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NSE - Interpersonal Communication: Verbal/Non-Verbal Communication

The following lesson explores select topics in communication. Such topics include the communication process, self-awareness, verbal and nonverbal communication, self-monitoring, and building communication skills.

Verbal Communication

Verbal communication is the use of sounds and words to express yourself. Spoken and written language can both be considered verbal communication as they both involve the usage of words to share an idea. Believe it or not, there are "rules" to language. These rules guide how words are pronounced, the order the words should be placed, what words mean, and how they can be interpreted. The rules tend to be generally known and widely accepted within a specific culture (i.e. geographic location). Communicating in diverse environments can prove challenging because different cultures have different rules. Additionally, the language used to convey meaning is often shaped by things like cultural norms, ethnic background, age group, gender, experiences, prior knowledge, and perspective.  

Let's take a look at what happens when people use the same words that have different meanings. Click the play button below to watch “Communication: Sender/Receiver, Abbott & Costello Comedy Routine” for a comedic example of a potential verbal communication breakdown.

As you can see, the two individuals believed they were using the same words to answer each other's questions, but their interpretations of the words were different. Without seeing them written, one could end up in an endless loop as depicted in the sketch. When using verbal communication, remember not to assume someone's understanding of the words you use simply based on the pronunciation, but rather leave room for clarification. 

Your language can also vary based on situational factors such as your setting, the nature of the conversation, and the person you are speaking with. Imagine you got into a big argument with your significant other. What language would you use to describe the situation to your best friend? What about a child or a grandparent? How would your language vary if you told the story on a cramped elevator, at a backyard barbeque, or in your professor's office? 

Simply put, the language you use is shaped by who you are and can adjust based on a variety of factors. 

New Student Tip: The language you use when communicating with faculty and staff should be appropriate to the higher education environment. This includes face-to-face, electronic, and virtual communication. For a deeper look into this concept, please enjoy this video on How to Speak to Professors. Once you finish watching the video, press the back button in the web browser to return to this page. 

Pause and Reflect

Now that you know a little more about verbal and non-verbal communication, consider your natural communication habits. Think about the words you use and how you use them. Also, consider how your natural habits vary based on your emotions, environment, the topic, and who you are having a conversation with.  

Use the following document to assist in your reflection. To open the document, click on the blue link below. Download the document to your computer and the chart as directed. Be sure to save your answers and keep a copy for your records.  

Next, click on the Self-Awareness & Self-Monitoring tab.

Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication is defined as "behaviors and characteristics that convey meaning without the use of words" (Floyd 178). It includes things like facial expressions, posture, eye contact, and gestures. Click the play button below to watch “Types of Nonverbal Communication” for more information about nonverbal communication.


Sometimes, nonverbal and verbal communication occur simultaneously. For example, if someone asks you a question and you shrug your shoulders while saying "I'm not sure", you are relaying verbal and nonverbal messages at the same time. In this example, your nonverbal messages are reinforcing your verbal messages. In other instances, nonverbal and verbal messages conflict with each other. Click the play button below to watch "If Waiters Were Honest" to see potential disconnects between your verbal and nonverbal communication.


For another example, let's say you are working on a group project with one of your classmates, Courtney. Courtney is always smiling and greets everyone with a warm, handshake or hug. Today, Courtney walks into your group meeting and does not smile or give handshakes or hugs. Instead, Courtney throws her backpack on the desk. She is frowning, her eyebrows are furrowed, and her lips are pursed. You think something is wrong, so you ask Courtney if she is okay. Courtney responds by saying "Yes, I'm fine." While Courtney's verbal message says nothing is wrong, her nonverbal messages suggest otherwise. 

These examples shed light on a few characteristics of nonverbal communication. According to Floyd, nonverbal communication:

  • is present in most conversations
  • usually conveys more information than verbal communication
  • is believed over verbal communication
  • is the primary means of communicating your emotions

New Student Tip: Your nonverbal communication in the classroom can not only create a negative or positive impression of you, but it can also impact the classroom environment overall. Click here to watch a clip from Freedom Writers, and pay close attention to the nonverbal cues of the students and how they influence the atmosphere in the room. Consider what each student was able to discover about one another through body language alone, and what the teacher was able to learn about her students' experiences through nonverbal communication. Once you finish watching the video, press the back button in the web browser to return to this page. 

Gamble, Teri K. and Michael W. Gamble. Interpersonal Communication: Building Connections Together. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications Inc., 2014. Print.

Gamble, Teri K. and Michael W. Gamble. Communication Works. 10th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2010. Print.

Floyd, Kory. Interpersonal Communication. 3rd edition. New York: McGraw Hill Education, 2017. Print. 

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