Business Communication Instructors' Perception of Nonverbal Communication

Article excerpt


How important is nonverbal communication? Studies suggest that 65 to 90 percent of our communication is transmitted nonverbally. If this is true, then business communication instructors should be placing emphases on nonverbal communication. Nonverbal consists of the following: body language, tone of voice, gestures, physical appearance, space/territory, facial expressions and the clothes we wear.


The purpose of this study was to determine which nonverbal topics and methods business communication instructors used in teaching nonverbal communication. Specifically the objectives of this study are:

* to determine the age and sex of the respondents.

* to determine the value of nonverbal communication as perceived by business communication instructors.

* to determine the number of assignments and materials used to teach nonverbal.

* to determine the topics taught in nonverbal.

* to determine the methods used in teaching nonverbal.


A questionnaire was developed and mailed to members of the Association for Business Communication in the Southwest and West Regions. A total of 298 questionnaires were mailed. One hundred thirteen questionnaires were returned for a 38 percent return rate. However, some respondents did not teach nonverbal and some were retired; thus, there were 74 usable questionnaires.


Nonverbal communication is a relatively new field of study and is defined as "everything but the words used to communicate." "Nonverbal communication" is just one label. Others include "body language", "kinesics," "paralanguage", and "proxemics."

Mary Ellen Guffey defines nonverbal communication as including "all written and unspoken messages, both intentional and unintentional."(Guffey, p. 50) Researchers have found that "an astonishing 93 per cent of the meaning of a message comes from nonverbal cues."(Guffey, p. 50) "Only seven per cent ...of a message comes from the words spoken."(Guffey, p. 50)

A recently published book, Nonverbal Communications, Forms and Functions by Peter A. Anderson is based on "current theory and research in the field of nonverbal communication." Anderson states that "most researchers believe that nonverbal communication is considerably more important" (Anderson, 1999, 1) than verbal communication. Although researchers may disagree with the percentage of a message that is carried nonverbally "numerous studies show that all the various aspects of nonverbal communication-body movements, interpersonal distance, touch, facial expressions, and all other components ... of nonverbal communication ...are very important" (Anderson, 1999, 2).

Anderson defines nonverbal communication as "includes all communication other than language." (Anderson, 1999, 2) Nonverbal communication is a part of the broader category of communication. "Verbal communication and nonverbal communication...exist side by side as two human processes that are part of the same system" (Anderson, 1999, 2).

The coverage of nonverbal communication in the business communication textbooks has increased over the past two decades. Business Communications by Himstreet and Baty published in 1973 and used as a text in a business communication course devoted a few lines to nonverbal communication. They reported that "facial expressions, gestures and other bodily actions can tell when a person is pleased or upset." (Himstreet & Baty, 1973, 10) Also, listeners can recognize when "a person's speech does not convey his true intentions." (Himstreet & Baty, 1973, 10)

Recently published business communication books devote much more space to nonverbal communication. A recently published book Lesikar's Basic Business Communication by Lesikar, Pettit and Flatley (1999) devoted approximately three and one-half pages to nonverbal communication and included the nature of nonverbal communication, types of nonverbal communication which includes body language, space, time, paralanguage, and other types of nonverbal communication.(p. 434-437)

Lehman and Dufrene's book Himstreet and Baty's Business Communication, 1999, included nonverbal communication, metacommunication, kinesic communication, overcoming barriers created by nonverbal messages, and cultural differences in nonverbal messages in their book.(Lehman & DuFrene, 1999, 49-52)

Even popular magazines such as McCalls, Readers Digest, Good Housekeeping, Mademoiselle, Tennis and Career World include nonverbal communication articles. The February, 1998 Readers Digest in an article entitled "The Healing Power of Touch" records that touch is our "most intimate and most powerful form of communication." George Colt further states that "a simple touch-a hand on a shoulder, an arm around a waist-can reduce the heart rate and lower blood pressure." "Even people in deep comas may show changes in their heart rates when their hands are held. Positive, nurturing touch appears to stimulate the release of endorphinas, the body's natural pain suppressors." (Colt, 1998, 89)

An article in Tennis, May, 1993, Jim Loehr discusses how nonverbal behavior on the tennis court can communicate win or lose. He says "body language may be the most underused weapon in tennis. With the right body language, you can summon the emotions that help players perform at their best, such as confidence and relaxation." (Loehr, 1993,. 118) Wouldn't it be great to become exceptionally confident right before you return your opponent's serve on break point?"(Loehr, 1993, 118)

An article in 1994 issue of Career World by Pamela Kramer says "It's true what you say in an interview has a lot to do with whether or not you land a new job. But what you don't say tells a potential employer even more." (Kramer, 1994, 14) No matter what you say, " the interviewer will have a hard time believing your words when your 'body language' is screaming the complete opposite." (Kramer, 1994, 14)

Dianne Hales' article, The Secret Language of Success in Reader's Digest, January, 1994 contains information about nonverbal communication in the family and on the job. The main theme of nonverbal communication on the job "centers on the theme: power." (Hales, 1994,166) "...humans have their own way of signaling who is in charge."(Hales, 1994, 166) Ms. Hales discusses how power and lack of power is communicated on the job. Also, she discusses how to "look for discrepancies in what you are seeing and what you are hearing."(Hales, 1994, 166) She emphasizes the importance of working on the handshake and establishing good eye contact.(Hales, 1994, 165-169)

Karen Berg, CEO of New York City-based CommCore which specializes in communication training, wrote an article for McCalls, June 1993, entitled "How to Get What you Want." Karen writes that "the majority of interpersonal communication occurs through body language."(Berg, 1993, 90) She includes pictures which includes recommended body language that will get people to tell a secret, will get the job, will keep pickpockets away, and will get people to ask opinions at a board meeting. (Berg, 1993, 90-92)

In "How to Tell When a Person is Lying", Good Housekeeping, June, 1994, D. Glenn Foster and Mary Marshall teach how to read the subtle nonverbal cues. When adults can't express their real feelings "we have learned to 'behave' ourselves and how to hide our true feelings."(Foster & Marshall, 1994, 46) The article "goes through a set of signals that a husband sends out when the wife suspects he is being unfaithful."(Foster & Marshall, 1994, 46)

The July, 1995 issue of Mademoiselle contains an article entitled "Do you Give Good Body Language." by Alicia Rodriguez. A body language self-discovery test (a test of your visual vocabulary) is included. Photographs are shown of people at a party and at the office. Then questions concerning nonverbal communications are asked to determine the reader's nonverbal savvy. The answers and discussion are given. (Rodriguez, 1995, 75-77)


Shown below is the sex of the respondents.

As shown in Table 1, 31(42%) of the respondents were male and 43 (58%) were female. Table 2 indicates the age categories of respondents.

As revealed in Table 2, 61(82%) of the respondents were between the ages of 41 and 60. Twenty-four of the respondents indicated that they did not teach nonverbal. Those respondents were asked if they anticipated incorporating nonverbal in their classes. The results are shown in Table 3.

As shown in the table above 12(50%) of those not teaching nonverbal do not anticipate including nonverbal in their classes. Those respondents that were not going to include nonverbal were asked why not? The results are shown in the table below.

Other responses:

1. Emphasis on writing

2. Outside boundaries of written communication

3. Taught in another class

"Too much material to cover" was the response given most often to the question "why do you not teach nonverbal?" Respondents were asked "how valuable is nonverbal?" Shown in Table 5 are the responses.

Respondents did believe that nonverbal was valuable. Seventy-one (96%) believed nonverbal to be "very valuable" or "valuable." The number of assignments given in nonverbal is shown below.

As shown in Table 6 most respondents give either 1 or 2 assignments in nonverbal per semester. Shown in Table 7 are the types of materials used in teaching nonverbal.

Respondents used "teacher-made material" and textbooks most frequently in teaching nonverbal. The number of class periods spent on teaching nonverbal is shown in Table 8.

Most respondents 46 (63 percent) spent either 2 or 3 class periods teaching nonverbal. Following are the nonverbal topics that respondents taught in nonverbal.

"Facial expressions" and "eye contact" were the topics most frequently taught by respondents. Respondents were asked to indicate what they believed to be the appropriate methods to use in teaching nonverbal. The results are shown in Table 10.

Sixty-six (89 percent) of the respondents indicated the "lecture" was the most used method. "Debate" was the method least frequently. Respondents were asked to rate the value of each teaching method. The results can be seen in Table 11.

According to respondents, "audio/visual material" was the most valuable method; while "debate" was the least valuable method.


Based on the findings of this study the following conclusions were drawn:

1. A majority of the respondents were female.

2. Most of the respondents were between the ages of 41 and 60.

3. Ninety-six percent of the respondents believed that nonverbal was "very valuable" or "valuable.

4. Fifty percent of the respondents give 1 or 2 nonverbal assignments each semester.

5. Most teachers use "teacher-made material" for teaching nonverbal.

6. A majority of respondents spend 2 or 3 class periods teaching nonverbal.

7. "Facial expressions" and "eye contact" were the topics most frequently taught.

8. Respondents indicated "lecture" and "discussion" were the methods used most frequently.

9. Respondents rated "audio/video material" and "role playing" as the most valuable methods.


The information contained in this study should be beneficial to those teaching nonverbal. The nonverbal topics that business communication instructors indicated should be taught might prove useful to those teaching nonverbal. Those teaching nonverbal should find the value placed on various teaching methods beneficial.

Business communications instructors not teaching nonverbal might consider adding a unit on nonverbal. Respondents might consider spending additional class periods on nonverbal.


Anderson, P. A. (1999). Nonverbal Communication: Forms and Functions. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Co.

Berg, K. (1993). How to get what you want. McCall's, June, 90-92.

Colt, G. H. (1998). The healing power of touch. Reader's Digest, February, 86-90.

Foster, D. G. & M. Marshall. (1994) How to tell when a person is lying. Good Housekeeping, June, 46-48.

Hales, D. (1994). The secret language of success. Reader's Digest, January, 165-166.

Himstreet, W.C. & W. M. Baty. (1973). Business Communications: Principles and Methods. 4th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., Inc.

Kramer, P. (1994). All the right moves. Career World. 23, November/December, 14-16.

Lehman, C. M. & D. D. Dufrene. (1999). Himstreet and Baty's Business Communication. 12th ed. Cincinnati, OH: South-western College Publishing.

Lesikar, R. V., J.D. Pettit, Jr. & M. E. Flatley. (1999). Lesikar's Basic Business Communication. 8th ed. Boston, MA: Irwin McGraw-Hill.

Loehr, J. (1993) How to look like a champion. Tennis, May, 118-119.

Rodriguez, A. (1995). Do you give good body language. Mademoiselle, 101, 75-77.

Donald E. English, Texas A&M University

Janet Walker, Texas A&M University

Edgar J. Manton, Texas A&M University

Table 1:  Gender of Respondents

         Number   Percent

Male     31       42
Female   43       58

Table 2: Age Categories of Respondents

Age           Number   Percent

Under 30      0        0

31-40         2        3
41-50         21       28
51-60         40       54
Over 60       9        12
No Response   2        3

Total         74       100

Table 3: Do you anticipate incorporation of nonverbal?

Response      Number     Percent

Yes           1          4
No            12         50
Undecided     6          25
No Response   5          21

Total         24         100

Table 4: Why do you not teach nonverbal?

Reason                                         Number   Percent

Too much material to cover                     6        25
Lack of interest on part of teacher            2        8
Don't feel qualified to teach nonverbal        2        8
Lack of interest on part of students           1        4
Inadequate instructional material available    1        4
Subject inappropriate for BC                   1        4

Other                                          5        21

Table 5: How valuable is nonverbal?

Response        Number     Percent

Very valuable   46         62
Valuable        25         34
Little Value    3          4
No Value        0          0
No Opinion      0          0

TOTAL           74         100

Table 6: How many nonverbal assignments per semester?

Response      Number   Percent

Zero          11       15
1             18       24
2             19       26
3             10       13
4             3        4
More than 4   2        3
Integrated    11       15

Total         74       100

Table 7: Materials used to teach nonverbal

Response                 Number     Percent

Teacher-made material    50         68
Textbook                 49         66
Supplementary material   39         53
Other                    9          12

Table 8: How many class periods spent on nonverbal?

Response      Number   Percent

Zero          1        1
1             13       18
2             30       41
3             16       22
4             3        4
5             1        1
More than 5   4        5
Integrated    6        8

Total         74       100

Table 9:  Which topics do you teach in nonverbal?

Response                          Number   Percent

Facial Expressions                69       93
Eye Contact                       68       92
Personal Appearance               66       89
Gestural Activities               65       88
Dress                             62       84
Smiling                           61       82
Hand Shake                        60       81
Posture                           59       80
Making a good First Impression    58       78
Tone of Voice                     58       78
Spatial Relationship              57       77
Attitudes about Time              56       76
Leaning Toward                    56       76
Nodding Head                      53       72
Leaning Away                      50       68
Vocal Qualities                   50       68
Touching                          49       66
Vocal Characteristics             41       55
Meaning of Colors                 36       49
Slouching                         34       46
Vocal Segregates                  13       18

Table 10: Methods in teaching nonverbal

Methods Used            Number   Percent

Lecture                 66       89
Discussion              63       85
Textbook Reading        47       64
Audio/Visual Material   44       59
Role Playing            36       49
Case Studies            33       45
Group Project           29       39
Current Events          25       34
Guest Speakers          16       22
Student Term Papers     13       18
Panel Discussion        8        11
Debate                  5        7

Table 11: Value of method used (Number responding) Very Valuable = 4,
Valuable = 3, Little Value = 2, No Value = 1

Method Used              Very Valuable   Valuable   Little Value

Audio/ Visual Material   32              12         0

Role Playing             25              10         0

Discussions              30              32         1

Group Projects           15              13         0

Current Events           12              10         0

Case Studies             14              15         1

Lectures                 16              45         4

Guest Speakers           20              30         0

Textbook Reading         9               30         7

Student Term Papers      16              15         6

Panel Discussion         12              13         2

Debates                  4               3          2

Method Used              No Value        Weighted

Audio/ Visual Material   0               3.73

Role Playing             1               3.64

Discussions              0               3.46

Group Projects           0               3.41

Current Events           1               3.16

Case Studies             1               3.15

Lectures                 0               3.14

Guest Speakers           0               3.13

Textbook Reading         0               2.98

Student Term Papers      1               2.92

Panel Discussion         2               2.38

Debates                  1               2.00


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