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Nonverbal Communication and its Misconceptions
Interpersonal Communication:
Nonverbal Communication and its Misconceptions
Chris Appelman
University of Kentucky
Nonverbal Communication and its Misconceptions
Nonverbal communication is found in our everyday lives whether we recognize it or not.
This form of communication is often misinterpreted because we are constantly sending and
receiving messages many different ways and we base many of our decisions off of these
messages. Since non-verbal communication can affect the choices we make and how we interpret
a message, it is clearly important not to send the wrong message because of nonverbal
communication. With something as important as nonverbal communication, what are some of
these signals that can be misinterpreted?
Learning from nonverbal communication is imbedded in our life at an early age. In a
study by Wyman, Rakocy, and Tomasello, their goal was to find out how early humans can pick
up on nonverbal communication (Wyman, 2013). They developed a game called “Stag Hunt,”
where a group of four year old children would receive small awards throughout the game such as
rabbits or squirrels. At the end of the game, the four year old children would be given a choice
by an adult whether or not to gamble all of their awards they achieved throughout the game for
the “stag” which was the ultimate price. The study showed that the children picked the adult with
the more positive tone to gamble all their earnings with. Tone is one of the more important
factors of communication. You want to match the correct tone with the same style message you
are trying to give. During another study, a group of nursing students were asked to identify the
behavior of two people who, unknown to the students, were reading a script of “Romeo and
Juliet” in Spanish (Albardiaz, 2011). At the end of the experiment the nursing students discussed
the results and how many of them were wrong in their findings. They made comments such as
how they had to think from a different perspective. General Practitioners have to learn how to be
able to diagnose a patient based off of his or her nonverbal communication such as tone.
Nonverbal Communication and its Misconceptions
Not only do General Practitioners need an understanding about tone, but body language
and gestures is a key form of nonverbal communication. The relationship between doctor and
patient is a fragile one. Doctors and nurses have to be able to pick up on nonverbal behaviors
from the client as well as manage their own. When discussing symptoms and procedures with a
patient, these doctors and nurses don’t want to give off the vibe that they don’t care for the
patient. In “The Journal of Clinical Nursing,” Chan interviews sixteen different nursing students
about their nonverbal sensitivity and how different factors influence this (Chan, 2013). They all
talked about how important positive body language was for maintaining the relationship. Not
only do these nursing students agree about how important body language is in nonverbal
communication, but in a survey taken by Benzer, teachers take into account the body language of
the student when grading their work (Benzer, 2012). In this study, Benzer interviewed one
hundred different teachers, all with different specialties and subjects they taught in and asked
them multiple questions about body language in the classroom. Not only did many of the
teachers form opinions of the body language of their students, but they all showed a care for their
own body language and felt that their own nonverbal actions affected the performance of the
students. The success of a classroom has, and always will reflect the performance of the teacher.
Teachers are always trying to find the best ways to educate their students and they recognize that
body language is a key factor to success in the classroom.
Body language can translate into many things, one of which is also a nonverbal factor
that must be taken into account; dress. In an analysis of student-teacher evaluation forms, it is
found that professional dress is highly valued by most institutions (Simmons, 1996). In this
article, Simmons talks about how the way a teacher dresses reflects his or her discipline in the
classroom. It’s not only in the classrooms where this is found, but in the “British Medical
Nonverbal Communication and its Misconceptions
Journal,” Rushton talks about the importance of dress for professional physicians (Rushton,
2005). He goes on to say that the way physicians are seen by their patients and colleagues is
influenced by the way they dress. One of the most scrutinized jobs in America is judged on every
aspect of nonverbal behavior; the politician. In an article by Demir, he discusses how people
make judgments on their candidates by the way they dress such as tie color, the size of their
American flag pen, and what suit they are wearing (Demir, 2011). He goes on to say that
communication is 55% body language and how every aspect of body language such as dress,
must be taken into account when the politician is conveying a message.
As humans, we send and receive messages constantly whether we recognize it or not.
They key is to be able to recognize those messages we are sending through nonverbal signals and
controlling them. Simple things such as the way we dress, the tone of our voice, or our gestures
through body language all leave lasting impressions. 55% of communication is through
nonverbal actions which means people only take 45% of what we actually say into account.
From Teachers to Politicians, to Physicians and Nurses, nonverbal communication affects us all
and is important for us to recognize, interpret, and control.
Nonverbal Communication and its Misconceptions
Albardiaz, R. (2011). Teaching non-verbal communication skills. Education for Primary Care,
22(6), 423-424.
Education, 132(3), 467-473.
Chan, Z. (2013). A qualitative study on non-verbal sensitivity in nursing students. Journal of
Clinical Nursing, 22(13/14), 1941-1950.
Demir, M. (2011). Using Nonverbal Communication in Politics. Canadian Social Science, 7(5),
Pawlikowska, T., Zhang, W., Griffiths, F., van Dalen, J., & van der Vleuten, C. (2012). Verbal
and non-verbal behavior of doctors and patients in primary care consultations – How this
relates to patient enablement. Patient Education & Counseling, 86(1), 70-76.
Rushton, D. N. (2005). Medical dress code. BMJ: British Medical Journal (International
Edition), 330(7501), 1182.
Simmons, B. (1996). Teachers should dress for success. Clearing House, 69(5), 297.
Wyman, E., Rakocy, H., & Tomasello, M. (2013). Non-verbal communication enables children’s
coordination in a “Stag Hunt” game. European Journal of Development Psychology,
10(5), 597-610.