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Non Verbal Communication

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Non Verbal Communication

You probably know someone that talks a lot with their hands. Research has discovered the many uses of this. In this explanation, we'll explore different ways of nonverbal communication. We'll have a look at types of nonverbal communication and the importance of nonverbal communication.

What is the nonverbal communication definition?

What is the definition of nonverbal communication? We can consider a good portion of our communication is nonverbal. Simple acts such as handshakes, raising eyebrows, or a wink can get a message across to someone else. Nonverbal communication does not involve words or using your voice. These nonverbal cues can mean more than a word or, in general, than verbal communication.

Non-verbal communication is a method of expressing thoughts and passing information to others without talking.

Researchers have attempted to understand the what, when, and why reasonings of non-verbal communication. In 1872, Darwin proposed the evolutionary theory, which can be applied to understand the what, when and why of non-verbal communication. According to the theory, all animals engage in non-verbal communication (the what) when innate instincts 'kick in' that they are in danger. This evolutionary mechanism aims to ensure survival (the why).

Some animals bare their teeth and growl at other animals to scare away predators or other animals, which may prevent fights and increases the animals' chance of survival.

Is non-verbal behaviour innate?

A common question you will encounter while studying psychology is whether the behaviour is innate – something we are born with, or learned? Darwin's theory suggests that non-verbal behaviour is an innate, adaptive function that can be observed in neonates.

Research has shown that neonates use a pre-cry expression to show sadness or smiles and similar/appropriate facial expressions to demonstrate pain or surprise. But is non-verbal behaviour learned? If non-verbal behaviours are learned, then individuals who are sensory deprived would not be able to use them in the same way. However, this is not the case. Studies have shown babies born blind have similar expressions behaviours to babies born with vision.

Is non-verbal behaviour learned?

Contradictory research has found that non-verbal behaviour is learned. Yuki (2007) gave the same questionnaire to American and Japanese students. Students were required to rate how happy to sad emoticon faces were in this research. The results showed that Japanese students focused on the eyes. In contrast, Americans focused on the mouth when interpreting emoticons, suggesting people learn about expressions and how to interpret emotions and cultural norms influence this.

Cultural differences in non-verbal communication

You may have noticed that non-verbal communication can have differences in certain cultures. Different cultures across the globe have different ways of engaging in and interpreting social interactions. Cultures are often categorised as:

A collectivist society is a group of people who believe that solidarity and working together to maintain the status quo are more important than individual goals.

Examples of common non-verbal communication in collectivist societies are avoiding eye contact, bowing when showing respect to someone of authority and generally using fewer body movements to express oneself.

Individualistic societies are people who emphasise personal gains and goals over the well-being of their community.

Non-verbal communication in an individualistic society tends to be less reserved and more expressive. For instance, people may use more gestures to express their feelings.

Types of non-verbal communication

Mehrabian (1971) found that when expressing emotions and attitudes to others, 7% is conveyed through words, 38% via tones and 55% through body language, highlighting the importance of non-verbal communication. This finding showed that it is used to express and interpret others' thoughts and actions. Now let's look at some of the commonly known types of nonverbal communication.

Non-verbal communication, four people having a conversation with speech bubbles above their heads, StudySmarterFour people having a conversation, freepik.com/vectors

Non-verbal communication examples

There are different methods of non-verbal communication. Individuals use these to express their feelings and intentions or pass along information to others. Some nonverbal communication examples that will be discussed are:

  • Gestures

  • Facial expressions

  • Paralinguistics

  • Body language and posture

  • Eye gaze/contact

  • Proxemics/personal space

  • Touch

  • Appearance

Methods of non-verbal communication – gestures

Sifferent forms of gestures exist – from waving to pointing and even cursing. Gestures are non-verbal signals that communicate messages or positive or negative feelings. They are also occasionally used to emphasise a point someone is making.

An example of gestures is that someone may point to a poster to re-direct others' attention to it.

The movement of body parts characterises gestures.

Gestures are an important method of non-verbal communication because they can add meaning and emphasise something that is being said. Gestures can be used to get someone to pay attention to the seriousness of a topic. If someone exaggerates their gestures, others may be more likely to pay attention to the seriousness of the topic.

Methods of non-verbal communication – posture and touch

Another important type of non-verbal communication is body posture. The way we sit, stand and pose are messages themselves. Different types of postures have different meanings. These include:

  • Open posture may be when someone is sitting back in a laid-back way, suggesting to others the person is open and approachable.
  • Closed posture, i.e., standing with arms crossed, may suggest the person is feeling attacked or defensive.
  • Postural echo; you may have noticed you sometimes mirror others' postures, which is essentially postural echo.

Postural echos are usually subconscious movements done when the other is a respected person or the individual may be trying to suggest equal status.

Body posture helps people express themselves and helps others interpret how someone is feeling.

Touch is another method of non-verbal communication. It can be interpreted in many ways depending on the context of the situation.

For example, touching someone's arm for a long time in a social situation can be seen as flirtatious. Whereas when touching someone aggressively may suggest a conflict between two people.

Types of non-verbal communication – facial expressions

Facial expressions make up a large part of nonverbal communication. Think about it: a simple smile or facial expression that conveys a message of anger can mean a lot and provide a lot of information. Although nonverbal communication and behaviour can vary by culture, facial expressions of joy, anger, sadness, and fear usually remain the same.

Non-verbal communication, Facial expressions, StudySmarterVarying facial expressions, pixabay.com

Types of non-verbal communication – eye contact

As we mentioned before, eye gaze or eye contact is another significant way of communicating. Staring, blinking, and rolling eyes are important nonverbal cues. Staring at someone could mean a range of emotions, such as hostility, attraction or interest. Usually, maintaining eye contact is interpreted as being honest. When eye contact is not maintained, a person is often thought to be hiding something or lying.

Eye contact has many vital functions.

For example, eye contact can maintain a conversation. Usually, when eye contact is broken, the conversation may start to come to an end. In some social settings if two people hold eye contact for a long, which can indicate attraction.

The power of eye contact – eye contact is a powerful communication tool as it can make someone feel recognised and valuable and deepen a relationship between two people.

Types of non-verbal communication – proxemics/personal space

Personal space is also a form of nonverbal communication. The amount of space and distance a person needs from another or others reveals a message. Social norms usually influence personal space, how familiar or comfortable you are with someone and cultural factors.

Keeping a distance from someone can suggest hostility or that someone does not wish to be interacted with.

The importance of nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication methods and cues give a message to the person to whom we are trying to communicate, i.e. whether we are happy, angry, or honest with that person. When nonverbal types of communication match what we say, these increase trust between the people involved.

Non-verbal communication is also important as it plays five important roles, which are: repetition (strengthens the verbal message), contradiction, substitution (used to replace a verbal message), complementing (to add to or complete a verbal message) and accenting.

This type of communication can also help someone express themselves and help others understand what is trying to be said. It is difficult to use nonverbal communication alone to express emotions.

Non-verbal communication is usually used to support verbal communication. For example, it may be used when the individual may find it difficult to express what they are trying to say in words or to emphasise their point.

Non-Verbal Communication - Key takeaways

  • Non-verbal communication is a method of expressing thoughts and passing information to others without talking.
  • We can consider a good portion of our communication is nonverbal. Simple acts such as handshakes, raising eyebrows or a wink are often used to communicate with others.
  • Research has found that non-verbal communication is an innate and learned behaviour.
  • Some Nonverbal communication examples are gesture, posture, eye gaze, touch and facial expressions.
  • Nonverbal communication is crucial as it can help people communicate better and express emotions.

Frequently Asked Questions about Non Verbal Communication

Mehrabian (1971) found that when expressing emotions and attitudes to others, 7% is conveyed through words, 38% via tones, and 55% through body language.

Some examples of non-verbal communication are:

  • Body movements 
  • Facial expressions 
  • Eye contact 
  • Personal space 

Non-verbal communication is often used to support verbal communication. For example, it may be used when having difficulties expressing oneself or when trying to emphasise a point. 

An example of non-verbal communication is gestures. Different forms exist, such as handshakes, pointing, or even cursing. 

Non-verbal communication plays five roles: repetition, contradiction, substitution, complementing, and accenting. 

Final Non Verbal Communication Quiz

Question

What is nonverbal communication?

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Answer

Non-verbal communication is a method of expressing thoughts and passing information to others without talking. 

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According to Mehrabian (1971), what's the percentage of non-verbal communication?

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According to Mehrabian (1971), 55% of communication is non-verbal.

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What are some examples of gestures?


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Waving, pointing or using your fingers to count numbers.

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Does culture influence how non-verbal communication is expressed and interpreted? 

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Yes.

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What did Yuki's study conclude?

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Non-verbal communication is learned.

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How has Darwins's (1872) theory been applied to understand non-verbal communication? 

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According to Darwin's theory, all animals engage in non-verbal communication (the what) when innate instincts 'kick in' that they are in danger. This evolutionary mechanism aims to ensure survival (the why).    

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What type of posture may suggest that someone is feeling attacked? 

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Answer

Closed posture

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How is eye contact a powerful communication tool? 

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Eye contact is a powerful communication tool as it can make someone feel recognised, and valuable and deepen a relationship between two people

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Why is personal space important?

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The amount of space and distance a person needs from others reveals a message. Personal space is usually influenced by social norms, how familiar or comfortable someone is, cultural factors and individuals' attitude or personality.

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What can the non-verbal communication, touch indicate? 

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Answer

How someone is feeling. 

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Why is nonverbal communication important?

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It can help interpret how someone is feeling and it can also be used to emphasise a point that someone is trying to making. 


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What five roles does nonverbal communication play?


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Repetition, contradiction, substitution, complementing and accenting.

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How does verbal and nonverbal communication complement each other?


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It is difficult to use nonverbal communication alone to express emotions. Therefore, non-verbal communication is usually used to support verbal communication.

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Which of the following can be linked to hostility? 

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Eye contact

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What's body language?

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Body language constitutes an essential component of nonverbal communication and it may represent between 55% of all communication. Body language will express information and send a message to others, messages that words may not be able to communicate.

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How learning body language can help?

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Learning body language can help you identify emotions that people hide or certain types of body language can make you feel more powerful or attractive for example. It is important though, to learn and make a difference between all the types of body language.

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What is the purpose of facial expressions as a form of non-verbal communication? 

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Facial expression is the movement of facial features to express how someone is feeling. 

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What's an important aspect of facial expressions?

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Facial expressions are considered a universal form of body language. Although cultures can have an impact on nonverbal communications, facial expressions expressing happiness, anger, sadness and fear are quite general and unlikely will be influenced by cultural factors.

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What eyes do communicate?

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Eyes can be considered "windows of the soul" and can reveal a lot about what a person is feeling in a particular moment or what they would like to express and communicate. When engaging with someone in a discussion, you may notice whether that person keeps looking at you, whether their pupils are dilated or if the don't look at you.

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What blinking communicate?


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Blinking too much or too little can be interpreted as either being distressed or afraid, or infrequent blinking may be seen as a person trying intentionally to take control over the blinking.

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How pupils size can be interpreted?

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Dilated pupils may mean that someone is attracted to you or feels something towards to you.

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How mouth can express communication?

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Mouth expressions can reveal the emotional state of a person too. If we take as an example smiling, a simple smile can reveal whether a person agrees with something or can express happiness and content. However, a smile can still be faked and express sarcasm and can be therefore interpreted in many distinct ways.

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Are gestures a form of body language?

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Gestures can be considered a clear and obvious example of body language signal. If we think about pointing at something, handshaking, a thumb up or down or the well-known peace sign. These are common examples of gestures.

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Can gestures be influenced by culture?

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Now, gestures can have an influence from the culture of the person. For instance, a clenched fist in some cultures would be interpreted as an aggressive gesture, when in other cultures it would have a different meaning. Another form of gesture is the "okay" usually created by touching together the thumb and index finger. But depending on the culture, it could have another meaning.

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What are some examples of arms and legs as body language signals?


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- crossed arms: this form of body language may indicate that the person is defensive or closed-off.

- having hands on the hips: it can suggest aggressiveness or someone that is in control.

- Fidgeting or tapping fingers: can suggest that someone is anxious or frustrated.

- crossed legs: this can suggest again that the person is closed-off or in need of privacy.

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Can posture be interpreted as body language?

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Posture can give hints about personality trait, helping us to better understand characteristics of an individual's personality.

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Is personal space another type of body language?

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personal space is another form of body language. A friend or relative will keep their distance not as much far away from you, meanwhile someone that you don't know or someone that doesn't feel comfortable enough will keep a distance from you.

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What are the four types of distance?


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Personal distance, intimate distance, public distance and social distance.

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Why is body language important?

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When we are able to "read" signs of body language we can absolute understand what's the message that the other person wants to to give. By being aware of body language you can be more aware of people's reactions.

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What's the definition of personal space?

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Personal space refers to the physical area around a person, which can be considered as personal. It is important to not confuse personal space with "territory". Personal space can be observed from a psychological and sociological perspective. 

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What type of communication is personal space identified as?

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As nonverbal communication

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Is personal space a form of body language?

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Yes personal space is a form of body language. 

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Can personal space be influenced by external factors?

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The personal space needed when engaging in communication with another individual, will be influenced by a series of factors, which can be for example: social norms, cultural aspects, situational factors and personality traits. 

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Who developed the concept of personal space?

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Personal space in communication is also referred to as proxemics, which was created by the anthropologist Edward T. Hall. Hall defined proxemics in communication as the distance between two people when they interact. 

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How many types of personal space there are?

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There are in total 4 types/levels of personal space and distance.

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What's intimate distance?

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This type of distance ranges from 6 to 18 inches. This type of personal space, indicate an intimate relationship or someone really close to the individual. 

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What's personal distance?

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This type of personal space ranges from 1.5 to 4 feet. This form of physical distance occurs when you have a relative around or someone you feel comfortable with. 

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What's social distance?

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This type of personal space goes from 4 to 12 feet. It is usually observed for individuals defined as acquaintances. 

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What's public distance?

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Public distance is observed in public situations. It ranges from 12 to 25 feet. This personal space can be seen during public speaking circumstances or if someone needs to give a presentation in front of a classroom for instance, or during lectures as well. 

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What's an example of personal space?

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Do you remember the first presentation you had to give in front of the class? Well, that is defined as public space. Considering that you are in public circumstances, the distance and personal space will usually range from 12 to 25 feet.

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Why is personal space important?

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Understanding personal space and in general nonverbal communication, is an advantage to better understand how to communicate with your own space and how others voluntarily or involuntarily try to communicate it to you. 

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What's another explanation of why personal space is important?

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It is also important so we can have a better understanding of people's boundaries and their level of comfortableness. If someone is not so close to a person, there may be different reasons behind it and it's important to take time and understand why.

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Is there a difference between personal and social space?

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ersonal space is the "bubble" or distance surrounding an individual. Personal space norms, will usually define social space. Even in this instance, cultural norms and social groupings will have distinct ways to defined social space. 

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What are some factors that will influence personal and social space?

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There are other elements that will influence personal and social space, such as: gender, status and age as well.

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What's eye contact?

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The simple staring at someone or looking someone in the eyes is considered as eye contact.

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How is eye contact interpreted in Western cultures?

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Usually, in Western cultures and other forms of cultures, eye contact with another person is predicted to be regular and not persistent.

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How persistent eye contact may be interpreted?

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Overly persistent and constant eye contact can be also interpreted as a sign that the person has an over awareness of the information they are trying to communicate. 

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How eye contact in nonverbal  communication is observed?

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Eye contact during a conversation is essential. It suggests that person is showing attentiveness and is also interested in what the other person is saying. Through eye contact, it is possible to change the way we think about certain people and the feelings towards them. 

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What does the Conversation Aid suggest?

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Based on the Conversation Aid, it is important to summarise some critical points of the important of eye contact, such as:


  • Eye contact is an element that opens and closes communication

  • Maintaining eye contact is related to credibility and dominance

  • Absence of blinking is observed as submissive

  • Staring at someone suggests hostility towards the other person

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Question

What are some forms of eye contact?

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Answer

Evasive eye contact, crying, blinking, winking.

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