Nonverbal communication fulfill many functions and determining them is a matter of positioning and choice of a certain field of research: science of communication, sociology, psychology, antrophology etc. I will mention the most common functions of nonverbal communication.
Emotion expression – is an essential function of nonverbal communication. Emotions are body reactions at what happens around us and a mean to generate reactions from other people. Without emotional communication we would not be humans, but robots.
Interaction structuring – just before having an interaction, nonverbal clues determines the way things will happen; what role will play each one, how formal it is, what can be and cannot be discussed etc. Let’s say you go to a physician for an examination. How do you behave? Low level profile, ready to wait for two hours in the queue, to meet “God”. You don’t raise your voice, you’re scared as hell and nod every time when he says something.
Identity Management – it is about nonverbal clues used by one who projects his identity, his self-concept. Self-identity comprises things such belonging tu a certain race and culture, or individuating factors as personality and age. I have always asked myself why some country people always wear the same clothes when they are going to town? I did not find a resolute answer, maybe they bought them thirty years ago and never changed since.
Impression formation – it is about the way people use nonverbal cues to get an impression about people around them. This „first impression” is more or less accurate, according to individual skills and social stereotypes.
Relationship management – information is send through nonverbal channels, in order to define an interpersonal relationship: how much two people like each other, how much they trust each other, who is dominant and who is submissive etc. For exemple, if during a meeting at the office everybody laughs loudly only at a single individual’s bad jokes, that’s the boss, no doubt about it.
Conversation management – it refers at those noverbal „rituals” used to initiate, regulate and finalize a conversation. For exemple, when our conversation partner says something interesting and we want to go on, we nod our head slightly; or, to express our puzzlement we raise our brows, asking for further details.
Impression management – it is about strategy developed by communicators to appear as trustworthy and pleasant, trying to get social influence. Politicians are the ones who use it heavily, in order to win elections. They have image „image” experts, who establish for they even the color of the shoes. Romanian politicians don’t need that, a bag with frozen chicken and one kilo of sugar – for villagers will fulfill equally well the difficult task of impression management.
Deception – saying a lie generates for the liar stress and negative emotions (fear, guilt, shame), emotions which finally leaks into the nonverbal behavior. Most of the times, liars try to hide their internal state, and those who think they are lied try to identify those leakings. It is a hunt for hiding and identifying nonverbal clues.
Aesthetic communication – it is the communication made by artists through nonverbal channels; dancers, singers, sculptors etc. Also it is the aestethic feeling we have towards some people who are not artists, but who are very expressive and communicative and instill upon us such a feeling. I guess everyone of us has met somewhere, sometimes, a person like that.