People in the workplace can convey a great deal of information without even speaking; this is called nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication can convey just as much as written and verbal communication, and human beings read and react to these nonverbal signals in the workplace. Body language is nonverbal communication that involves body movement and gestures. The catalogue of these movements, together with attempts at defining their meaning, is called kinesics. Each culture is believed to possess a separate “language” of kinesics. This branch of study is used in matters of negotiation and interrogation, where reading nonverbal cues is of great importance. There are hundreds of thousands of possible signs that can be communicated through body movements and gestures. In addition to those movements and gestures, the nonverbal cues given through facial expressions and eye contact, personal space, and touch also influence individual interactions in the workplace. While this body language is generally well understood in each culture, there are major cultural differences in nonverbal communication.
Albert Mehrabian, in his 2007 book Nonverbal Communication, focuses on the five categories of nonverbal communication widely used by sociologists. These definitions are used to inspect and learn from movements in social interactions. A movement may belong to more than one of these categories.
The first category is emblem. These are movements so common that there are specific words used to designate them, such as the English “handshake” or “smile.” Emblems often carry inherent meaning and are easy to understand to someone who has experience with them. Gestures, or movements of the head, hands, arms, and legs, can be used to convey specific messages that have linguistic translations. For example, a person might wave his or her hand rather than saying “hello,” or nod his or her head in agreement, which means “yes” or “okay.” These gestures can be very useful in the workplace because they are a quick way to convey thoughts and feelings without needing to speak or write. Additionally, many such gestures are generally widely understood, although they may carry different meanings in other cultures.
The second category is illustrator movements. Illustrators accompany words in natural manners and are used to add meaning to verbal communication. An illustrator may be a particular nod to emphasize a phrase, or a wave of a hand to show an idea. In addition to the gestures that people use that have a particular meaning, people also use gestures that do not have specific, generally understood meanings. These gestures are the illustrators that add meaning to a verbal message. For instance, when giving a presentation, a person might use hand gestures to emphasize a point. Many people use gestures while speaking to others to accompany their words, and while these body movements may not have a meaning that can be pinpointed, they serve to embellish a person's words.
The third category affect display is actions that are paired with emotions, such as the facial movements that indicate disgust or amusement. These body movements may indicate whether a person is open and receptive, angry, distracted, or a number of other emotions. Many affect displays are commonly interpreted; for instance, individuals who sit in a slumped position and frown are believed to be disinterested or unhappy. Those who sit upright, smile, and have raised eyebrows, are seen as interested and happy. While these affect displays are often appropriately interpreted, they may not be related to the interaction with another person, and thus may be misread. For instance, if a person has a terrible headache, he may squint, look down, and grimace during a conversation, indicating to the speaker that he disagrees with her, even if he is receptive to and in agreement with the speaker.
Regulator movements are the fourth category. These actions...