Last updated March 12, 2023

This is an activity you can use if you are teaching non-verbal communication and body language skills. The aim of this activity is to evaluate what the influences of nonverbal communication are and to discuss with the class, each of these influences.

1. Body Language PPT PowerPoint Slide

Nonverbal communication skills effects
PowerPoint PPT slide from the Body Language Materials

2. Questions and Answers: Starting the Activity

At first, only show the title of the slide (you can see the completed slide on the image above)

Then ask the following question to your participants.

(You may also wish to give participants three to five minutes to discuss this question in small groups and then ask each group their thoughts.)

What do you think can influence the way we communicate nonverbally?

Wait for answers.

The participants’ answers should elicit a discussion.

After the participants have answered, click on the slide to show the elements on the slide. Explain each element one by one and use the descriptions and explanations below, to talk through the graphic on the PowerPoint slide.

As you explain, connect your explanations with the major points from the previous discussion.

3. Individuals and Body Language

Body language to suggest to be quiet

Click to show the circular shape that says ‘Individual’.

The first thing we need to consider is that nonverbal communication can vary between individuals.

Click the PPT slide to show the text box that says ‘Body, personality, experiences’.

The individual’s nonverbal communication is influenced by their body.

Individuals have bodies with different shapes and characteristics that can communicate something, whether we have the power to change these characteristics or not.

Also, disabilities (physical or mental) can hinder or change the way a person can send or receive certain nonverbal signals.

Think, for example, about people with visual or hearing limitations, who rely more on one sense over another to communicate.

There is also a diagnosable disability, called NLD (nonverbal learning disorder), which impairs a person’s ability to send or understand nonverbal signals.

For example, they may invade your personal space without intending to or be unable to understand the way different tones of voice convey different emotions.

Other factors that affect an individual’s nonverbal communication are their personalities and their previous life experiences (personal history, upbringing, culture).

With regard to individuals, it is important to point out that we can all have nonverbal behaviors that are idiosyncratic.

This means that they are specific to us only as individuals, regardless, for example, of the culture we belong to.

For instance, in a culture where people are loud and are not afraid to touch other people, some individuals can still be quieter and more defensive of their personal space.

Also, some gestures, generally speaking, have certain meanings but this does not apply to everybody. For example, if a person twirls their hair, it can mean they are tense.

For some people though, this can be a habit, so it may not necessarily mean that they are more stressed than normal when they twirl their hair, as they do it all the time.

It is important to try and understand what the normal behavior for an individual is before we try to guess what their nonverbal behavior means.

If we do not have time to get to know that person, we will need to refer to the context of the situation more generally.

4. Body Language and Intentions

Thumbs up non verbal communication

Click the PowerPoint slide to show the circular shape that says ‘Intentions’.

The next thing to consider is the intention of the person concerning their nonverbal communication.

Click the PowerPoint slide to show the text box that says, ‘Is communication intentional or not?’

Sometimes we are aware of the nonverbal messages we are sending, and we do it with a purpose.

Other times, we send messages without being aware that we are doing so or of their effects.

You might be unaware of cultural norms.

For example, a thumbs up is a positive sign in some cultures, to signify that something is good. In other cultures, it is an insult.

So, somebody who comes from a culture in which a thumb-up is a positive sign may do this gesture in front of a person who comes from a culture in which it is an insult.

So, one might end up insulting people without the intention of doing so.

Another example is that of unintentional touch, when you bump into another person without meaning to touch them.

Other times somebody may try to conceal their intention, either because they are being deceitful or just polite.

So, they put on a façade, but they do something (sometimes it can be a small movement, called a micro-gesture), which gives away their inner conflict.

For example, you ask someone for a favor. They say yes but they do not really want to do it. In this case, they may touch the back of their neck, which is a sign of discomfort (we will say more about this later).

Or they may say they are happy with certain arrangements but then, every time the topic comes up, they almost imperceptibly shudder.

5. NonVerbal Communication and the Social Environment

Click the PowerPoint slide to show the circular shape that says ‘Environment’.

Finally, the environment can influence our nonverbal communication.

Click the PowerPoint slide to show the text box that says, ‘Social, cultural, physical’.

With regards to the environment, in respect to nonverbal communication and body language, there are three key areas:

a) The social environment, such as hierarchy and relationships.

There are different ways to show a person’s status nonverbally, one example being through touch.

The appropriate type of touch depends on the setting and the level of intimacy.

You need to consider the context and people involved on a case-by-case basis. However, here are some suggestions.

As a general rule, avoid touching anyone unless you know them well or are offering assistance.

In any case, make sure that they are ok with being touched.

Because of laws regulating behavior in the workplace, it would be wise to avoid touching anyone in a work context.

Avoid moving someone out of the way by pushing them but, instead, say something such as ‘Excuse me’.

Avoid aggressive touches or startling someone with touch, when they are not aware of your presence.

Power dynamics are also involved in touch.

Generally speaking, the person who has more authority in a certain context is usually allowed more freedom to touch those with less authority (albeit within limits of decency and appropriateness).

For example, a priest could touch a congregation member on the head to bless them, but it would not happen the other way around.

Also, the way a manager communicates nonverbally to their direct reports is generally different from the way a direct report communicates with their manager.

b) The culture

Nonverbal communication is, for the most part, culturally dependent (both in terms of national cultures and of subcultures within the same society).

c) Physical environment

Physical features and barriers in the environment can have an impact on how we communicate nonverbally.

Also, we can set up an environment, such as by arranging furniture in an office, to elicit certain behaviors. For example, certain seating arrangements (such as sitting side by side as opposed to opposite each other) can encourage cooperation more than others.

Body language communication training materials
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Dr Valeria Lo Iacono