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A big ball of nervousness weighs down your stomach as you anxiously approach the door. You have a date tonight, and as your sweaty fist reaches to knock on the door to signal to your date that you’re there, a series of thoughts go through your head: did you pick the right flowers, did you choose the right restaurant, did you dress appropriately, are you about to say the right things, etc. While all of these are important, what is probably most important to focus on for the night is your nonverbal communication with your partner. Nonverbal communication is pivotal in our interactions with others, consisting of a variety of different things that all play a major role in communication. Nonverbal communication, specifically in regards to romantic relationships and dating, play a tremendous role in determining how we perceive other people and in turn greatly influence communication with others.
Nonverbal communication, or “the behaviors and characteristics that convey meaning without the use of words,” makes up so much of our communication with others, with research indicating that it makes up almost 70 percent of our communication with others. So many things go into nonverbal communication, with it ranging from your facial expressions, posture, vocal characteristics, eye contact, and so much more. It is so important, and it often goes very overlooked in terms of importance and overall makeup of what communication is. So, when you say, “You look lovely tonight!” to your date, it will probably matter much more how you say it more so than the fact that you choose to compliment your date.
At its very core, nonverbal communication creates so much meaning. This is seen in our common assumptions about reflexes and the emotions that are present during these reflexes. From as early as childhood, we begin to develop common associations between certain emotions and the reflexes that usually accompany them, highlighted in there being “a clear association between pleasant feelings and zygomatic activity (smiling) … [however] happiness is neither necessary nor sufficient for smiling” (Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols, 337). This shows several important things, one of the most important being that pleasant feelings such as happiness is commonly associated with smiling. While research indicates that happiness doesn’t have to be present for smiling to occur, there is a clear association between certain emotions and expressions. These results parallel the results found when looking into vocal characteristics and the different reactions present with different emotions. Similar to facial expressions, research posits that “facial and vocal changes are more closely tied with what have been thought of as components of the emotion and thus only indirectly with emotion” (Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols, 341). While the exact cause for frowning while sad or voice cracking when upset have yet to be found, we as humans tend to associate certain emotions and expressions together, especially with regard to our own specific cultures. These actions increase when in the presence of other people doing it, something key in establishing synergy between you and a potential partner. Our perceptions of these actions, whether it is something as small as grin or bigger with a smile, convey our feelings about the other person.
Of course, there are several other very important elements of nonverbal communication, among them eye contact and gazing. These two elements act as very important facets of nonverbal communication, with both of them often being present in intimate interactions between two potential partners. Studies on the subject indicates several things, a few among them are that higher levels of gazing indicated more sexual interest, gazing increases attraction and liking between others, and gazing shows more attentiveness among other things. Gazing and continuous eye contact have positive associations linked to them, and this collection of results showcases not only the power of gazing but its importance in social contexts as well. These research results will differ across different cultures, something clearly seen in the sharp dichotomy in the meaning of eye contact and gazing found in examining different cultures. Key differences in the meaning and overall use of eye contact between two potential partners can be found in exploring North American culture and other cultures such as Asian cultures, where “avoiding eye contact is seen as a sign of respect” in Asian cultures. However, while things may be different in other cultures, gazing and eye contact are important in North American culture and the presence of both of these is correlated with expressions of intimacy and affection. Because of this, it’s important to know and understand the state of things between you and your potential partner. While elements of this may be present with someone that you are close friends with, gazing and intimate eye contact with someone you are in personal distance with may indicate that you and other person could be much more than regular friends.
The importance and presence of nonverbal communication differs drastically with regards to the type of relationship two people are in. While research indicated that gazing increases sexual interest and attraction which is often correlated with intimate relationships, this is something that isn’t necessarily true as nonverbal communication differs between two people that are casually dating versus those who are more serious. In casual relationships there is a significant deemphasizing of several things and nonverbal communication overall seen with “involved daters [valuing] nonverbal communication more than casual daters” (McGinty, Knox, and Zusman, para. 5). Additionally, research indicated that “being sensitive to and concerned about the nuances of nonverbal communication is an extension of being more serious about relationship issues” (McGinty, Knox, and Zusman, para. 5). This research highlights a shifting prioritization when moving from casual relationships to more serious ones; both partners tend to care about the nonverbal elements because the gravity of the relationship is much deeper. McGinty and company’s research also firmly shows that casual relationships ultimately mean less commitment and with that less attention to key elements present in committed relationships. However, this doesn’t mean that these elements can’t be present, rather, the presence of certain elements of nonverbal communication (or lack thereof) won’t signify that these differences get even deeper when shifting from casual relationships to couples that are married seen in “married individuals reported more Supportive Affectionate Communication than the dating individuals” (Punyanunt-Carter, 1159). This finding helps in differentiating how nonverbal communication changes when couples have been together for long periods of times, highlight a shift away from affection verbal communication towards more supportive communication. Additionally, this helps in showing what couples should focus on in the early stages of their relationships and how their priorities should/could potentially shift as the relationship progresses. Furthermore, it’s important to note that these expectations that your significant other will share in these values sets goals and expectations for how each person should treat these issues. Ultimately, knowledge of these elements of nonverbal communication will lessen confusion and strengthen relationships overall.
The introduction and increased usage of technology has prompted people to supplement nonverbal communication ever since the advent ad large adaptation of technology with different things within technology. With texting for example, a large part of nonverbal communication has been getting overlooked but the introduction of emojis and avatars has lessened this effect by restoring such an important element of communication. This new change to texting has made itself a fixture of our everyday life because nonverbal communication is crucial in relationships, something seen in couples lacking in this element experiencing “experience a sense of “psychological distance” and feel less fondness for their interaction partner” (Kotlyar & Ariely, para. 2). As such, people that use emojis and other elements within texting to supplement nonverbal communication “reported substantially better perceptions of each other, greater information disclosure, and enhanced desire to meet in real life” which in turn “ (Kotlyar and Ariely, para. 7). These findings overall showcase the important need for nonverbal communication between two potential partners as well as highlighting different ways to do so. Overall, the use of things such as avatars and emojis can strengthen the formation of relationships and can even strengthen existing relationships especially when not in the presence of your significant other.
Relationships, whether they are platonic or intimate, are important for people to have. It is important to keep these relationships strong and healthy, and knowledge of the elements of communication aid in the continuation and strengthening of relationships. Knowing what your expressions are saying as well as what your partner’s are saying are essential to our relationships, and knowledge of nonverbal communication could very well be the reason you go on a second date with your potential partner.
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