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Interpersonal Non-Verbal Communication Observation
The importance of Non-Verbal Communication is evident in the fact that it constitutes the bulk of human communication. The fact that non-verbal communication is more important than any other form of communication is due to the emotional information it conveys, which is otherwise usually controlled or concealed. Thus, human beings base their feelings and emotional responses not so much on what another person says, but upon what another person does. In fact, it is estimated that the impact of non-verbal communication on a message's meaning can be as high as 93%. It is, therefore, obvious that learning to interpret nonverbal communication is critical in order to effectively decode meaning and underlying motivations in messages. But, first, it would be necessary to define the concept itself: "Non verbal communication is a process whereby people, through intentional or unintentional manipulation of normative actions and expectations express experiences, feelings, and attitudes in order to relate to and control themselves, others, and their environments." (Harris, p. 124) Though there is a great deal of literature available on non-verbal communication theory, learning to interpret non-verbal communication is perhaps best done through personal experience or impersonal observation of strangers at places like airports. Indeed, the latter exercise was undertaken by the author of this paper in order to try and apply non-verbal behavioral theory to real life. The time spent at the airport resulted in a host of observations of non-verbal communication behavior. However, for the purposes of this paper, the discussion that follows has been limited to behavior related to physical space; noise factors; relationships; and environment.
Among the most noticeable non-verbal behavioral patterns at the airport was the staking out of physical space. Of course, the fact that it was a particularly busy time at the airport contributed a great deal to people zealously guarding the physical space they had managed to secure. One of the most popular methods of guarding space seemed to be the placing of a hand bag or shopping bag on the neighboring seats. Logically, such behavior could be understood if the person acting in such a manner was saving the space for a co-passenger or friend. However, this did not seem the case with quite a few people, who appeared to be all by themselves. This conclusion was reached after keeping a close watch on such people right through the time that they fiercely protected their physical space. Observing people protecting their physical space brought to life the theory of spatial distance, especially spacial invasion: "People's reaction to spacial invasion depends on who invades, why the invasion occurs, and where and how long the invasion takes place. High density is tolerated (and is frequently expected) under certain conditions, such as crowded buses...particularly if the intruder apologizes and takes up as little space as possible." (Collier & DiCarlo, p. 115-116)
Indeed, it was quite amusing watching the text book descriptions of proxemics or people responding to spacial invasions being enacted in real life: one lady unsmilingly removed her bag from the next seat after being asked if it was vacant, and then angled her body away from her new neighbor so that her back was facing him; another lady who did not resort to placing any luggage on the seats next to her nevertheless reacted to her physical space being invaded by placing her hand baggage like a barrier between the two seats when another person occupied the empty chair; and one gentleman actually got up and simply walked away when a woman with an infant sat down next to him (Collier & DiCarlo, p. 116).
It was also interesting to observe various reactions to the noise levels in such a busy airport, especially since there were a number of different sounds all contributing to the general chaos and mayhem. One woman, for instance, with a really harried expression on her face was struggling with an overactive toddler while trying to coax a seemingly recalcitrant trolley of luggage to go in the direction she wanted. She was so focused on achieving whatever goal she had in mind that she seemed oblivious to her surroundings or the fact that a group of raucous tourists were rapidly gaining on her. As a result, when she suddenly heard their loud singing and laughter, she got so startled that her body jerked and she let go of her already precariously tottering luggage trolley. Similarly, in a quieter section of the airport, a man seemed fast asleep in a chair with his legs stretched right out. Opposite him was a family with three children. Suddenly, the baby of the lot started crying loudly resulting in the man waking up with a start and then looking wildly around as if he expected to see some disaster. Similarly, a man who appeared to be a business person was sitting in a seat engrossed in reading an official looking file when a woman with two children occupied the seats next to him. The children began running around playing a game of tag and making a lot of noise in their merriment. The man looked up at the kids and then glanced at the woman making eye contact. The woman's face actually flushed and then she summoned her children, handed them some money while speaking to them. Quite obviously, her neighbor with a couple of glances had managed to convey his annoyance at the noise disturbance and the woman had responded by distracting her children with some task or treat. Interestingly, in all three cases, there were no visible reactions to the constant buzz of a busy airport. All three reacted only to a sudden, unexpected noise violation. This was indicative of "perceptual sensitization," which can be the only possible explanation for the rapidity and immediacy of the reactions witnessed to the intrusion of unexpected noises (Mortensen & Sereno, p. 143).
The role and presence of non-verbal communication in interpersonal relationships is something that all humans are familiar with: "It regulates relationships and may support or replace verbal communication. Among the many factors contributing to non-verbal communication are sending and receiving ability and accuracy, perception of appropriate social roles, and cognitive desire for interpersonal involvement or assessment." (Dunn, 1998) Nevertheless, observing non-verbal communication among strangers greeting each other at the airport proved to be an insightful exercise in cataloguing different expressions that apply to the varying nature of social relationships. One little boy, for example, stood in a frozen posture while clutching his little bag and looking down at his feet all the time. A worried looking man stood by his side, constantly running one hand through his hair while taking frequent glances down at the still, silent figure of the child next to him. It seemed that the man was seeing the child off and it was crystal clear that the child wasn't pleased at being made to take the journey. Judging by the posture, facial expressions, and body language of the two, it wasn't hard to conclude that perhaps the child was being shuttled between divorced parents. In direct contrast to this picture was that of a couple whose bodies were so closely intertwined that it was easy to know that these two shared an intimate relationship and that they were reluctant to part company. Then there was a third tableau where it was apparent that an executive was waiting impatiently for his co-passenger. For, the man in question was standing at the security gate, impatiently tapping one foot and glancing at his wristwatch every few minutes. He also kept looking towards the main entrance doors to the airport. Thus, it was possible to read the nature of relationships purely from people's non-verbal expressions and behavior.
It was also possible to distinguish between people who were strangers to the city as against people…[continue]
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