Difference between Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

March 22, 2017 by Editorial Team

Did you know that even when you are not saying anything, you are still communicating? If you did not know this, this article is for you. Aside from verbal communication, there is also nonverbal communication. What is the difference between the two? This article will discuss the difference between verbal and nonverbal communication.

Definitions

Verbal vs Nonverbal Communication

Verbal communication is a type of communication where the person uses words or languages to convey his message to his audience. It can be demonstrated in two ways:

  • Oral or Spoken – face to face conversations, phone calls, seminars, meetings, and lectures
  • Written – texts, e-mails, conventional letters, and notes

Verbal communication has a start point and a stop point and each word used has distinct meanings. Because it is a structured form of communication, the person can clearly send his message so there are fewer chances for confusion and misunderstanding. In written communication, it is also easy to produce proof of a conversation when required. Most of the time, it is easy to decipher the meaning of the message in verbal communication so instantaneous feedback and exchange of information is possible. Let’s take a look at this example:

  • You received a note that says,”e-mail me the PDF version of the 402 documents today by 3:30 PM” from your boss. The message is clear and easy to understand. You do not have to analyze what your boss wants you to do so it is easy to provide feedback. It is also possible to produce a proof of the communication in this case since it is written.

Verbal communication is considered to be the most effective form of communication. It basically allows humans to fulfill their most natural desire which is to talk. It is best used when the person is trying to send his message over long distances or if he is trying to send specific information. It is also best used when the person is trying to explain, ask, contend, or discuss different matters. However, it is important to note that the tone, volume, choice of words, detonation, and connotation should be taken into consideration when using verbal communication. These factors may affect the intended meaning of the message.

Furthermore, verbal communication might be difficult in inter-cultural situations where the parties use different languages and characters. For example, a person who only speaks Japanese may not be able to effectively use verbal communication with a person who only speaks Thai.

On the other hand, nonverbal communication is a type of communication that involves conveying messages through visual cues or signs. It involves creating the message (encoding) and understanding the message (decoding). This can be demonstrated by:

  1. Kinesics – the use of body language, posture, gestures, or facial expressions in sending messages; for example: Jeremy smiled at Jenny to let her know he’s not mad.
  2. Proxemics – the use of distance; for example: The child spoke with the stranger from behind the door because she was scared of him.
  3. Chronemics – the use of time in communication; for example: The applicant arrived late for his final interview and gave a bad first impression.
  4. Oculesics – the use of eye contact; for example: The student could not look the teacher in the eye which told the teacher that he was probably lying.
  5. Artifacts – the use of appearance to send a message; for example: Faye does not have a single piece of jewelry which tells me she is either poor or she likes simplicity.
  6. Paralanguage – the change in volume, pitch, and intonation are nonverbal factors that may add meaning to the spoken (verbal communication) words of the person. However, it is important to note that “paralanguage” does not refer to the actual words used by the person (which would be verbal communication), but it refers to the characteristic nuances of a voice; for example: Because he was ashamed, the boy spoke in a low voice when he told his mom why he came home late last night. (In this example, the volume of the voice adds meaning or additional information over the spoken words of the boy.)
  7. Haptics – the use of touch; for example: Judith and Judy hugged each other out of sheer excitement and happiness.

Since there is no use of language in nonverbal communication, the meaning of the message can be ambiguous to the receiver. This also means that the parties rely on their own interpretation of the message, so the exchange of information takes time. Additionally, since this type of communication involves visual cues, both parties should be present to communicate as there is no proof of any document that the conversation indeed took place. Let’s take a look at an example below:

  • Benny used his cellphone after bedtime so his mom reprimanded him. When asked why he did it, Benny simply shrugged and stared at the wall. Benny’s gesture has an ambiguous meaning which can be difficult to interpret. Because of this, it may take time for his mom to respond.

Nonverbal communication usually goes hand in hand with verbal communication. It is best used when the person is trying to express his or her emotions or feelings. It can also convey more messages and can be used to indicate whether the verbal statements of the other party are true or not. For example, if someone says, “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it,” but also shrugged and rolled her eyes, it may mean it’s not okay at all.

It is important to note, however, that nonverbal communication can be difficult when the parties involved are of different cultures. This is because nonverbal communication is not structured. It does not have a start point and a stop point. It also allows a personal interpretation of the message instead of a specific interpretation. For example, a thumbs-up generally means “good job” but it could also have an offensive meaning in some parts of the world.

Verbal vs Nonverbal Communication

What, then, is the difference between verbal and nonverbal communication?

Verbal communication is a type of communication where the person uses words or languages to convey his message to his audience. It can be done through speaking or writing. Conversely, nonverbal communication is a type of communication that involves conveying messages through visual cues or signs. It can be demonstrated by kinesics, proxemics, chronemics, oculesics, artifacts, vocalics, and haptics.

Verbal communication is structured. It has a start point and a stop point and each word used has distinct meanings. Because of this, it is easy to avoid misunderstanding and to instantaneously exchange information and feedback. In verbal communication, a proof of the conversation is easy to produce and the parties do not have to be present in order for them to communicate. On the contrary, nonverbal communication is not structured. It does not have a start point and a stop point and the message may have no specific meaning. Because of this, it takes time to interpret the message and there is also a higher chance of misunderstanding in nonverbal communication. Since this type of communication involves signs and cues, both parties have to be present to communicate, and there is usually no proof that the communication took place.

Additionally, verbal communication is best used when the person is trying to send his or her message over long distances or if he or she is trying to send specific information. It is also best used when the person is trying to explain, ask, contend, or discuss different matters. Nonverbal communication usually goes hand in hand with verbal communication. It is best used when the person is trying to express his emotions or feelings. Sometimes, nonverbal communication can convey more messages and can be used to indicate whether the verbal statements of the communicator are true or not.

Comparison Chart

Verbal CommunicationNonverbal Communication
A type of communication where the person uses words or languages to convey his message to his audienceA type of communication that involves conveying messages through visual cues or signs
Can be demonstrated by spoken or written words or language

Can be demonstrated by kinesics, proxemics, chronemics, oculesics, artifacts, vocalics, and haptics

Is structured; it has a start point and a stop point; each word used has distinct meaningsIs not structured. It does not have a start point and a stop point; the message has no specific meaning
Has few chances of being misunderstoodHas a greater chance of being misunderstood
Allows instantaneous exchange of information and feedbackTime consuming; does not allow a speedy exchange of information
Both parties do not need to be present in order for them to communicateBoth parties need to be present to communicate
Easy to produce proof of the conversationNo proof of communication is available
Best used when the person is trying to send his message over long distances or is trying to send specific information; best used when the person is trying to explain, ask, contend, or discuss different mattersBest used when the person is trying to express emotions or feelings; can convey other messages and can be used to indicate whether the verbal statements of the communicator are true or not