Nonverbal Communication and How Gestures and Movements Work

by: Desi Indrawati


Communication is the transfer of information from one person to another. Most of us spend about 75 percent of our waking hours communicating our knowledge, thoughts, and ideas to others. However, most of us fail to realize that a great deal of our communication is of a non-verbal form as opposed to the oral and written forms. Nonverbal communication includes facial expressions, eye contact, tone of voice, body posture and motions, and positioning within groups. It may also include the way we wear our clothes or the silence we keep (Davaninezhad, 2009).

In person-to-person communications, our messages are sent on two levels simultaneously. If the nonverbal cues and the spoken message are incongruous, the flow of communication is hindered. Right or wrong, the receiver of the communication tends to base the intentions of the sender on the nonverbal cues he receives. In addition, the ability to understand and use nonverbal communication is a powerful tool that will help you connect with others, express what you really mean, navigate challenging situations, and build better relationships at home and work.

From a different point of view, symbolic communication must involve” (a) a socially shared signal system, that is, a code, (b) an encoder who makes something public via that code, and a decoder who responds systematically to that code.” in other words, if the behavior is not overt, has no meaning shared among observers, and does not produce a predictable response, it is only a sign, an inference made by an observer rather than a message sent by an encoder. However, nonverbal expressions give salient clues, additional information, and meaning, and mark polite or impolite over and above verbal communication.

Nonverbal communication comes in many forms. The four kinds of nonverbal communication are kinesics, proxemics, paralanguage, and chronemics (Hickson, 2010). Then, Lunenburg, Fred C. (2010) stated that kinesics is body movements that include gestures, facial expressions, eye behavior, touching, and any other movement of the limbs and body.

Hickson, (2010) also stated that People tend to gesture more when they are enthusiastic, excited, and energized. Facial expressions convey a wealth of information. The particular look on a person’s face and movements of the person’s head provides reliable cues as to approval, disapproval, or disbelief. Eye contact is a strong nonverbal cue that serves some functions in communication.

Meanwhile, Church and Goldin-Meadow (1986) conducted a study in which five- to eight-year-old children were asked to explain their judgments about quantity invariance in a Piagetian conservation task. They informed that when explaining, some children’s gestures contained different information from their accompanying speech, such as they said “The dish is wide” while gesturing both the shortness and the wideness of the dish. While spontaneous hand movements produced in rhythm with speech are called co-speech gestures and naturally accompany all spoken language. People from all known cultures and linguistic backgrounds gesture (Feyereisen and de Lannoy, 1991), and gesture is fundamental to communication. Indeed, babies’ gestures before they produce their first words (Bates, 1976). In conclusion, gestures are central to human cognition and constitute an effluent element of human communication across cultures; even congenitally blind individuals use gestures when they talk.



Bates, E. (1976). Language and Context: The Acquisition of Pragmatics. New York, NY: Academic Press.

Church, R. B., and Goldin-Meadow, S. (1986). The mismatch between gesture and speech as an index of transitional knowledge. Cognition 23, 43–71. doi: 10.1016/0010-0277(86)90053-3

Davaninezhad, Forogh K. (2009). Cross-Cultural Communication and Translation. . Translation Journal, 13(4).

Feyereisen, P., and de Lannoy, J.-D. (1991). Gestures and Speech: Psychological Investigations. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Hickson, M. (2010). Nonverbal communication: Studies and applications. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Lunenburg, Fred C. (2010). Louder Than Words: The Hidden Power of Nonverbal Communication in the Workplace. International Journal of Scholarly Academic Intellectual Diversity, Volume 12, Number 1.