I don't understand this stuff about non-verbal language. I say what I mean - how does the way I say it make a difference?

A recent article in Discover magazine on how we recognize faces said that we have such powerful brain "circuitry" for facial expressions that we insist on seeing faces where there are none - in clouds or in the wallpaper pattern. Non-verbal communication takes place whether you think it is important or not.

There are underlying, unconscious mechanisms in our brains that insist on evaluating everything about what the person is doing; not just what they are saying. And we judge the other whether they say anything or not. How often have you thought "that person has a bad attitude" or something similar just by observing them?

What constitutes non-verbal communication? Is it body language?

Non-verbal communication is everything except your words. It includes body language (which by itself includes facial expression and body attitude) but also include many other factors such as object language (driving a BMW says something, wearing torn jeans and a dirty sweatshirt says something). All of us have looked at someone standing across the room and thought, "Man, what an attitude." That constitutes non-verbal communication.

I think body language is overrated as a way of understanding someone. Why is it important?

Close your eyes and hold a conversation with someone. See if your level of understanding is hampered in any way. Remember phone conversations where you weren't sure where the person was coming from. And remember, as well that body language is just one component of non-verbal communication. So while body language is not a complete method of understanding someone else, it is a key factor.

How can I use non-verbal communication to improve how others perceive and understand me?

Remember that our listeners process non-verbal cues automatically and almost unconsciously. Use gestures and facial expressions to reinforce what you're saying. Be aware that you are sending out non-verbal messages all the time. Become more self-aware of how you speak and the impact of your mode of dress and even the way you stand or sit. Increased self-awareness (without becoming self-conscious) and using non-verbal cues on purpose are probably the best ways to improve your non-verbal impact on others.

Author's Bio: 

Hal Warfield is a speaker, teacher and coach. Contact him at