Benefits of Studying Nonverbal Communication

The following is an edited version of a discussion that will appear in The Nonverbal Communication Book to be published soon (Kendall Hunt).
But, I thought it might be of interest more generally--to anyone teaching or taking or contemplating taking a course in nonverbal communication. The exercise at the end should prove useful for stimulating class discussion.
The Benefits of Studying Nonverbal Communication
The ability to use nonverbal communication effectively can yield a variety of both general and specific benefits in your social and your workplace lives. First, let’s identify some general benefits and then some more specific benefits.

Some General Benefits

The general benefits span the entire range of your communication life whether online or face-to-face, whether personal or workplace.

First, it will improve your accuracy in understanding others, those who are from your own or similar culture as well as those who are from cultures very different from your own. Increased accuracy in understanding others will yield obvious benefits in social and workplace situations—from understanding a coy smile from a date to the meaning of a supervisor’s gestures.

Second, an increased knowledge of nonverbal communication will improve your own ability to communicate information and to persuade others. In many instances, it will help you reinforce your verbal messages. The greater your nonverbal skills, the more successful you’re likely to be at informing as well as influencing others.

Third, it will increase your own perceived attractiveness; the greater your ability to send and receive nonverbal signals, the higher your popularity and psychosocial well-being are likely to be (Burgoon, Guerrero, & Floyd, Nonverbal Communication, Allyn & Bacon, 2010).  

Fourth, it will enable you to make a more effective self-presentation. Consider, for example, that when you meet someone for the first time—at least in face-to-face meetings—you form impressions of the person largely on the basis of his or her nonverbal messages. Being able to more effectively understand and manage your nonverbal messages will enable you to present yourself in the way you want to be perceived. Each of these benefits and skills can be used to help or support another, or, unfortunately, they can be used for less noble purposes. For example, a person adept at nonverbal communication will be more effective in persuading others to buy cars or sign a mortgage they can’t afford or present themselves as competent when they aren’t or increase their attractiveness before hitting you up for a loan.

Some Specific Benefits

In addition these general benefits, here are some specific benefits of studying and mastering the art of nonverbal communication. Of course, learning about an important area of human behavior—what it is, how it works, what influences it, and a variety of other dimensions—is a benefit in itself. Increased knowledge is a benefit, pure and simple. But, there are additional, more immediately pragmatic, specific benefits that you can gain as a result for reading the text and completing the exercises. Here are just 25:

  1. Use nonverbal messages to interact with your verbal messages thus creating meaningful packages of messages.
  2. Use nonverbal messages to manage the impressions you give to others.
  3. Use nonverbal messages to help form and maintain productive and meaningful interpersonal and work relationships.
  4. Use nonverbal messages to help regulate conversations and to make them more effective and satisfying.
  5. Use nonverbal messages to persuade—to influence the attitudes or behaviors of others.
  6. Use nonverbal messages to help express and communicate your emotions.
  7. Use nonverbal messages with sensitivity to cultural and gender differences and expectations.
  8. Use hand and body gestures to communicate varied meanings.
  9. Use body posture to reinforce your intended messages.
  10. Manage your facial expressions to communicate the meanings you want to share.
  11. Vary your facial styles to communicate a wide variety of messages.
  12. Communicate different meanings with eye movements and with eye avoidance.
  13. Use color, clothing, and other artifacts to communicate the meanings you wish.
  14. Use spatial messages to reinforce your verbal messages and in ways appropriate to the purpose of the interaction.
  15. Use territorial markers and respond to the markers of others appropriately.
  16. Use touch appropriate to the relationship stage and avoid touch that may be considered overly intimate or intrusive.
  17. Use paralanguage to signal conversational turns, your desire to speak or to continue listening, for example.
  18. Use silence to communicate a wide variety of meanings.
  19. Respond to the rules of interpersonal time that are maintained in the particular context, for example, the workplace or the classroom.
  20. Manage your time effectively and efficiently; avoid wasting time.
  21. Increase your own attractiveness in a variety of ways.
  22. Increase your ability to detect lying (but with important limitations).
  23. Increase your immediacy or closeness to others when you wish.
  24. Increase your perceived power with nonverbal cues.
  25. Use nonverbal cues in a civil and polite manner to further your purposes.
 Explaining the Values of Nonverbal Communication Study

Continue personalizing the areas of nonverbal communication by examining the specific benefits you can derive from the study and mastery of nonverbal communication. In Column 1 are listed the areas of nonverbal communication. For 1, 2, 3, or all of the areas, record in Column 2 any potential values or benefits you might derive in your personal or business life from greater effectiveness in using each of the channels or codes. In Column 3 indicate how you specifically might go about achieving this benefit or value.

Nonverbal Channel

Personal/Business Value


Achieving the Value


Body messages


Make a good first impression.

Avoid fidgeting and playing with my hair.

Facial messages




Eye messages




Artifactual messages




Spatial messages




Touch messages




Paralanguage and Silence messages



Time messages







Social Comparisons: For Class Discussion

Here is a brief update on the topic of self-concept/comparison with others that I included in the new editions of my Interpersonal Messages and Essentials of Human Communication. For those using a previous edition or any book for that matter, I thought this might prove a useful addition.  Even though written just a few months ago, there is much that has happened in the meantime. And so I thought this might make a useful class discussion in the interpersonal or hybrid courses—simply asking:  In what other ways do social media encourage/make easy/facilitate our comparing ourselves to others? And, more important, what is the impact of this on self-concept, self-esteem, and so many of the other concepts were cover in these basic courses?


25 Interpersonal Skills


Here is a list of 25 skills of interpersonal communication--25 things a competent interpersonal communicator should know how to do--that I used on the inside cover of my Interpersonal Messages book. But, I thought such a list might be useful more generally as a starting point for discussing what students can expect to learn to do or learn to do better than they now do it from a course in interpersonal communication. Needless to say the list is incomplete.