, is a socially constructed aspect of body language. And different cultures have different parameters governing how close you can get to somebody through personal space. So personal space is really just space nearest your body that you can claim as your own.

So this center circle is your personal space. And we have concentric circles around personal space and the use of space. So in our culture, you really get too close to somebody you don't know and have that be OK.

Suppose you're riding the city bus home late at night, relatively empty bus, you're sitting there. Somebody gets on and rather than going and taking an empty seat 10 feet away, farther back down the bus, they decide to sit right next to you. That's going to unnerve you. Just moving their body through space like that is violating our cultural constructions of how to move and comport yourself.

You're going to think, well, what is this person trying to do? Do they want to, like, rob me? Are they going to try to hurt me? Instantly, you impute to them some kind of malicious intent. Like, well, what are they doing? Why are they this close to me?

You're doing this because they are violating our culturally encoded notions of how to move your body through space, personal space. What's fascinating about personal space is how it is constructed through society and social interaction. And how we give different meanings to different forms of nonverbal communication.

Like winks, for example, and the face. Using the face is the most powerful channel of nonverbal communication. If any of you are Seinfeld fans, you might remember an episode where George get some grapefruit in his eye at breakfast and that causes him to walk around and wink involuntarily the rest of the day.

And so our culture understands a wink to mean certain things. It can mean you're being let in on a secret, it's some kind of covert way to acknowledge like, hey, I want you to do this, I know what you're saying.

So then it gets George into all kinds of problems because he's winking involuntarily the rest of the day. And it's a violation then of our cultural ways to wink. That we understand nonverbal communication.

So geologist, Erving Goffman, said we communicate in two ways. We have expressions that we give with our words. And expressions that we give off with our body language and demeanor. Demeanor just being the overall way that we carry ourselves in interactions. Our postures, facial expressions, the combined experience of watching us. That is our demeanor.

And Goffman was interested in, like I said, expressions we give versus expressions we give off. And when we're communicating verbally and nonverbally, when we're interacting with somebody, we're taking a face, a term of Goffman's. And a face is a posture that is striven for in social interaction.

A little more clearly then, a face is a stance you take, a line you take, a position that you take in social interaction. And we may wear many faces simultaneously throughout our life.

So this idea of professionalism. When you go to work, you put on a face of professionalism. But when you go home, you can take off that face of professionalism around your friend. This idea of professionalism is nothing more than a recognition of having a face.

And given that a face is something we wear, a line we try to take, or something that's cultivated, we want to not lose face. We want to save face or keep face. So losing face can be embarrassing for us. We want to avoid it at all costs.

So if you're at the office and you are talking about something inappropriate in front of your boss, this could cause you to maybe lose face. And you lose your face of professionalism in the eyes of your boss. And this could be uncomfortable for all parties involved.

And could result in embarrassment, which is a public loss of face. Or more simply, just the discomfort of making a social error publicly. So we want to avoid embarrassment as much as we can. And if our body language, of the expressions that we give off, don't necessarily align with the expressions that we give, this can send others a meaning we don't intend and could cause us to lose face. Could cause us embarrassment.

Suppose I could see you watching this tutorial sitting at your desk and I see that you're slouching in your chair, talking on your cell phone, eating, doing anything like that. And then we would meet outside this format and you tell me that you thought the tutorial was great, and you loved it, and you can't wait to watch more.

Well, I might think, well, no, the expression you were giving off doesn't match the expression you give. And I might call you out on it. Which would cause embarrassment.

So we want to avoid that. In social interaction, embarrassment is be mitigated at all costs. We want to give people a positive impression of ourselves and good commission can do that. Aligning these two things.

Along with keeping face, keeping positive images of ourselves, impression management, making sure others see us in a positive light, is this idea of idealization. It's a process. Something we try to do.

Idealization is the process of trying to create positive images of ourselves. It's the act of convincing others, and maybe even ourselves at times, that what we're doing and why we want to do it reflects cultural values and socially sanctioned values. Rather than more selfish motivations.

So if you're volunteering for some kind of organization to do some kind of charity work, you might idealize your motivations for doing that. You might really want to do it to improve your resume or something. OK, I volunteered at the Red Cross, look at what this gets me.

That might be the real reason why a lot of people do altruistic volunteer activities, but you don't want to say that. You want to try to convince others and yourself that what you're doing reflects culturally sanctioned motives.

Like, I'm volunteering for the Red Cross because it's a really noble thing to do and it's great to help others. So you want to conceal those selfish motivations. And that's idealization.

Well, thank you very much for joining me. I hope you enjoyed this introduction to nonverbal communication. Have a great rest of your day

Terms to Know

The way that people carry themselves, an overall aspect or presentation.


Discomfort after making a social error.


Occurs when people create highly favorable impressions of themselves and their intentions so as not to appear selfish.

Losing Face (Erving Goffman)

The idea of face relates to the notion that one's presentation of self is a mask that people work to maintain in social situations, thus losing face is the result of a social mis-step that results in emotional pain or embarrassment.

Nonverbal Communication

The process of communication through relaying and receiving cues transmitted using body language, gestures, touches, and movements.

Personal Space

The region surrounding a person that they regard as private.