Impact of Nonverbal Communication on Interpersonal Relationships

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The value of interpersonal communication for the fulfillment of human needs and the transmitting of emotions cannot be ignored. Without interpersonal communication, people cannot understand each other, collaborate with each other, and unceasingly encourage the development of human society. A healthy and productive life depends on effective communication, eliminating possibilities for conflict Ineffective interaction, however, leads to ambiguities, misinterpretations, and disputes. Interpersonal communication is fulfilled through two forms: one is verbal behaviors, the other one is nonverbal behaviors. Verbal communication is the most common and significant form of communication. The Holy Quran directs its followers for effective communication skills in the following verse: “Invite people to the way of your Lord with wisdom and counsel. And argue with them in the best of manners”. But it does not mean that we can ignore the importance of nonverbal communication. In interpersonal communication, many messages and meanings are expressed through touch, eye contact and gaze, slight diversity of tone, gesture and facial expressions with or without the help of verbal behaviors. We often try to understand one’s heart thoroughly and make important judgment and decision to others according to nonverbal behaviors. This paper deals with the effects on nonverbal communication on interpersonal relationships with evidence from Islamic teachings and psychological research.

According to Edward T Hall, about 65 % of our in-person communication is non-verbal (Hall, 1968). The early man relied on nonverbal communication to communicate with one another. NVC is typically controlled by the right side of the brain. Those who suffer from trauma to the right bottom of the brain lose the ability to acknowledge facial expressions but they can still concoct verbal communication. Researchers in this field believe that the response of likes and dislikes of a person in relation to an object can be represented and conveyed through the words as much as 7 %, and around 38 %are delivered via voice and the remaining 55% are interpreted and presented through facial gestures.

Principles of nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication cannot be controlled like verbal communication. What comes out of your mouth and what you express through the language of your body are two completely different things, for instance when you meet someone you might say ‘I’m glad to meet you’ but your facial expressions will give it all away. It’s difficult to fake what you really feel deep inside. Our nonverbal behavior somehow exposes our underlying thoughts and feelings.

Nonverbal communication is more honest and credible. Often we place more confidence in what people do over what they say. This is particularly true when our actions become more instinctual in times of stress or risk, and we rely on older thought and acting mechanisms that developed before our ability to speak and write. Peter A. Andersen, Nonverbal Communication: Forms and Functions (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1999), 18.)

Although verbal communication is our primary tool for problem-solving and producing detailed guidance, nonverbal communication is our fundamental communication tool for emotional interaction. This makes sense when we recollect that nonverbal communication rose before verbal communication and was the channel through which we expressed anger, fear, and love for ages in human history

Channels of non-verbal communication

Non-verbal messages are transmitted through four basic channels: face, body, gesture, and voice. The face is the most powerful communication channel. Emotional expression through the face is mainly due to variations in the ridges of the mouth, eyebrows, coloring of the cheeks, tissues of the eyes, dilution of the pupils, and gaze intensity. It’s also found in the life history of prophet that his companions used to understand his anger, disapproval, dislike, unwillingness through his facial expressions.

Types of nonverbal communication

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Kinesics: The most popular form of nonverbal communication linked to physical movements, posture, head movements, facial expressions and gestures. The gestures can be divided into three main categories namely adaptors, emblems and illustrators.

  • Adapters include touch and motion gestures and will suggest what a person feels or what his inner state of mind is (Hans 2015). These gestures would give it out if a person is anxious or nervous by tapping of his fingers, moving of his feet, clicking of his tongue etc.
  • Emblems are deliberately used symbols with a common and generally understood meaning (Hans & Hans, 2015). Examples of such emblems are thumbs-up signs, twirling of the index finger while aiming at a person etc.
  • Illustrators are the most common and subconscious gesture. They are often used to aid us in defining specific words or actions in our speech. We often use illustrators to express how big something is.

Haptics: nonverbal communication which uses the sense of touch and is the most impactful way of conveying emotions and feelings .one simple touch can remove all sorrows when words alone cannot .

Oculesics: it is a subgroup of kinesics, and is the study of nonverbal communication related to the eye, its behaviour, gaze etc.

Eyes communicate the message of love, anger, jealousy, approval and disapproval, so we should be mindful of their use. The phrase ‘eyes are the porthole to the heart’ is accurate because through ones eyes one can understand and reach the soul. (Peter A. Andersen, Nonverbal Communication: Forms and Functions (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1999), 40.) Some eye behaviours are linked to personality traits or emotional states, as illustrated in phrases such as ‘hungry eyes,’ ‘evil eyes”. In a long hadith that relates the incident of ‘Conquest of Makkah,’ the Prophet’s companions (PBUH) wished the Prophet (PBUH) to blink his eyes to kill the man who stood before him for allegiance, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) replied: “It is not fitting for a Prophet to play deceptive tricks with the eyes”.

Vocalics is the study of the voice as a key for nonverbal communication. It includes the vocal features that go hand in hand with verbal messages such as pitch, sound, sighs, silences, laugh, vocal nature, and verbal features. Even if someone uses the harsh tone, it is guided to Muslims to disregard this and reciprocate in a soft mode. Allah counselled Musa and Haroon (AS) as they were sent to the Pharaoh for preaching, “And speak to him with gentle speech that perhaps he may be reminded or fear [Allah]”.

Proxemics: it’s the branch of NVC that deals with spacial distance between individuals and how it affects communication. Edward T Hall coined the term proxemics and divided into 4 major groups –intimate distance, personal distance, social distance and public distance.


Non-verbal communication is not something that is mysterious or magical. It is a natural process, even logical, by means of which people convey information other than words. Although linguistic communication channels can be cut off by refusing to speak or writing, it is impossible to avoid acting non-verbally because our body continues to send signals consciously or subconsciously. Communication is the only mean by which people connect with each other. Effective communication leads to understanding one another.

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