Non-verbal communication is communication by means of elements and behaviours that are not coded into words. A glance, a star, a smile, a frown, a provocative body movement - they all convey meaning. Nonverbal communication includes all elements of communication, such as gestures and the use of space, that does not involve words or do not involve language. Porter has defined four aspects of non-verbal communications:

  1. Physical: pertaining to the personal method, i.e., facial expressions, tone of voice, sense of touch, smell and body motion.
  2. Esthetics: Creative expressions such as those found in music, dancing or any of the creative arts.
  3. Symbolic: Conveying messages through symbolic representations of reality; includes religious, status or ego-building symbols.
  4. Sign: mechanical means of conveying messages such as bills, buzzers, locks on doors, etc.

The important categories of non-verbal communication include:-


Proxemics refers to the influence of proximity and space on communication. The study of an individual's perception and use of space, including territorial space, is called proxemics. Territorial space refers to bands of space extending outward from the body.

These bands constitute comfort zones. In each comfort zone, different cultures prefer different types of interaction with others. Typically there are four zones of territorial space.

  1. Intimate Zone: (touching to two feet): This space is normally reserved for closest family and friends. In this zone, we interact with spouses, significant others, family members and others with whom we have an intimate relationship.
  2. Personal Zone: (two to four feet): Family and friends may enter this zone without causing discomfort. Friends typically interact with this distance.
  3. Social Zone (four to twelve feet): The person comfortably interacts with others in this zone. Most business transactions take place within the social zone. We prefer that business associates and acquaintances interact with us in this zone.
  4. Public Zone (twelve feet to as far as the person can hear and see): This is the most distant zone at which communication can occur. Most of us prefer that strangers stay at least 12 feet from us, and we become uncomfortable when they move closer. Lectures and other formal presentations take place within this zone.

In general, a person who moves into a closer zone of personal space is signalling a desire for greater closeness. When the receiver of this non-verbal message interprets it as a request for more closeness than is desirable, the receiver probably will feel uncomfortable and try to move away. Territorial space varies greatly across cultures. People often become uncomfortable when operating in territorial space different from those in which they are familiar.


Kinesics is the study of body movements, including posture. Like proxemics, kinesics is culturally bound; there is no single universal gesture. Kinesics behaviour refers to body movements, such as gestures, facial expressions, eye movements and posture. We often draw conclusions regarding people's feelings about an issue, not only from their words but also from their non-verbal behaviour, such as their facial expressions.

  1. Facial Expressions: The face is a rich source of nonverbal communication. The face often gives unintended clues to emotions the sender is trying to hide. Although smiles have universal meaning, frowns, raised eyebrows, and wrinkled foreheads must all be interpreted in conjunction with the actors, the situation and the culture.
  2. Eye Behaviour: Eye behaviour are used to add cues for the receiver. Eye contact can enhance reflective listening, and it varies by culture. In India, a direct gaze indicates honesty and forthrightness. Appropriate use of eye contact signals interest in the other person.
  3. Gestures: Some people use gestures extensively; others communicate little through this channel. In India, the handshake is a widely used gesture. People often use the handshake as a source of information about another person's characteristics. A strong, firm handshake is seen as a sign of confidence and enthusiasm.

Para language

Para language refers to vocal aspects of communication that relate to how something is said rather than to what is said. Voice quality, tone of voice, laughing, and yawning fit in this category. People make attributions about the sender by deciphering (make sense of; interpret or decode) para language cues. Rapid, loud speech may be taken as a sign of nervousness or anger. Vocal tone includes pitch, loudness, rhythm, rate, and clarity of speech. The standards for what is comfortable vary from one culture to another.

Object Language

Object language refers to the communicative use of material things, including clothing, cosmetics, furniture and architecture. A work area adorned with expensive objects communicate high status.


Employees' work areas are, in a sense, their territory. The way people arrange themselves and others within their territory also conveys messages. In a meeting or training session, arranging chairs in rows signals that participants will be lectured to and encourages passive behaviour. Arranging chairs in a circle signals that active participation is encouraged. When interviewing or meeting with someone in his or her office, a manager sends different messages depending on whether the manager remains behind the desk or joins the other person in comfortable chairs on the same side of the desk.

Physical Appearance

Aspects of personal appearance such as clothing, hairstyle, jewellery and makeup communicate people's values and social group. In the workplace, the norms for appropriate physical appearance depend on the industry, job, and organizational culture. People who fail to live up to these norms typically create a bad impression. Their physical appearance is interpreted as meaning they either do not understand their role or do not care about fulfilling it.

It is important for the receiver to be alert to these nonverbal aspects of communication.

You should look for nonverbal cues as well as listen to the literal meaning of a sender's words. You should particularly be aware of contradictions between the messages.

Nonverbal communication is important for managers because of its impact on the meaning of the message. However, a manager must consider the total message and all media of communication. A message can only be given meaning in context, and cues are easy to misinterpret. The figure below presents common nonverbal behaviour exhibited by managers and how employees may interpret them. Nonverbal cues can give others the wrong signal.

Common Nonverbal Cues from Manager to Employee

Common Nonverbal Cues from Manager to Employee

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Principles of Management and Organisational Behaviour Topics