Communication is diverse and does not have to be verbal only. Interpersonal communication utilizes both verbal and nonverbal cues and they both have to be taken into consideration when interpreting the real meaning of any message.
Communication is highly contextual and an analysis of the message conveyed must take into consideration the various factors that would impede on proper communication.
Gestures can be used in place of verbal communication but it is not obvious that one kind of gesture when used in one place will mean the same in another context. However there are conventions in body language that rarely change regardless of the location.
Paying close attention to such body language is crucial to be able to discern the meaning of the various emotions displayed.
1. Personal space
Research on interpersonal communication has established that the aspect of space differs with the region in question, religion, culture and age. In all situations however there is a personal space that is maintained between two people communicating. The most common space ranges between one and two foot.
For the initial steps towards an interaction this space is wide but grows shorter as two people become more familiar with each other. This space is shorter in intimate interactions and will grow wider as intimacy levels decline. For non-intimate situations, any attempt to forcefully reduce the personal space is taken as invasion of privacy and is usually met with disapproval.
The need to maintain personal space can be interpreted to mean disinterest or guarded caution. Again when one of the parties seems more interested in reducing the personal space than the other it is a sign of imbalance in the interaction. Paying close attention to the behavior of your partner during communication especially in regard to personal space will give hints as to how he or she feels about the interaction.
Touching or the lack of it can convey a strong message about how two people feel about each other. Touching is a crucial body language and can portray a lot about a relationship. In most cultures, handshakes and hugs are crucial signs of familiarity and mutual warm feelings towards each other. In most regions it is considered rude to ignore a handshake and there are various kinds of handshakes depending on the age and social strata.
The other kind of touch that signifies much is kissing. A kiss on the chick displays affection and warmth, a slight kiss on the lips indicates familiarity and some tinge of intimacy but when it is a long kiss on the lips or French kiss, it is no doubt a sign of intimacy and passionate one for that matter. There are also various kinds of touches; there are those that are congratulatory while others are flirtatious. Flirtatious touches indicate interest of a romantic nature and when they are exhibited they should be a sign of intimate interaction.
3. A smile
The adage goes that a smile is worth a thousand words and so it is. Smiles are powerful and ideally they are a sign of happiness, interest and confidence. When communicating to your partner it is crucial to analyze the facial expression so as to know whether your effort is being appreciated or not. Depending on the message being conveyed, a smile is a sign of appreciation and positive attitude. It shows that a person is enjoying your company and they are encouraging you to continue with what you are saying. A smile can sometimes however portray a negative message when it occurs in the most unlikely situations.
If your partner smiles when you are sharing sad news, this is a sign of wickedness meaning that he or she finds joy at your predicament. When a smile however is emitted in a relaxed situation it is a positive sign and demonstrates interest and joy.
4. Keeping eye contact
Eyes are said to be the windows to the soul. They can portray what lies underneath. Eye contact is crucial but there are some cultures that see it as a sign of rudeness. For instance, in some cultures young children are not supposed to look at their superiors in the eyes for it portrays a sense of impoliteness. In other circles maintaining eye contact is a sign of confidence and bravery. Rapid eye movement demonstrates shyness and fear. It is seen as a sign of weakness. In an interpersonal relationship, maintaining eye contact is a sign of interest and confidence; it is a sign that the communication is being appreciated and encouraged.
5. Folded legs and hands
In a lecture hall this can be a sign of attentiveness but in an interpersonal interaction it is a sign of disinterest. This is usually regarded as a defensive posture that is usually a deliberate move to show how one feels about a certain social interaction. It is a sign that one is done with the conversation and is hoping for the same from their partner. It is also a defensive move that seeks to establish a barrier to discourage any further conversation. When accompanied by other body signs such as a frown or a sneer, it is a sign that such an individual is not to be disturbed or is in no mood for a social interaction.
6. Shaking of the head
Shaking ones head can be either a sign of approval or disapproval. A horizontal headshake signifies disapproval while a vertical headshake is a sign of approval. There are cultures however that have this the other way round and hence it is crucial to pay attention to the context. While having a conversation it is integral to analyze carefully how your partner is shaking his or her head so as to know whether what you are saying is agreeable with them.
Communication is indeed complicated and it is always important that one pays close attention to both verbal and non verbal cues to clearly understand the message being conveyed. The conventional body language signs such as smile, handshake, hugs, nodding and touching mostly signify appreciation and interest. Others such as frowns, sneers, the need for personal space and folded arms signify disinterest, boredom or disapproval and should never be confused with the former.