Nonverbal Communication vs. Verbal Communication

What's the Difference?

Nonverbal communication and verbal communication are two distinct forms of communication that humans use to convey messages. Verbal communication involves the use of spoken or written words to express thoughts, ideas, and emotions. It relies on language and grammar to convey meaning. On the other hand, nonverbal communication refers to the use of body language, facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice to communicate without words. It is often subconscious and can convey emotions and attitudes more effectively than words alone. While verbal communication is more explicit and precise, nonverbal communication adds depth and nuance to our interactions, allowing for a more holistic understanding of the message being conveyed. Both forms of communication are essential in effective interpersonal communication.


AttributeNonverbal CommunicationVerbal Communication
DefinitionCommunication without the use of words or language.Communication that involves the use of words or language.
MediumBody language, facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc.Spoken or written words, language, tone, etc.
SpeedCan be instantaneous and immediate.Can vary in speed depending on the speaker.
AccuracyCan sometimes be ambiguous or open to interpretation.Can be precise and specific.
ContextCan convey emotions, attitudes, and social cues.Can convey explicit information and facts.
ComprehensionCan be understood across different cultures and languages.May require shared language or translation.
MemoryNonverbal cues can be easily forgotten or misinterpreted.Verbal messages can be remembered and referenced.
ImpactNonverbal cues can have a significant impact on communication.Verbal messages can have a direct impact on understanding.

Further Detail


Communication is a fundamental aspect of human interaction, allowing individuals to convey thoughts, ideas, and emotions. While verbal communication, which involves the use of words and language, is often the first thing that comes to mind when we think about communication, nonverbal communication plays an equally important role. Nonverbal communication refers to the transmission of messages through facial expressions, body language, gestures, and other nonverbal cues. In this article, we will explore the attributes of both nonverbal and verbal communication, highlighting their similarities and differences.

Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication encompasses a wide range of cues that are used to convey meaning without the use of words. These cues include facial expressions, such as smiles, frowns, and raised eyebrows, which can express emotions and attitudes. Body language, such as posture, gestures, and eye contact, also plays a significant role in nonverbal communication. For example, crossed arms may indicate defensiveness or resistance, while open and relaxed body language can signal receptiveness and engagement.

Nonverbal communication is often spontaneous and can occur simultaneously with verbal communication. It can provide additional information and context to the spoken words, enhancing the overall understanding of the message. Nonverbal cues are also culturally influenced, with different cultures assigning different meanings to certain gestures or expressions. For instance, a thumbs-up gesture may be seen as positive in some cultures but offensive in others.

Furthermore, nonverbal communication is often more powerful and impactful than verbal communication. Research suggests that a significant portion of communication is conveyed through nonverbal cues, with some studies estimating that up to 93% of communication is nonverbal. This highlights the importance of paying attention to nonverbal cues to fully understand the intended message.

Verbal Communication

Verbal communication, on the other hand, involves the use of words and language to convey messages. It is the most common form of communication and allows for the exchange of information, ideas, and opinions. Verbal communication can take various forms, including face-to-face conversations, phone calls, written messages, and public speeches.

One of the key attributes of verbal communication is its explicitness. Words have specific meanings, and when used correctly, they can convey precise information. Verbal communication also allows for clarification and elaboration, as individuals can ask questions or seek further explanation when needed. Additionally, verbal communication can be more efficient in conveying complex or detailed information compared to nonverbal cues alone.

However, verbal communication is not without its limitations. Misunderstandings can occur due to differences in language proficiency, dialects, or cultural nuances. Additionally, words can be easily misinterpreted or manipulated, leading to conflicts or confusion. Unlike nonverbal cues, which are often instinctive and difficult to control, verbal communication requires conscious thought and effort to choose the right words and deliver the intended message effectively.

Similarities between Nonverbal and Verbal Communication

While nonverbal and verbal communication differ in their modes of expression, they share several similarities in their functions and impact on interpersonal interactions. Both forms of communication serve as a means of expressing emotions, attitudes, and intentions. For example, a smile can convey happiness or friendliness, whether expressed verbally or nonverbally.

Both nonverbal and verbal communication can also be used to establish and maintain social relationships. They play a crucial role in building rapport, expressing empathy, and creating a sense of connection between individuals. In a conversation, nonverbal cues such as nodding or maintaining eye contact can signal active listening and engagement, while verbal affirmations like "I understand" or "That makes sense" can reinforce understanding and encourage further communication.

Furthermore, both nonverbal and verbal communication are influenced by cultural and contextual factors. Gestures, facial expressions, and even the tone of voice can vary across cultures, and individuals must be mindful of these differences to avoid misunderstandings or unintended offense. Additionally, the context in which communication takes place, such as a formal business meeting or an informal gathering, can influence the choice of nonverbal and verbal cues used.

Differences between Nonverbal and Verbal Communication

While nonverbal and verbal communication share similarities, they also have distinct attributes that set them apart. One significant difference is the speed of transmission. Nonverbal cues are often processed and interpreted more quickly than verbal messages. For example, a person's facial expression can be instantly recognized and understood, while the verbal response may take a few seconds to formulate.

Another difference lies in the level of control individuals have over their nonverbal and verbal cues. Nonverbal communication is often more spontaneous and difficult to control consciously. Facial expressions, for instance, can reveal genuine emotions even when individuals try to hide or mask them. In contrast, verbal communication allows individuals to carefully choose their words, tone, and delivery, providing more control over the message they wish to convey.

Nonverbal communication also tends to be more ambiguous and open to interpretation compared to verbal communication. While words have specific meanings, nonverbal cues can be subjective and vary in their interpretation. For example, a person's crossed arms may indicate defensiveness, but it could also be a result of feeling cold or simply a comfortable posture.

Lastly, nonverbal communication often carries a higher emotional impact than verbal communication. A warm hug or a comforting touch can convey empathy and support more effectively than words alone. Nonverbal cues can evoke strong emotional responses and create lasting impressions, making them a powerful tool in interpersonal communication.


Nonverbal and verbal communication are two essential components of human interaction, each with its own attributes and impact. While nonverbal communication relies on facial expressions, body language, and gestures to convey meaning, verbal communication utilizes words and language. Both forms of communication serve similar functions, such as expressing emotions and establishing social connections, but they also differ in terms of speed, control, ambiguity, and emotional impact. Understanding and effectively utilizing both nonverbal and verbal communication can enhance our ability to connect with others, foster understanding, and build strong relationships.

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