Types of Gestures and Non-verbal Communication

Communication between two or more people can be verbal (use of linguistic signs in the message) and non-verbal. The latter, non-verbal communication, is the process in which there is a sending and receiving of messages without words, that is, through 3 elements: signs, gestures and signs.

In this article we will talk about the types of gestures we use when communicating. These gestures will accompany or not our verbal message, and will enrich, adapt or modulate what we want to transmit.

Gestures in nonverbal communication

When it comes to relating them to people, we use verbal and non-verbal communication, and we use a lot of gestures to add value to what we are saying orally. We also use the gestures to modulate the interactions, regulating our participation and that of the other interlocutors. The different types of gestures will have one function or another, as we will see later.

A gesture is a body movement of the joints. There are different types of gestures, although they are mainly done with the hands, arms and head.

A gesture is not the same as a gesture; the gesticulation implies an anarchic, artificial and inexpressive movement, while the gesture is usually expressive, and will want to contribute something to the verbal message (or modulate it).

The gestures are included within the motor expressions, and these in turn are part of the non-verbal behavior of a person.

In addition to gestures, motor expressions are formed by facial expressions and postural behaviours.

Types of gestures

We can talk about the types of gestures that we will see next.

1. Emblematic gestures or emblems

The emblems are signals issued intentionally, with a specific and very clear meaning. In this case the gesture represents a word or set of well-known words.

It would therefore be gestures that can be translated directly into words, for example: wave your hand in farewell, or say “no” with your head.

2. Illustrative gestures or illustrators

They are produced during verbal communication, and serve to illustrate what is being said orally. These are conscious gestures, which vary greatly depending on the culture.

They are united to the language, but they differ from the emblems in that they do not have a meaning that can be translated directly, since the word to which they are united does not give them their meaning.

That is, the gesture “serves” the word, does not mean it. How does it work? Emphasizing it, emphasizing it or imposing a rhythm that by itself the word would not have.

An example of an illustrative gesture is any movement of the body that plays an auxiliary role in non-verbal communication, for example, moving the hands from top to bottom as “flapping”, to indicate “a lot” or “very far”.

3. Gestures that express emotional states

Following the types of gestures, the pathos are gestures that express emotional states, and perform a function similar to the illustrative gestures, but we must not confuse them. In this case, they are similar in that they, like them, also accompany the word, and grant it a greater dynamism. However, they differ in that the pathographers, as we have seen, reflect the emotional state of the transmitter, while the illustrator is emotionally neutral.

Thus, the illustrative gesture consists of a more cultural form of expression, while the pathologist arises from the emotional state of the moment.

Through the pathographers can express the anxiety or tension of the moment, triumph and joy, discomfort, happiness, pain, etc.

4. Interaction-regulating gestures

These are movements produced by both the sender and receiver in a communicative interaction, and which have the objective of regulating the interventions in the interaction. These are signs to be taken over in the conversation. They also have an essential role during the beginning or end of it (for example shaking hands in the greeting or farewell).

They can be used to accelerate or slow down the speaker (for example, making circles with the index finger and the wrist to accelerate it, or with the palm of the hand open to touch the air to stop it). They can also indicate to the interlocutor that they can continue speaking, or let them understand that we give them their turn to speak.

In psychotherapy, regulatory gestures play an essential role in relation to active listening to the patient. Such listening involves the ability to listen not only what the person is expressing directly, but also the feelings, ideas or thoughts that underlie what is being said.

The most frequent regulatory gestures are the indications of head (like assent) and the fixed gaze. The fast inclinations of the head imply the message of rushing and finishing speaking, while the slow ones ask the interlocutor to continue and indicate to the listener that it seems interesting and likes what is being said.

5. Adaptation gestures or adapters

Finally, the last types of gestures that we are going to define are the adapters, gestures that are used to manage or handle emotions that we do not want to express.

The adapters are used when our state of mind is incompatible with the situation of concrete interaction that is taking place, so that we do not want to express our emotions directly, nor with the intensity that we really feel.

These situations can produce discomfort in the interaction and / or in the emitter itself, therefore he tries to control this discomfort, and does so by using the gesture as a way of adapting to the situation.

For example, an adapter would be to run your fingers through the neck of your shirt when you feel drowned by the tension of the situation, or touch your hair when we are nervous.

It is therefore gestures used as a “way of escape” to what is being said or produced in the interaction and / or in our affective and emotional state.