People communicate is so many different ways. They communicate with words, with eye contact, with body language, with different languages, with hand gestures and signals, and with instruments of all kinds. When breaking down communicative actions into broad categories, there are two major divisions. First, verbal communication includes using words to convey meaning. Second, nonverbal communication is every other way of communicating. While there is much emphasis placed on verbal communication, the bulk of face-to-face communication is done nonverbally.

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Verbal communication includes speaking to others, writing of all kinds, singing, shouting, and other ways of using words. Verbal communication can be one-way, where the communication comes from an individual or document and goes out without the recipient or recipients acknowledging the communicative act. Verbal communication can also be two-way, where the speaker/writer and the receiver(s) engage in an exchange of words that are recognized, acknowledged, and exchanged by both parties. Also, verbal communication can be multi-directional, where spoken or written words are exchanges amongst and between many parties. Verbal communication also encompasses the newer forms of communication brought about by technology, such as postal mail and telephone, and more recently, e-mail, texting, instant messaging, and by way of social media.

In the nonverbal communication category, body language is the first type of nonverbal exchange that most people think of. This includes nods, shrugs, blinks, smiles, frowns, hand gestures, the proximity of the communicating parties to each other, how people physically react to words and other types of bodily gestures, and even nonverbal vocalizations such as coughs, laughs, and sighs.

Interestingly, verbal communication and nonverbal communication can be intermixed as well. A speaker may say something to another person who in turn nods or shrugs to acknowledge understanding. Or, one person may look toward another prompting the recipient of the look to speak verbally. One example of this that happens frequently is a parent looking disapprovingly at a child after the child has broken a rule or been naughty. The look from the parent prompts the child to say things such as, “What? I didn’t do anything,” or, “It’s not my fault!”

Knowledge of these types of communicative practices can enhance communication with others in numerous ways. Understanding when a person’s spoken words don’t match with his or her body language is a clue that the person may be uncomfortable, nervous, or even lying. Also, lack of facial expression could indicate indifference or boredom. This can occur while someone is speaking or being spoken to. Additionally, knowing that there are cultural differences in nonverbal communication can be helpful in understanding the meaning of communication. In some cultures, direct eye contact while speaking means that attention is being paid to the speaker. In other cultures, this same direct eye contact is seen as aggressive and disrespectful in nature.

Ultimately, because people communicate is so many different ways, both verbally and nonverbally, it is important to understand all ways of communicating in order to get the complete meaning of the communicative act.