Robert Browne
SPEE 633
Abstract Phase I
APA Citation:
Graham, G.H., Unruh, J., & Jennings, P. (1991). The impact of nonverbal communication in organizations: A survey of perceptions. The Journal of Business Communication, 28 (1), 45-62.

I realize this is an older article but it is still relevant, especially in regards to nonverbal communication within a business setting. The findings are useful and give us a better understanding of how nonverbal communication can have an influence in business and what type of impact nonverbal communication has.

The article studies the impact nonverbal communications have within several different organizations that are based within different industries. The article gives a detailed breakdown of past research within the field, as well as a synopsis of key points to nonverbal communication and how it is encoded and decoded by different levels of personnel within an organization. The researchers used a survey method to gather their data; a more in-depth explanation can be found below. After the survey explanation, the researchers present the results followed by their analysis and interpretations of the data.

The literature review was exemplary, but the researchers did present a brief history of nonverbal communication studies including the work done by Mehrabian in 1967, which was some of the first work to show a link between nonverbal communication and the message received by the recipient. Gradually, as time passed, the studies of nonverbal communication became more focused and research began to look at the connections between verbal and nonverbal communication. Graham, G.H., Unruh, J., & Jennings, P. (1991) then deliver types of nonverbal cues and review literature that show certain nonverbal cues are more influential than others, such as facial expressions. Coker and Burgoon (1987) examined a group of 59 nonverbal cues, which were broken into 21 groups, and were able to deduce that 5 of the 21 groups were good predictors of conversational involvement.

A demographic impact is given which states that gender has a significant impact on the ability to decode and encode nonverbal cues. Women appear to be better nonverbal communicators, both for encoding and decoding, than men.

The survey the researchers used was divided into two parts. Part 1 dealt with the importance of decoding and understanding nonverbal cues from others at work. Part 2 of the study was primarily used to obtain demographic information from the participants. 1200 surveys were distributed to 35 different organizations across a Midwest city. Industries represented in the study include: manufacturing, health care, finance, retail, and government. Of the 1200 surveys handed out, a total of 505 surveys were received. Of the 505 surveys received 217 were from males and 288 from females, the majority being between the ages of 25 – 45 and representing 6 different levels of employment.

The researchers found two variables that had an impact on the results, perceived decoding ability and gender. The sample was divided into two groups, good decoders and average decoders. These two groups comprised 55 percent and 45 percent of the sample. The two groups answers were compared against each others. The answers given ranked six aspects of communication. The good decoders ranked facial expressions most important followed by voice level and tone. The average decoders ranked voice level and tone first and ranked facial expressions second.

92 percent of the sample felt that nonverbal communication was either important or very important within the workplace. Results showed that nonverbal communication was deemed more crucial in one-on-one settings than in group settings. Good decoders experienced message confusion from supervisors more often than average decoders. It seems as decoding skills rose, so did the level of message confusion from supervisors with inconsistent verbal and nonverbal message delivery. Fifty two percent of the respondents felt that the nonverbal channel communicated more accurately than the verbal channel when discrepancies arose within verbal/nonverbal message delivery. Ninety four percent of the sample related negative emotions when verbal and nonverbal channels of communication did not agree. Demographically, women rated themselves as better decoders than men, specifically women within the education industry or women that had higher education levels.

Generally the results found through the survey supported the prior research of nonverbal communication. The study also found that several perceived problems could arise from misunderstanding of nonverbal communication channels. Nonverbal communications were seen as influential by almost every participant within the study, and the participants showed that nonverbal communications were more influential when interacting with people than verbal communication. The researchers recommend that paying close attention to nonverbal cues, especially facial expression, engaging in eye contact, and asking for clarification when verbal and nonverbal cues are out of synchronization. It’s also important management realizes that employees feel distrust and frustration when supervisors send out conflicting verbal and nonverbal signals.