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Modifying speech

Non-verbal communication has a significant effect on what is communicated. Modifications include:

• Positioning of body relative to other people and things

• Shape of whole body
• Movement of limbs, head and fingers
• Micro-movement of muscles
• Skin color and texture
• Voice pitch
• Texture of voice tone
• Speed of speaking
• Sweating
• Bodily smells (eg. pheromones)

Speech modifiers are particularly significant when taken combination with speech and when used at
key points in speech, for example in creating emphasis.

Replacing speech
Communication can be done without speaking. For example:

• Pointing with feet, legs, hands, head or whole body

• Gestures with fingers, hands and arms.
• Tilting of head
• Movement of any combination of the 90 muscles in the face.

Replacement for speech can be direct one-for-one gestures with clear meaning or may be less obvious
or conscious movements that signal requests, attitudes and intent.

Controlling conversation
Conversation is a process of turn-taking in talking. Non-verbal signals are used a great deal in
requesting, offering and managing control of who is speaking. This includes:

• Butting into speech to take control.

• Speaking louder or faster to retain control.
• Pausing to allow others to butt in.
• Stopping to request others to speak.
• Leaning forward and moving to request speaking.
• Looking away or moving back to show non-readiness to listen.

Conveying personality and status

Non-verbal communication extends beyond bodily actions to anything that sends messages. This
includes much about who you are, and in particular where you fit into the social hierarchy. Such items

• Dress, including style, tidiness, coordination.

• Personal adornments, from jewellery to watches and badges.
• Office and desk space at work, including size and type of computer, chair, etc.
• Items owned, from cameras to cars to houses.

Expressing emotion
Emotions are particularly expressed through non-verbal communication, where the voice and body can
tell a lot more about how you feel than your words. In particular, if you feel unable to express
emotions verbally, your words and body language can easily conflict, sending messages that may be
interpreted as stress or deceit.
So what?
So when you communicate, use your whole body and align it with your words.
Watch yourself to understand what your subconscious is thinking and feeling -- it is not always obvious
to your conscious mind.
Also watch other people, of course, reading the deeper meaning of what they do not say.

Reading non-verbal signals is not difficult if you know what to look for. Here are a few tips and traps.

Multiple meanings
A problem with reading people is that body language can have multiple meanings. People who are
relaxed fold their arms, as do people who are cold. Touching your face may signify thinking and a
whole host of other things.
Similarly people who are introverts are more easily over-stimulated -- especially by other people.
Particularly if you are extravert, when you are trying to connect with them, you may actually be
winding them up! Their negative-seeming body language is just them trying to find a safe space.

One secret of reading body language is to look for things that happen at the same time. Thus if you
ask them a searching question and they close their body, then this may be an indication that they do
not want to tell the truth. It may also, of course, mean that they do not like your aggressive style, so
you should be aware of your part in the dance and change your style accordingly.

Another secret of reading body language is to look for clusters multiple transitions, for example where
a person crosses their legs and arms together and looks away.
The result of trying to control your body is that you send mixed messages and just look like a person
who is trying to control their errant body. The effect of this is that you will appear untrustworthy and

This is subsequently generalized to mean that in all communications:

• 7% happens in spoken words.

• 38% happens through voice tone.
• 55% happens via general body language.

Of course this cannot be true: does an email only convey 7%? Can you watch a person speaking in a
foreign language and understand 93%?

Haptic communication is communicating by touch. This is used in a number of contexts and also has
dangers for the unwary as touching for example where another person can, in particular
circumstances, be interpreted as assault.
Touch is often intimate and can be used as an act of domination or friendship, depending on the
context and who is touching who, how and when.
Young children and old people use more touching than people in the middle years.
Touch provides a direct contact with the other person. This varies greatly with the purpose and

Some jobs require that the other person is touched in some way, very typically by people in the
medical profession or other caring jobs.

Touch can be negative as well as positive and a slap or a punch sends a very strong message (that
may well get the message sender into very deep trouble!).
Touching is a common part of many greeting rituals, from shaking hands to cheek-kissing to full-body
Such communication is highly ritualized and can contain subtle symbolism. For example clasping the
other person for a fraction of a second longer than normal can send such different signals as affection
and domination.

When a person is physically moving, a touch on the body, usually the back, shoulder or arm can guide
them in the right direction.

Gaining attention
When you touch another person who is talking or otherwise engaged elsewhere, they are very likely to
turn their attention to you.
Touching here is very much in safe areas, such as the arm or shoulder.
Saying their name at the same time reinforces strongly this move.

When we are distressed, we will often appreciate the touch of another as a parent, providing physical
The degree of touch in such circumstances varies greatly with the relationship, ranging from a gentle
touch on the arm to an arm around the shoulder to a full-body hug.

Touching is often a part of friendship and demonstrates closeness. Friends will walk close together and
occasionally bump into one another. They will touch more during greeting and may spontaneously
touch one another during communication.

Kinesic communication is communicating by body movement and is perhaps the most well-known non-
verbal form of communication, although it is not the only way to talk with others without words.

Body posture
The way that the body is held can communicate many different messages.
An open body that takes up a lot of space can indicate comfort and domination, whilst a closed-in body
that makes itself small can signal inferiority.
Copying of the other person's body shows agreement, trust and liking.

Gesture is communicating through the movement of body and arms.
Ekman and Friesen (1969) identified five types of gesture:

• Emblems: Direct replacements for words.

• Illustrators: Shaping what is being said.
• Affect displays: shows of emotion.
• Regulators: for controlling the flow of conversation.
• Adaptors: Self-oriented tension relievers and other forms.

Facial signals
When we communicate with others, we look mostly at their face. This is not a coincidence as many
signals are sent with the 90-odd muscles in the face. The way the head tilts also changes the
The eyes are particularly important, and when communicating we first seek to make eye contact. We
then break and re-establish contact many times during the discussion.
Eyebrows and forehead also add significant signals, from surprise to fear to anger.
The mouth, when not talking can be pursed, downturned or turned up in a smile.
Proxemic communication is communicating with others by virtue of the relative positioning of your

Geographic territory
There are different parts of the world where people act differently.
The primary territory of a person is their personal area, which may be a house, a bedroom, a den or
study, where they feel most at home. Here, they can be themselves and be relaxed.
Secondary territory is where they also feel comfortable. This may be neutral places such as bars and
restaurants or other private places such as at a friend's house or a club.
Public territory is not owned by us or people we trust, but it is neutral. This includes streets, parks and
other public places. There may be threat or safety here, depending on the place and the time.
Interaction territory is a temporary private space where I am having a conversation with others. This
may be in a café or even moving along a corridor. It is assumed I can communicate with relative
privacy within this space.

Personal space
The personal space around my body includes a number of concentric circles where the closer areas
are reserved for more trusted people. If you are closer to me, you may attack me, so I will seek to
keep close areas safer by forbidding all but approved friends.
Hall (1966) found four key zones:

• Intimate: touching to 10 inches. For close friends and family.

• Casual-personal: 18 inches to four feet: Informal conversation with friends.
• Social-consultative: four to twelve feet: formal transactions.
• Public: Addressing groups of people.

Body angling
Bodies may be angled with other people ranging from side-to-side to face-to-face.
Direct face-to-face can be confrontational or intimate and so many conversations are held with people
sitting or standing at an angle to one another.
When side-by-side, people face the same way and hence it is difficult to see the other's face. This is
done as a practical step when walking or may be deliberately used to 'face the same problem'.

Gestures, the movement of arms and hands, are different from other body language in that they tend
to have a far greater association with speech and language. Whilst the rest of the body indicates more
general emotional state, gestures can have specific linguistic content.
Gestures have three phases: preparation, stroke and retraction. The real message is in the stroke,
whilst the preparation and retraction elements consist of moving the arms to and from the rest
position, to and from the start and end of the stroke.

Emblems are specific gestures with specific meaning that are consciously used and consciously
understood. They are used as substitutes for words and are close to sign language than everyday body
For example, holding up the hand with all fingers closed in except the index and second finger, which
are spread apart, can mean 'V for victory' or 'peace' (if the palm is away from the body) or a rather
rude dismissal if the palm is towards the body.

Iconic gestures
Iconic gestures or illustrators are closely related to speech, illustrating what is being said, painting with
the hands, for example when a person illustrates a physical item by using the hands to show how big
or small it is. Iconic gestures are different from other gestures in that they are used to show physical,
concrete items.
Iconic gestures are useful as they add detail to the mental image that the person is trying convey.
They also show the first person or second person viewpoint that the person is taking.
The timing of iconic gestures in synchronization with speech can show you whether they are
unconscious or are being deliberately added for conscious effect. In an unconscious usage, the
preparation for the gesture will start before the words are said, whilst in conscious usage there is a
small lag between words and gesture (which can make the speaker appear manipulative).

Metaphoric gestures
When using metaphoric gestures, a concept is being explained. Gestures are in three-dimensional
space and are used to shape and idea being explained, either with specific shapes such as finger
pinches and physical shaping, or more general waving of hands that symbolizes the complexity of
what is being explained.

Regulators are used to control turn-taking in conversation, for example in the way that as a person
completes what they are saying, they may drop their arms, whilst a person wanting to speak may
raise an arm as if to grasp the way forward.

Affect displays
Gestures can also be used to display emotion, from tightening of a fist to the many forms of self-
touching and holding the self. Covering or rubbing eyes, ears or mouth can say 'I do not want to
see/hear/say this'. Holding hands or the whole body can indicate anxiety as the person literally holds
themself. Self-preening can show a desire to be liked and can indicate desire of another.

Beat gestures
Beat gestures are just that, rhythmic beating of a finger, hand or arm. They can be as short as a single
beat or as long as needed to make a particular point.
Beating and repetition plays to primitive feelings of basic patterning, and can vary in sense according
to the context. A beat is a staccato strike that creates emphasis and grabs attention. A short and
single beat can mark an important point in a conversation, whilst repeated beats can hammer home a
critical concept.

Tells are typically small fragments of body language associated with particular habits and behaviors.
They are often also associated with one person only.
Tells are triggered by emotions such as excitement, anxiety and anger.
They are often subconscious and thus are useful signals of what the person is really thinking.
They may be very visible actions, such as scratching and vocalizing, or may be fleeting micro-
movements, such as twitches of facial muscles.


A poker player scratches his ear when he has a good hand and rubs his nose when he has a
bad hand. He is also surprised when some people seem to be able to tell whether he has a
good or bad hand.

A child has a tell of scratching his leg when he tells a lie. His mother spots this and uses it to
wean him into being more truthful.

A business leader briefly flares her nose when irritated. Some of her people spot this and are
careful when it happens.

We do not all have the same body language, although much is shared. This means that reading the
signals that other send is not as easy as it may first seem. It thus gives importance calibrating a
person before making assumptions. It also means that people will often give you extra information
beyond common body language, particularly in individual situations.
As with other body language, tells are typically at transitions, when a person first feels anxious,
excited, etc. They do not always persist and can be momentary. This makes spotting them a quite
skilled activity. The good news is that people will repeat the tells in a habitual way and, with
observation, you can acquire the needed skills.