Examples of Non Verbal Communication

The examples of non verbal communication included in this page are intended to show that we can’t take any single non verbal (or nonverbal) gesture at his face value.

We need to look at the entire message, including the words, the facial expression, the body language, the tone of voice, and the specific surroundings of the conversation taking place.

Looking at the entire message is the key to reading and interpreting nonverbal communication in business.

And now, for the examples:

Example #1

checking timeTina is asking her supervisor for a raise, he looks at his watch, she interprets that nonverbal gesture as a signal he doesn’t want to discuss the subject and begins to get up.

Tina’s supervisor looks at his watch to make sure he has enough time to discuss with Tina what a raise would entail for her. He’s glad she had the gumption to ask for the raise, he needs to let her know that the raise will be part of a promotion. He’ll let her know that the new job has added responsibilities and needs confirmation from Tina that she’s up to it.

He’s surprised Tina is about to get up and leave, he wonders what’s wrong.

Example #2

Bob is getting ready to go to lunch, he picks up a trade magazine to read while eating lunch and heads for the exit. He runs into a group of his co-workers who are on the hallway chatting with each other.

They look at each other, without saying a word. Some of them say hi to him.

Bob thinks they are all going out to lunch together... without him. He figures he just caught them planning to leave for lunch without inviting him to join them. He concludes that’s why they looked at each other knowingly.

What Bob doesn’t know is that his co-workers had just been talking about him. They had been concerned about Bob just hurrying out at lunch time by himself all the time. They had noticed he stopped going out to lunch with them and seemed to be preoccupied with something at all times. They were worried about him.

Example #3

Tom is asking his supervisor Frank for a raise, his supervisor looks at his watch. Tom interprets that gesture as a signal that Frank doesn’t want to talk about a raise at this time. Tom decides to test his suspicions. He asks his boss: Would you rather talk at another time, do you have to leave now?

Tom’s supervisor looks surprised: “Why? No, Tom, I don’t have to leave now, we can discuss your request”

Frank wonders why Tom asked him if he needed to leave now. Frank realizes that he was looking at his watch absentmindedly and was caught by Tom doing it.

Frank would rather not have this conversation today, he needs to let Tom know that his performance hasn’t been up to par this year, so he’s not slated for a raise. Frank is dreading this conversation with Tom.

Notice how Tom interpreted Frank's gesture correctly and that Frank gave him a verbal message that contradicted his nonverbal behavior. When this happens, the nonverbal behavior is likely to convey the true message, as in the example above.

What these Examples of Non Verbal Communication Show...

The point of these three examples of non verbal communication is that we can easily get it all wrong. When we take each gesture by itself, without paying attention to other gestures and the words that are being spoken, we risk misinterpreting the message.