The Power of the Nonverbal in Communication – Part 1

14 March 2017

This month we published Optimizing Language Learners’ Nonverbal Behavior by Tammy Gregersen and Peter D. MacIntyre. In the first of a two-part blog post, Tammy and Peter explain what inspired them to write a book about nonverbal communication.

Optimizing Language Learners’ Nonverbal BehaviorReaders may ask themselves why two people who have dedicated much of their academic careers to language-related issues would suddenly write a book on communicating without language – or at least making meaning through means that accompany the verbal. In the paragraphs that follow, we tell our stories…

Tammy’s saga:

Long before I ever read literature on Emotional or Interpersonal Intelligence, I anecdotally surmised that those individuals who had “people smarts” simply were those people who could read others’ nonverbals. They could make the initial acquaintance of a person and within milliseconds of their interaction, these people-savvy folks were able to pick up the other’s vibes and effectively act accordingly. Whether through conscious inspection or subconscious osmosis, I knew in my gut that such mind-and-body-language readers were gifted with the instantaneous interpretation of the bombardment of nonverbal cues that characterize all human interaction. I was hooked, and my curiosity about this phenomenon propelled me to investigate it further.

But now I get ahead of myself…my nonverbal intrigue actually started long before I could even process the simplest of thoughts. It began with my relationship with my dad – which means within hours of being born. If you read the Dedication Page of Optimizing Language Learners’ Nonverbal Behavior, I used this opportunity to honor my father. It says in part, “To my father, F. Neal Gregersen, who, had it not been for his characteristic silence, I would never have understood the awesome power of nonverbal communication.” You see, my dad is a man of very few words, so if one wants to have a verbal conversation, it often turns into a monologue. However, one would be gravely mistaken to think that he doesn’t communicate. Although he doesn’t often use language, those of us who know him well only need to see the smallest change in his demeanor to know exactly what he is thinking. As I was growing up, his only means of discipline was what the five of us kids deemed, “The Look”.  Whenever we were the recipients of it, we immediately shaped up. Hence, I understood early in my life the immense power of nonverbal cues and I wanted to know more. That was then and this is now….

Peter’s journey:

It was my first semester at university, one of our assignments was to do a review of a research paper. I chose a paper by Professor Nancy Henley on ways in which nonverbal communication relates to interpersonal power – the doctor touches the patient and not the other way around because the doctor is in a position of power. It was nothing short of a revelation! Other examples in Henley’s work brought to light the complexity of everyday communication. At the time I was taking courses in Psychology and Interpersonal Communication, and Henley’s work forged such a fascinating bridge between the disciplines, I’ve been hooked ever since. It is powerful to realize that I was a full and active participant in a process that had never been explained overtly, but I knew the rules – everybody knows the rules. I wondered, how is that possible?

I am sure many readers of this blog have had a similar experience in doing research on a topic – a process that is right in front of you is explained in a new way. But there is something unique about nonverbal communication, it is so ubiquitous and so effective in conveying information, yet it seems so natural. When we then add the idea of language and culture into the mix, and that sometimes people in different places have different ways of doing things, nonverbal communication becomes all the more interesting.

Like Tammy, I am dedicating this book to people who taught me a lot about nonverbal communication, my teachers and especially my mother. Unlike Tammy’s dad, my mom had no trouble with verbal communication, but for her the message was all in the tone of voice. I can vividly recall when I said that I didn’t want to do some chore, she would say “never mind.” By conventional definition, the words said I was off the hook but the unmistakable tone meant I had better get to it.

We hope that people will enjoy reading the book as much as we did writing it. Please be sure to check out the videos that demonstrate nonverbal concepts. Videos are embedded in the ebook and available on the web for the printed book. The videos were great fun to produce and add a unique dimension to this book – more on that in another blog entry…

Capitalizing on Language Learners' IndividualityPositive Psychology in SLAFor more information about this book, please see our website. The videos that accompany the book can be found on our YouTube channel. If you found this interesting, you might like the other books Tammy and Peter have published with us, Capitalizing on Language Learners’ Individuality and Positive Psychology in SLA (co-edited with Sarah Mercer). Watch this space for Part 2…

Positive Psychology in SLA

21 April 2016

This week we have published Positive Psychology in SLA edited by Peter D. MacIntyre, Tammy Gregersen and Sarah Mercer. In this post, the editors tell us a bit more about how the book came together.

Positive Psychology in SLAWe are proud of this book, and very pleased to see it in print. We think that the book will appeal to a variety of audiences, especially teachers and researchers. From a macro-perspective, the book opens up a treasure chest full of gold coins, concepts that language teachers and researcher will eagerly engage with – from grit and perseverance, to developing social capital through language, to new ways to look at the self.

This is not a pop psychology book. There are novel and well-defined concepts, rigorous research methods, and specific positive psychology activities that have received research support.

When one thinks about the concerns of teachers and learners, there are many good reasons to take a serious look at what makes people thrive and flourish in educational settings. Of course we still need to understand the way negative experiences such as anxiety can disrupt learning processes, but we also need to know how positive emotions such as enjoyment can promote and foster successful learning. The positive dimensions of learners have been somewhat neglected and under-researched in SLA, and this collection opens up a whole new area for reflection and empirical study of that which goes well. The authors have taken account of both the positive and negative, but are emphasizing the positive, drawing it into the conversation in a thoughtful way.

From a researcher’s perspective, a notable dimension of the collection is the mixed methods that appear in the chapters. It reminds us that right now Psychology itself  is facing something of a replication problem, where it is being argued that results of foundational studies are not able to be duplicated. In this respect, the applications of Positive Psychology in SLA are already well ahead of Psychology itself in that they embrace a more eclectic mixture of methods. The diversity of methods will allow us to avoid some of the replication problems that arise with strict reliance on a limited range of methods, and help to better contextualize the empirical results.

Another aspect of the collection that stands out for us is the blend we have been able to include of theoretical, empirical and practical papers. We have been privileged to work with a great collection of authors, researchers and teachers, who shared their thinking, research and real-world practical experiences, ensuring that the collection has far-reaching implications. With authors from around the globe, the collection includes a broad range of content relevant to practitioners and researchers in many different places.

When we started thinking about this collection, we did not know how many people might be interested and willing to contribute. We have been thrilled with the response. As it turns out, the volume seems to have hit a sweet spot for several authors. All of us are enthusiastic about the future potential of Positive Psychology in SLA, and ways in which we can understand, study and facilitate the flourishing of language learners and teachers.

If you would like to contact us about the book we can be reached by email:
Peter MacIntyre,
Tammy Gregersen,
Sarah Mercer,

Gregersen-MercerIf you found this interesting, you might like to find out more on our website or take a look at the editors’ other books: Capitalizing on Language Learners’ Individuality edited by Tammy Gregersen and Peter D. MacIntyre and Multiple Perspectives on the Self in SLA edited by Sarah Mercer and Marion Williams.

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