Non-Verbal Immediacy Interpersonal Communication Strategy

Non-Verbal Immediacy

Non- verbal Immediacy is a form of interpersonal communication strategy that is meant to close the perceived psychological distance between individuals by adopting the use of non-verbal cues that evoke liking and declaration of feelings towards communicators. Immediacy in communication is best attained through the use of non-verbal communication techniques such as smiling, gestures and touching. These techniques are meant to develop interpersonal relationships by increasing sensory stimulation during the process of communication. This increase in sensory input draws people towards the communicator, reduces the perceived psychological distance and provides for a low power influence relationship. Non- verbal immediacy communication strategies are of particular importance in situations where the relational power gap between communicators is significant and can reduce the effectiveness of communication.

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In light of this, researchers have focused on non-verbal immediate behavior in the classroom where this relational power gap is more obvious than in any other area. Immediate behavior in the classroom has been associated with better learning outcomes, improved perceived teacher credibility, affective learning and liking which has been linked to greater cognitive learning outcomes. On the other hand, non-immediate behavior such as; looking away, formal body posture, stern expressions, negative head nods and leaning away increase the perceived psychological distance between individuals by communication avoidance behavior, dislike and coldness. These non-immediate behaviours cause the subject of a communication strategy to move away from the communicator, dislike him/her, evaluate him/ her negatively and develop a negative preference towards him/her.

To examine the specific role that non-verbal immediacy plays in student learning, York (2016) conducted a quantitative and qualitative research to determine the correlation between non-verbal immediate input and improved student learning, involving 8,000 undergraduate students from a mid-sized mid-western university in the United States and two instructors who utilized, high non-verbal immediacy and low non-verbal immediacy respectively. The researcher analyzed the results of the pretests and post-tests, survey questionnaires and focus group data and obtained a positive correlation between greater use of non-verbal immediate behavior and greater recall of short term course information from quantitative data. Student learning was also greatly affected by the degree of non-verbal immediacy regardless of the material that was being taught. Students who received instruction from the Instructor with high non-verbal immediate behavior reported paying attention more in class while students who received instruction from the instructor with low levels of immediate behavior reported being bored and wandering off (York, 2016). From the results of this research, it can be concluded that a non-verbal immediacy is an effective tool that can be utilized to provide enrichment to the learning environment that enables the student to pay more attention to an instructor’s verbal communication.

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How best can non-verbal immediacy be employed as a communication strategy?

Well, according to Richmond & McCroskey (2004), non-verbal immediacy can be achieved if communicators employ several non-verbal cues during communication such as standing or sitting in close physical proximity to other people while talking to them, maintaining eye contact or looking in the overall direction of the subject while communicating, maintaining a relaxed posture, employing the use of gestures such as hand movements and calm movements of the body, changing voice pitch, speaking in relaxed tones, smiling at the subjects, nodding, Touching hands or forearms as well as patting on the shoulder. There is consensual agreement among educators and researchers alike that the resultant non-verbal immediate behavior is an effective and crucial part of teaching. According to Ozmen (2011), the perception of who is an effective teacher by 450 student teachers in 3rd and 4th year classes of undergraduate ELT programs in Turkey and, Japan and USA measured using a non-verbal immediacy scale self-report show that teachers accord with the idea that non-verbal immediate behaviour was an effective method of teaching with the highest scores being obtained in American student teachers.  

Non-verbal immediate behaviour impacts positively on motivation especially to learning new information as was proven by Hsu (2006). According to the research, there is a positive correlation between non-verbal immediate behaviour and the motivation to learn English. This was proven when 303 participants from a technology University in central Taiwan were involved as respondents to instruments that were designed to measure the frequency at which non-verbal immediacy influences the motivation to learn English. The research employed multiple regression analyses and Pearson correlation to show the specific non-verbal immediate behaviours that correlated with increased motivation which included, smiling, use of gestures, adopting a relaxed posture, vocal variation and the use of a monotone voice (Hsu, 2006). These behaviours were shown to reduce the fearful environment that instructors often unknowingly create inside the classroom and create a more enabling environment for students to communicate by raising concerns, asking questions and engaging with the instructor in constructive debate about the subject.

Despite its applications in improved communication, non-verbal immediacy can be limited especially when gender and cultural constructs are employed. According to Santilli & Miller (2011), women often perceive more non-verbal immediacy than men in symmetrical power relationships. Moreover, cultural power is a variable moderating factor in non-verbal immediacy with highly dominant individuals often acting as the determinants of how much immediacy will be employed in communication. Societies with greater levels of social-hierarchy might exhibit a low level of immediate behaviour especially considering the fact that differences between superiors and subordinates in the cultural constructs are valued and cherished. This research utilized three-way ANOVA to determine the effect of the independent variables of country (Kenya, Brazil, USA), power condition and gender on the dependent variable which was non-verbal immediacy. The research partially supported the hypothesis that the degree of difference in non-verbal immediacy in symmetrical power relationships versus asymmetrical power relationships is greater in medium-high power cultural conditions (Brazil, Kenya) than in low power cultural conditions (USA).

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From the discussion presented above, there is a consensus that when specific techniques are employed in they result in non-verbal immediacy that increases the effectiveness of communication, especially in the classroom. Apart from increasing the level of student engagement in the classroom, non-verbal immediate behavior has been shown to increase the level of motivation for learning displayed by students as well as improve the cognitive outcome of learning. However, specific limitations of non-verbal immediacy can be observed when communicators reside in cultural constructs that enable a high power relational gap between dominant individuals and subordinates. Further research on non-verbal immediacy could focus on the role of non-verbal immediacy as a communication strategy to improve internal motivation within an organizational context. Moreover, since individuals from different genders perceive non-verbal immediacy differently, further research should be done to determine the effect of the communicator’s gender on the effectiveness of non-verbal immediacy as a communication strategy.

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