Handbook of Communication and Social Interaction Skills

By John O. Greene; Brant R. Burleson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION SKILLS*
Judee K. Burgoon
Center for the Management of Information, University of Arizona
Aaron E. Bacue
Department of Communication, University of Arizona

It is the nature of the human condition that, try as we may, we cannot enter into the reality of another individual's experiences, thoughts, or feelings. Imprisoned as we are within our own bodies, the fallible process of communication is the primary agent currently available for crossing the psychological expanse between two or more individuals. Clearly, if communication is the sole means of accomplishing such a feat, then skill in this enterprise is integral to any interaction and, perhaps more important, to any theory of interaction.

Far too often, however, theoretical and practical conceptions of communication skill emphasize the role of verbal cues while discounting the importance of nonverbal behaviors in the actualization of this endeavor. This is particularly alarming given estimates that upwards of 60% of the meaning in any social situation is communicated nonverbally (Birdwhistell, 1955; Philipott, 1983) and research indicating that nonverbal cues are especially likely to be believed when they conflict with verbal messages (for summaries of this work, see Burgoon, 1985; Burgoon, Buller, & Woodall, 1996).

Fortunately, the last four decades have witnessed a growing interest in the matter of nonverbal social skills. Related publications now number in the hundreds, and an impressive arsenal of instruments has been amassed to assess skill levels. Warranting this extensive attention to skills is the impressive evidence that nonverbal social skills are potent predictors of success or failure in virtually all social arenas, be they personal, social, professional, or political. For example, Goleman (1995, 1998) compiled an impressive array of data indicating how nonverbal skills separate life's success stories and star performers from those with undistinguished histories. Such evidence has even led to claims that such skills are genetically determined and influence profoundly the health and longevity of the human species.

____________________
*
This research was partially supported by funding from the U. S. Army Research Institute (Contract #DASW01-98-K-009). The views, opinions, and findings in this report are those of the authors and should not be construed as an official Department of the Army position, policy, or decision.

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