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Nonverbals are often ambiguous, yet we believe them more than we
believe verbal messages (Beebe 7e, pp. 188-192; Limitations p 213;
Canvas Readings for Ch07)
• The meaning of nonverbals is highly ambiguous.
Provide several examples (from your own lived experience or from
your knowledge of other cultures) that illustrate this principle.
Ambiguous nonverbal communication can happen for a few different reasons. People use
the same nonverbal cues to communicate a variety of different meanings, and they use a
variety of nonverbal cues to communicate the same meaning. Some nonverbal cues are
body movements, facial expression, a person’s visual appearance, and a person’s use of
space, touch, and clothing. Nonverbal communication is also a way that one can
communicate their feelings, attitude, and emotions.
Examples of ambiguous nonverbal communication are:
-Suppose you are standing close to someone because you can’t hear what he or she is
saying. That person may take it that you may have feelings of affection towards them.
-You may be having a conversation with someone and you stop and pause because you are
thinking about what to say next. The person you are talking with may take that cue as you
are lying to them instead.
-I sigh a lot out of being content. My boyfriend still asks me what’s wrong every time.
Nothing is wrong I’m just content.
-Another thing that I have noticed that I do since reading this chapter is whenever someone
is talking to me I cross my arms. This may come across as I’m uninterested or that I’m
closed off. I do it unintentionally while I’m concentrating on what the person is saying.
-When someone is talking to me and I am really paying attention, I move my mouth with
theirs, I don’t say anything I just move my lips. Some people think I’m making fun of them
when in fact I am not. I also do this unintentional.
-I also believe that some try to read between the lines. They may see what they want to see
instead of what is really being re-laid by nonverbal cues. If you feel that someone doesn’t
like you, you’re probably going to pay more attention to he or she way they act when they are
around you and you may interpret their actions as negative.
There are also cultural differences in nonverbal communications because nonverbal
communication is social constructed.
-In Western cultures putting your head down is a sign of low self-confidence, but in the
Japanese culture it is a sign of respect.
Why are nonverbals so ambiguous? Refer to the Transactional
Model of Communication (you may refer back to Canvas
Readings for Ch 01) in your answer.
The “transactional approach to communication suggests that no single cause explains why
you interpret messages the way you do” (p. 10). When you talk to someone face-to-face,
you are reading their response with your eyes. Watching for nonverbal cues in how they
react. You may be misinterpreting what they are saying though with facial expressions or
body language due to what is going on around you and what kind of noise (interferences)
you are experiencing. Also if there is a change in the communication system it may influence
any other element of communication. The Systems theory explains just that. It’s the “theory
that describes the interconnected elements of a system in which a change in one element
affects all of the other elements” (p.9).
Why isn't it possible to "read someone like a book"?
Anyone can misinterpret nonverbal communication cues. Much of our nonverbal
communication is done unconsciously therefore we only have limited awareness of it or
understanding of it (p. 188).
• Although nonverbals are ambiguous, we trust them more than verbal
messages as we interpret others’ meanings. Why?
Should we stop relying on nonverbals so much for meaning? Explain your
answer in depth.
I don’t think we should stop relying on nonverbals. I agree with Psychologist Alber Mehrabian
from the reading that says, “93 percent of the emotion meaning of our messages are
nonverbal” (p. 189). I have read a book Called The 5 Love Languages and one of the love
languages I read about is “touch”. Physical touch is my boyfriend’s language and that is all
done nonverbally. He interprets my touch as love and that speaks louder to him then me
telling him I love him. Touch can also be reassuring. Just as many of us believe the cliché,
Actions speak louder than words. And “nonverbal messages are more difficult to fake”
(p.189). You can also use nonverbal cues to detect when someone is lying. The ideas of
nonverbal cues to be used to identify when someone is lying has been used since the
1700’s. The Polygraph was invented in 1908 to pick up on emotional nonverbal cues and is
still used today.