7 types of non-verbal communication skills (with examples)

7 types of non-verbal communication skills (with examples)
JobStreet content teamupdated on 09 August, 2023

All human relationships are based on communication. Speaking is not the only way to express them.

Some messages are communicated more powerfully when you do not speak at all. More than half of the time, your body does the speaking. This aspect is called “non-verbal communication.”

Over 65% of human communication is unsaid. This underlines the importance of non-verbal communication.

We’re here to guide you on your first step in mastering non-verbal communication skills. You can apply these to your work–and in all life situatio

7 types of non-verbal communication

jobseeker smiling to her job interviewer

1. Facial expressions

The 43 muscles in our face allow us to express a range of emotions, which serve as non-verbal communication cues. There are seven universal facial expressions:

There are currently seven emotions for universal facial expressions :

  • joy
  • surprise
  • contempt
  • sadness
  • anger
  • disgust
  • fear

When you raise your eyebrows, you show doubt or disagreement. When you frown, you show that you are upset. A smile has always been associated with happiness.

2. Body language

Gestures or kinesics are the most common type of non-verbal communication. You express an idea or message by moving different body parts.

Typical examples are nodding your head or waving your hands. You also point with your fingers or give a thumbs-up to a colleague.

Gestures are also influenced by culture. Filipinos are known for pursing their lips to point to something. At restaurants, they ask the waiter for their bill with a hand gesture. They make a shape of a rectangle with their hands. They wave their hand as if they were signing something in the air.

In or out of the workplace, your posture can indicate confidence and authority. But it can also signal the complete opposite. Standing tall creates a commanding presence to those around you. Slouching makes you appear timid or tired.

3. Eye contact

According to a Michigan State University study, increased eye contact demonstrates a person’s credibility. It also displays their dominance and confidence. On the other hand, lack of eye contact makes one look submissive.

Cultural norms on eye contact influence how these gazes are interpreted. In Western countries, eye contact is a sign of confidence. In Asian and Middle Eastern countries, however, people see eye contact as rude or aggressive.

In Filipino parenting culture, parents glare at their children. This functions as a signal for their child to stop whatever he or she is doing. It is a form of warning or control.

4. Tone of voice

Communication goes deeper than the words we speak. The way we say it also says much about the message we are trying to convey. This is what we call paralanguage.

Paralanguage focuses on the overall effect that your voice is trying to convey. This includes intonation, pitch, speed, and even volume. From these, the audience will sense either your anxiety or confidence.

We use paralanguage when we sigh. We use it when we increase our tone of voice or emphasize a word. We use it even when we stutter.

One vital part of paralanguage is vocal cues. Vocal cues are the variations in the sound of our voices when we talk. These include tone and volume. They include inflection and pace of speech. All these can change the emotional impact of a message.

For example, clearing your throat means you wish to get someone’s attention. A hissing sound might show contempt.

When you raise your voice or emphasize a word during a speech, it shows that you want the audience to remember that specific word or phrase.

5. Proxemics and personal space

The use of space is an important element in non-verbal communication. For instance, standing close to someone shows comfort and confidence. You are comfortable with the other person. And you are confident in your relationship with them.

But approaches to personal spaces also differ in different cultures. A study by the International Institute of Minnesota shows that Americans value 12 to 15-inch diameters of personal space. If someone stands closer, they consider it as uncomfortable.

In other cultures, this circle of personal space is larger. In Asian cultures, they require people to stand farther away. In Mongolia, when two people bump into each other, they first shake hands. This establishes the appropriate personal distance.

On the other hand, Latin and Middle East cultures often have smaller circles of personal space. If you move away from the person, they might try to close the gap again.

Establishing personal space shows your relationship with someone. The closer the two of you are, the more intimate your relationship is. It allows us to express a relationship's intimacy level and emotions.

6. Touch and haptic communication

The sense of touch also conveys a message. It is one of the most intimate types of non-verbal communication. It helps a person interpret their relationship with people. Communicating through touch is calledhaptic communication.

Haptic communication is a way to understand the person you are dealing with.

Ways of expressing haptic communication vary in different cultures. In the United States, touching one’s forearm is considered a socially polite gesture. In business settings, a firm handshake communicates confidence in the other person.

In some Asian cultures, bowing replaces the handshake.

In casual and family settings, there are more variations. Filipinos, for example, show their respect to elders through “Mano po” or taking the hand of the elder and bringing it to one’s forehead.

7. Appearance and attire

Completing the list is the most visual of all verbal cues: appearance.

Appearance describes the way you present yourself in every situation. Although it may seem superficial, people tend to form a general idea of a person through their clothing and overall appearance.

Research from Princeton University found that it takes only a tenth of a second for a person to decide if you are trustworthy. The study also found that people perceive people who smile and have feminine features as trustworthy.

Another study by Polish researchers showed that people see men and women who have tattoos as dominant and aggressive.

Dress code is another aspect of non-verbal communication. Clothing can convey personality and culture. It communicates interests, values, and financial status.

A 2013 study found that participants rate men in tailored suits as more successful than those who wore ready-to-wear suits.

Wearing appropriate attire also shows your importance in a given occasion. Inappropriate or sloppy attire appearance communicates the opposite.

How to improve non-verbal communication skills

woman chatting with her colleagues using a laptop while smiling

Now that you know the types of non-verbal communication skills, it’s time to apply them to your situation. Here are ways you can improve your non-verbal cues.

Build self-awareness

Improvement starts with knowing what you can do and what you still have to learn. You make most of our non-verbal cues unconsciously. Because of this, you might convey the wrong message. We might deliver too little or too much information.

Pay close attention to the other person’s body movements. Note their eye contact and gestures. Note their tone of voice and other non-verbal cues. By paying attention to other people’s behaviors, you will learn from their actions. You can improve your own non-verbal communication skills.

Practice active listening

Active listening goes deeper than hearing. When we listen actively, we understand the meaning of a message. We unlock its intent.

To be an active listener, be fully present in the conversation. Observe the speaker’s non-verbal cues. Non-verbal cues say a lot about a person and their message. For example, when the person talks slowly, it means they choose words carefully.

Active listening involves your participation. Our non-verbal cues become part of the process. Maintain proper eye contact to show interest. Nod your head at the points you agree with.

Listen to understand. Withhold judgment. Ask open-ended questions. This shows you are interested in the conversation and the person.

Reflect on the thoughts and emotions you captured during the conversation. You may summarize what you heard. Give the other person a chance to agree or disagree with your insights. This also allows clarification on key discussion points.

Active listening is essential. This applies especially to the workplace. Active listening helps you understand problems more deeply. You can craft solutions more quickly.

Also read: How To Improve Communication Skills? Here Are 5 Ways To Do It

Seek feedback

Feedback is important to improving your non-verbal communication skills.

Practice your non-verbal cues in front of your family, friends, or coworkers. Perform a sample speech. Re-enact a possible conversation. Ask them if they understand your non-verbal cues. This lets you make sure that the receiver understands the message. If they don’t, change your non-verbal cues.

Examples of non-verbal communication

man using sign language

Now let’s apply non-verbal communication skills in life situations. Take note of the relevant non-verbal cues you can use to approach every scenario.

Nonverbal communication in job interviews

Standing straight conveys confidence, reliability, and authority. Slouching demonstrates a lack of energy, enthusiasm, and confidence. Employers wouldn’t want these in an employee.

Eye contact shows confidence in answering the interview questions. It tells the interviewer that you can engage in the conversation. It shows you are eager to share your thoughts.

There are some non-verbal cues we cannot control. Among them are facial expressions. Microexpressions show suppressed emotions. They let the interviewer peek into your subconscious.

Interviewers usually trust facial expressions. They are automatic and voluntary. They can gauge a person and the trustworthiness of their answers. Interviewers also pay attention to the pauses.

First impressions are dictated by the way you dress. Clothing conveys your personality and interests. It may convey your interests and values. This is why it’s important to dress for the occasion. It shows how much you value the other person. It also shows how much you value the job. You want the interviewer to see you as a professional. You want them to see you as someone who can represent their company well.

Use appropriate gestures during the interview. Nod or tilt your head to show you are actively listening. Show understanding and enthusiasm. Small hand and arm gestures will show passion and emphasize important parts of your message.

All these non-verbal communication skills will contribute to the success of your job interview.

Nonverbal communication in public speaking

Body language is crucial in public speaking. It makes or breaks your speech.

Gestures to avoid include:

  • moving around too much
  • hiding behind a desk
  • turning your back to the audience
  • aggressive hand movements

These show anxiousness. This prevents you from connecting with your audience.

Good body language is a great way to connect with your audience. It helps them understand your message.

Begin by establishing eye contact with them. The audience usually decides within seconds if they trust the speaker. This begins as you enter the stage. Smile at them immediately. Make them feel comfortable.

Your tone of voice shows the character of your message. It’s not about what you say. It’s about how you say it. Your tone of voice also builds confidence and authority. Use this to express your feelings. Speak more naturally and realistically. It will keep your audience interested.

Nonverbal communication in romantic relationships

Communication is one of the foundations of romantic relationships. Interestingly, most are non-verbal. In fact, non-verbal communication skills are crucial in maintaining healthy relationships.

Make eye contact to show interest. Listen to your partner's conversation. On the other hand, not making eye contact can be taken as being dishonest.

Simple gestures are good ways to show your affection. Hold hands or hug your partner. However, public displays of affection depend on one’s culture. Filipinos, for instance, are modest and conservative in public.

During disagreements, be wary of negative habits. Don’t roll your eyes. Avoid curling your hands into fists. These show negative emotions. They can blow the problem out of proportion. Filipinos tend to point or put their hands on their hips to express disappointment.

Actions speak louder than words. Non-verbal communication increases assurance and understanding. It leads to longer and healthier relationships. You can tell what a person truly feels without saying it. Knowing non-verbal cues will help you understand your partner.

Nonverbal communication in conflict resolution

You can end conflicts without saying a word. It’s possible with non-verbal conflict resolution.

Resolve conflicts by recognizing non-verbal communication. This will help you know their genuine emotions. You can tell what a person feels through their body language and facial expression.

Keeping the arms closed is a sign of frustration and tension, so is putting the head down or shaking the head. Other examples are lip-biting and making a fist. De-escalate tension by giving the other party space to think. Reassure them with a tap on the shoulder.

Present a focused and calm demeanor during conflicts. Keep proper eye contact. Speak in a calming voice. Make the other party feel at ease. Show them you respect them. Let them know you wish to solve the problem.

Conflicts are great learning opportunities to practice non-verbal communication skills. You may even improve them. These skills help you control your emotions. The more you are aware of non-verbal cues, the more you’re emotionally mindful, leading to conflict resolution.


woman explaining things with gestures to her client

Non-verbal communication is an important part of human relationships. Master the seven types of non-verbal communication skills to help solve communication problems.

Improve your non-verbal skills through the following steps: Build self-awareness. Practice active listening. Be open to constructive feedback.

Use non-verbal cues to perform well at job interviews. Be better at public speaking and private relationships. You can also use them to solve conflicts.

Don’t worry if you can’t master all the non-verbal communication skills. You can master them over time. Persistence and patience are necessary.

Frequently asked questions

  1. Can non-verbal communication skills be learned, or are they innate?
    ⁠Non-verbal communication skills are primarily innate and instinctual. Non-verbal behavior like facial expressions, body language, eye contact, and gestures are usually expressed voluntarily, making us unaware of their participation in our interpersonal interactions. These non-verbal cues become naturally ingrained in our day-to-day lives.
  2. How important is non-verbal communication in comparison to verbal communication?
    ⁠Non-verbal communication is more important than verbal communication, comprising 80% of every conversation. People resort to non-verbal communication whenever the two conflict to know the conveyed message. This is so because these non-verbal cues are innate and voluntary and, thus, cannot be faked.
  3. Are there any universal non-verbal communication cues?
    ⁠According to Charles Darwin, in his book The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, there are six universal facial expressions - happiness, surprise, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust. So wherever you are in the world, when a person smiles, it most likely means that they are happy.
  4. How can I improve my non-verbal communication skills in virtual settings?
    ⁠Although you are speaking to a screen, still practice eye contact by looking directly at the webcam. Similarly, resist the urge to open a new tab or scroll through your timeline. Turn off all the notifications and focus on the virtual meeting by practicing active listening. Maintain proper posture, occasionally smile, nod, and ask relevant questions to affirm your interest in the conversation.
  5. How can I tell if someone is lying based on their non-verbal cues?
    ⁠Spot when a person is lying when you see them blinking too fast or too slow. Looking down or to the left and right is also associated with dishonesty.
    ⁠Be wary of the hands as liars gesture with their hands more frequently than those who are telling the truth. A high-pitched voice is also a sign that a person is lying. When a person is nervous, their vocal cords tighten, causing their voice to sound high-pitched.
  6. How can I improve my ability to read other people's non-verbal cues?
    ⁠Practicing active listening. Be fully present in the conversation. Observe the other person’s facial and body gestures. Understand their paralanguage.
  7. How can I become more aware of my own non-verbal cues during a conversation?
    ⁠Pay attention to your communication style. Know your habits. You’ll be able to gain more control of your signals, whether verbally or nonverbally.
  8. What is the role of non-verbal communication in building rapport and trust?
    ⁠Use non-verbal cues well to show positivity, openness, and interest. Make proper eye contact. Give a genuine smile. Speak with a soft tone.
  9. How can non-verbal communication techniques help in conflict resolution?
    ⁠Non-verbal cues should show respect and openness. Maintain eye contact. Use a calming voice. Communicate your willingness to listen and resolve the issue.
  10. Are there any specific non-verbal cues that indicate interest or disinterest in a conversation?
    ⁠Lean forward and keep your legs relaxed to show interest in a conversation. Fidgeting with hands or legs is a sign of a lack of interest.
    ⁠Facial cues project interest. Constant eye movements and eye-rolling indicate disinterest or disagreement. Eye contact shows interest. Nodding indicates agreement.

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