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The Importance of Non-Verbal Cues

K Subapriya*

Communication skills is the success mantra of an individual in this globalized world, and there is a growing demand for these essential skills, which have branched into a wide variety of divisions and techniques. The meaning of a text can be communicated to the readers and listeners only through non-verbal signals. Both the oral and written styles attain perfection with the usage of non-verbal cues. The verbal sign (language) and the non-verbal cues together in the right proportion pave the way for a meaningful communication. Among the various factors determining the success of an effective communication, non-verbal cues play a vital role. Non-verbal signal operates at two levels. Non-verbal cues in writing involves the form of stylistic features like headings, titles, subheadings, photographs, captions, figures, graphs and bar charts, etc., whereas oral communication involves non-verbal signals like gestures, postures, facial expressions, pace, intensity, tone of voice and body language. In this context, this paper ventures to deal with the effective application of non-verbal cues, especially in a classroom setting. A teacher requires immense ability to use non-verbal cues for an effective interaction with the students, and the students in turn are in need of the knowledge of using non-verbal cues to write their answers in a better way. The study of various strategic moves involved in the usage of non-verbal signals can favor both the teachers and students.


Communication skills is the success mantra of an individual in this globalized world and there is an increasing demand for these essential skills which have branched into a wide variety of divisions and techniques. The verbal (language) and the non-verbal (signs which are used to communicate without words) constitute communication skills. Communication skills were once associated with the success of certain professions like teaching, but currently these skills are more associated with the IT field and various other professions. This shift in learning communication skills further motivates the teachers to improve their communication skills and teaching style.

Traditionally, teachers were associated with the notion of ‘sole performer’. Earlier, a teacher addressed the class for hours, with the students as passive listeners.

This is a modified version of the paper, “Non-Verbal Cues: The Second Tutor”, presented in the National Seminar “English Skills and Employability” held in Anna University on March 25-26, 2009.

* Ph. D Research Scholar, University of Madras, Chennai, India. E-mail:

The © 2009 Importance The Icfai of University Non-Verbal Press. Cues All Rights Reserved.


The modern method of teaching varies from the conventional way of teaching. The recent mode of teaching invites the students for active participation. Interactive sessions are more encouraged than one-way speech. The interest to take part in the discussions can be promoted among the students only through effective communication. A teacher who includes non-verbal cues in his/her teaching can easily involve the students in conversation. The class becomes more lively with the active participation of students.

Non-Verbal Cues

Apart from the livelier sessions and active sharing of knowledge, the teacher’s communication ability chisels the students for employability. Students actively take part in classroom activities. When the rapport is properly established, it lays naturally a smooth basis for the interaction. The gap between the students and the teachers can be bridged by the non-verbal cues which serve as a major component in strengthening communication skills.

More than the other aspects of effective teaching, which involves the use of materials like books, handouts, audiovisual help, interactive computer programs and websites, it is these non-verbal cues which are easier to adopt and practice. A teacher with sound communication ability alone can shape the students and make them employable. The role of teachers in using result-oriented communication tools and in imparting those tools to the students to use them at the appropriate place and time is the essential requirement of the contemporary world. For an effective communication in a classroom setting, a teacher requires the ability to use these non-verbal cues.

Non-verbal communication includes non-verbal cues which operate at two levels. In writing, non-verbal cues involve stylistic features like headings, titles, subheadings, photographs, captions, figures, graphs, bar charts, etc., whereas oral communication involves all the features of non-verbal signals like gestures, postures, facial expressions, pace, intensity, tone of voice and body language.

Both oral and written non-verbal cues form a dynamic feature of non-verbal communication. A teacher utilizes the non-verbal cues of oral communication while teaching, and the non-verbal cues listed as the factors of writing skill enhances the student’s performance in an exam.

Adhering to the oral part of non-verbal cues, a teacher for his/her effective communication has to use all of the following non-verbal cues:


• Eye contacts

• Posture and body orientation

• Gestures

• Facial expression

• Paralinguistics

• Proxemics

• Humor

The Icfai University Journal of Soft Skills, Vol. III, No. 2, 2009

The entire set of non-verbal cues and the responses that follow are explained in Figure
The entire set of non-verbal cues and the responses that follow are explained in
Figure 1.
Figure 1: Non-Verbal Cues and Responses
Sense of Humor
Proxemics (Study
of the Management
of Space)
(Includes Tone, Pitch
and Inflection)
Eye Contacts

Eye contacts + Postures + Gestures + Facial Expression + Paralinguistics + Proxemics + Humor = Effective Communication

The sum of all the above non-verbal cues results in effective communication, whereas even the missing of one ingredient in the above listed elements results in negative reaction. Like every action has its reaction, a teacher’s mode of teaching will also elicit certain responses among the students. They may be positive or negative based on the teacher’s communicating ability. The subtraction of even one element from the sum of all the components, “Effective Communication”, yields the results in the following way.

Effective Communication – 1 = Proximities (actions like rocking, leg swinging, tapping and gaze aversion by the students)

All the elements listed above can be described in detail. Eye contact with the students gives an impression of credibility to the students. The flow of communication regulated with proper eye contact can help the teachers in capturing the attention of the students. Often turning to the blackboard or addressing one part of the class may not ensure concern, warmth, interest and credibility.

A warm relationship can be established with the students through the right posture and body orientation. One should avoid rigid postures or static position, i.e., standing fixed to a place with a stern look. Moving around the class or leaning slightly forward will communicate to the students that the teacher is approachable, reliable, receptive and friendly.

The Importance of Non-Verbal Cues


A tinge of entertainment is essential in teaching. Teaching the class with a sense

of humor can even make the most difficult lessons easier. According to the research of Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School, “Creativity is positively associated with joy and love and negatively associated with anger, fear and anxiety.” Hence, teaching students with good humor and joy will yield better results. Apart from using the non-verbal cues, a teacher should also observe the signs of non-verbal cues among the students. A positive and friendly facial expression of the teacher will naturally have an impact on the students. On the other hand, the adverse effect of a dull lecture can also be seen in a student’s expression. A monotonous teaching may provoke the students to show their proximity. Proximities as stated earlier refer to actions like rocking, leg swinging, tapping and gaze aversion.

The class can be made much livelier by using of paralinguistics. Paralinguistics includes tone, pitch, rhythm, loudness and inflection. A skilled faculty knows to vary all these elements in voice to maintain modulation. Modulation will attract the students and make them attentive in the class. A teacher should take notice of the students’ reaction and change the way of lecture accordingly because more than what we say, it is how we say that makes the difference.

Thus, the cues, symbols and signals, paralanguage, proxemics and chronemics form parts of non-verbal communication.

A cue is often used for receptive communication, while signals are associated with

expressive communication. Cues are further divided into touch cues, sensory cues and

objective cues, whereas signals do not have any such classifications.

A teacher should become adept at using paralanguage—the study of non-verbal cues

of the voice. Proxemics—the study of the use and perceiving of the space also should be taken into account since the space between the listener and the speaker also plays

a major role in effective communication. Finally, chronemics—the study of the use of time in non-verbal communication also requires special attention for a necessary time management in communication.

Therefore, a teacher’s ability to use and observe non-verbal cues can yield the following benefits:

• The distance between the students and teachers is narrowed. This can pave way for introspection into a student’s expectation and behavior.

• The teaching process becomes smooth. Instead of imposing the subject on students, the teacher becomes a facilitator.

• Both the teachers and students become ardent observers and receivers of message and the subject.

Non-Verbal Cues in Writing

To deal with non-verbal cues involved in writing, it is important to note the various stylistic features like headings, titles, subheadings, paragraphs and captions, etc.


The Icfai University Journal of Soft Skills, Vol. III, No. 2, 2009

The effect of a good teaching by the faculty and the ardent observation of the students can be well evaluated through the exams. Teaching becomes the act of feeding the input and the students in turn give their output by providing a vivid picture of their comprehension in answer sheets. Writing also indicates creative writing or an article written for a journal. The students can refine their art of writing through the usage of the above listed stylistic features.

The title and heading of a particular summary or essay must be appropriate. It should simply convey the idea of the subject matter to the readers or to the faculty who evaluate the exam papers. A proper division of paragraphs and subheadings indeed helps. The subheading gives a brief summary, introduction or explanation, while the division of the summary into paragraphs confining to one particular idea presents the paper with a proper coherence.

The structure of a paragraph plays a crucial role in conveying a clear idea. The first sentence conveys the idea of the paragraph. It contains the key aspect. The second part consists of sentences which develops the key concept. The last sentence of the paragraph either summarizes the paragraph or provides a link to the next paragraph. Though it is rather a difficult task for the students to develop a summary with this paragraph format within the stipulated time, still a regular practice and clear notion of the subject can help the students write brief answers.

The data and details which run to many pages can be communicated in a condensed form through figures, graphs and bar charts. Rene Descartes, the French philosopher, suggests that human beings have the capacity to generate knowledge through two ways:

1. The first mode is to generate knowledge from the resources which already the human beings possess, i.e., through the usage of body (sensory organs) to generate knowledge.

2. The mind is also utilized as a major factor to generate knowledge.

As both the sensory organs and mind are involved in producing and absorbing knowledge, so the non-verbal cues are simultaneously involved in the process of articulating one’s knowledge and the absorption of this knowledge.

The process of teaching and writing with the subtle usage of non-verbal cues can have a greater impact on the conceptual and operational definition of the term. When non-verbal cues are used by teachers and students it is expected to determine the exact manner in which the subject can be decoded and conceived. Above all, the non-verbal cues can determine a cordial relationship between the teachers and the students.


To conclude, non-verbal cues along with verbal sign (language) in the right proportion pave the way for a meaningful communication. Both the oral and the written styles attain perfection with the usage of non-verbal cues. Though non-verbal cues can result in

The Importance of Non-Verbal Cues


misinterpretations, still the meaning of a text can be communicated completely to the readers only through non-verbal signals. The fault is not with the non-verbal cues but with the person who is making use of them in an inappropriate way. If verbal sign carries the content of the subject, non-verbal sign enhances the emotional meaning. Stereotypes can be avoided through verbal and non-verbal cues.

Non-verbal cues can change the denotative meaning to connotative meaning. Non-verbal cues give a new meaning and additional value and make teaching very effective. These non-verbal cues, which often go unnoticed, should be taken into account for effective teaching and impressive writing skills.

The appropriate choice of non-verbal cues can promote a spirit of cooperation between the teachers and students. Non-verbal cues facilitate a good, safe and comfortable atmosphere in the classroom.

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The Icfai University Journal of Soft Skills, Vol. III, No. 2, 2009