There is a proverb “Actions speak louder than words.” In essence, this underscores the importance of non-verbal communication. Non-verbal communication is especially significant in intercultural situations. Researchers in communication suggest that many more feelings and intentions are sent and received non-verbally than verbally. Mehrabian and wiener following suggested that only 7% of message is sent through words, with remaining 93% sent non-verbal expressions (depending on the author, verbal part goes up to 35%). It has multiple advantages or functions:
Advantages of non-verbal communication:
- Complementary: Non-verbal cues complement a verbal message by adding to its meaning. You can pat someone you offended at the back as you say sorry to him or her.
- Easy presentation: Information can be easily presented in non-verbal communication through using visual, audio-visual and silent means of non-verbal communication.
- Substituting: Non-verbal messages may substitute for the verbal message especially if it is blocked by noise, interruption, long-distance, etc. for example; gestures-finger to lips to indicate need for quiet, facial expressions- a nod instead of a yes.
- Accenting: Often used to accent a verbal message. Verbal tone indicates the actual meaning of the specific words.
- Repeat: Used to repeat the verbal message (e.g. point in a direction while stating directions.)
- Help to illiterate people: This type of communication use gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, proximity, touching, etc. and without using any spoken or written word. So, it is very much helpful for illiterate people.
- Help to handicapped people: Non-verbal cues of communication greatly help in handicapped people especially to deaf people. Deaf people exchange messages through the movements of hands, fingers, eyeballs, etc.
- Attractive presentation: Non-verbal communication is based on visual, picture, graph, sign, etc. that can be seen very much attractive.
- Reducing wastage of time: The message of non-verbal communication reached the receiver very fast. For this reason, it reduces the wastage of valuable time of the communicator.
- Quick expression of message: Non-verbal cues of communication like sign and symbol can also communicate some messages very quickly than written or oral messages.
Disadvantages or limitations of non-verbal communication:
Despite of advantages of non-verbal communication, it is not free from its limitations or disadvantages which are:
- Vague and imprecise: Non-verbal communication is quite vague and imprecise. Since in this communication, there is no use of words or language which expresses clear meaning to the receiver. No dictionary can accurately classify them. Their meaning varies not only by culture and context but by the degree of intention.
- Continuous: It is possible to stop talking in verbal communication, but it is generally not possible to stop nonverbal cues. Also, spoken language has a structure that makes it easier to tell when a subject has changed, for instance, or to analyze its grammar. Nonverbal does not lend itself to this kind of analysis.
- Multi-channel: while watching someone’s eyes, you may miss something significant in a hand gesture. Everything is happening at once and therefore it may be confusing to try to keep up with everything. Most of us simply do not do so, at least not consciously.
- Culture-bound: Non-verbal communication is learned in childhood, passed on to you by your parents and others with whom you associate. A few other gestures seem to be universal. Evidence suggests that humans of all cultures smile when happy and frown when unhappy. However, most nonverbal symbols seem to be even further disconnected from any “essential meaning” than verbal symbols. Gestures seen as positive in one culture (Like the thumbs-up gesture in the USA) may be seen as obscene in another culture.
- Long conversations are not possible: In non-verbal communication, long conversation and necessary explanations are not possible. No party can discuss the particular issues of the messages.
- Difficult to understand: Difficult to understand and requires a lot of repetitions in non-verbal communication. Since it uses gestures, facial expressions eye contact, touch, etc. for communicating with others which may not be understandable for the simple and foolish people.
- Not everybody prefers: Everybody does not prefer to communicate through non-verbal communication with others. Sometimes it cannot create an impression upon people or listeners. It is less influential and cannot be used everywhere. It is cannot be used as a public tool for communication.
- Lack of formality: Non-verbal communication does not follow any rules, formality or structure like other communication. Most of the cases, people unconsciously and habitually engaged in non-verbal communication by moving the various parts of the body.
- Costly: In some cases, non-verbal communication involves huge costs. For example, neon signs, powerpoint presentations, cinema, etc are very much costly compared to other forms of communication.
- Distortion of information: Since it uses gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, touch, sign, sound, paralanguage, etc. for communicating with others, there is a great possibility in distortion of information in non-verbal communication.