So you’re socially inept. You have a hard time making friends. Your conversations are often awkward and forced. When you do have a conversation with someone you like, you find there to be a lot of pauses. Entering a conversation is a daunting task to you and exiting a conversation is something you have no idea how to even do. You can only dream of having a flirting conversation with members of the opposite sex.

The truth about communication among people is that a majority, about 92%, is done through non-verbal means.


But what exactly does that mean???


Despite our species being very advanced, our methods of communication are often very primitive in nature. This means that just like other animals in our world, we communicate many things through posture, hand gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice.


Here’s an example of the power of non-verbal communication:


Let’s say Bob and Sally are at a movie theater watching Scary Movie 6. After the abomination of a movie is finished, Bob turns to Sally, says in a calm voice, “great movie, huh?” Sally nods, snickers, and says “yes, the best of all time.”


In the above example, despite there only being two lines of conversation, there are many things being communicated when you account for their non verbal communication:


  1. Bob turns to Sally, indicating that he wants to say something to her. Sally’s reaction of course, is that she notices Bob facing her, and she turns to meet his eyes, expecting him to say something.
  2. Bob says in a calm voice that it’s a great movie (“huh?”). The underlying premise is that we all know the movie is horrible, therefore Bob saying that it’s great means he is being sarcastic, or making a joke by saying the complete opposite of the truth.
  3. Sally nods. Nodding is a near-universal gesture that indicates agreement and understanding. Sally understands Bob.
  4. Sally snickers. A snicker, or a small grin and laugh, suggest that Sally has heard something that was amusing or mildly funny, but not too funny, or she would let out a big laugh.
  5. Sally says it was the best movie of all time. Sally, understanding that Bob is being sarcastic, shows her agreement by repeating Bob’s sentiment, in an exaggerated way.


The above example is meant to show how non-verbal communication happens. Although they could have easily and literally said “that movie was awful” and “I agree,” human interaction is far more complex and filled with nuances, body movement, and tone of voice. Despite all that, the communicated message was the exact same. All of those things happened from that small interaction. More importantly, interactions like these happen everyday — in fact, they happen constantly when interacting with people. These non-verbal skills, cues, and gestures are very much things that most people with a normal level of socialization have. What is a problem however, is when a person without understanding of these non-verbal skills is unleashed among people who do understand.


Here’s an example:


Ted, who is socially awkward man in his 20s, is at the movies alone. Ted does not know Bob and Sally. Ted eavesdrops on Bob and Sally’s conversation earlier. At the end of that conversation, Ted says “I completely agree with you. It was an awful movie.” Bob and Sally both turn their heads towards Ted, do not say anything, and they smile. They turn away from Ted and continue their conversation.
The first issue here is that Ted is unaware of social space and privacy that people share. Although Bob and Sally are at a very public venue talking about a movie that about a hundred people just saw, their conversation is completely private. By commenting into the conversation, not only does he do so uninvited (not okay in private conversations), but he also makes Bob and Sally uncomfortable by essentially telling them that he was listening in on their private conversation. The lack of response or agreement from Bob and Sally show this. And the smile that Bob gives is simply that of courtesy — he really doesn’t want to encourage Ted to continue talking in the conversation, but Bob doesn’t want to be rude by saying “this is a private conversation,” or ignoring him so he simply smiles and gets back to talking with Sally.