As a writer I’ve had to pay more attention to how people communicate and decided to check out nonverbal communication on television. This past week I viewed two back-to-back court hearings on Judge Judy where I observed some nonverbal communication styles in the courtroom. In the first part of the episode, Judy focused in on a multi-pierced, twenty-three year old man with a Mohawk hairstyle, who’d thrown bricks into the windshield of his ex-girlfriend’s car. Judy said, “She may think you’re handsome, but I don’t!” “Uncross your arms!” and “Put your arms at your sides!” The second part of the episode revolved around two high school boys/brothers who were accused of stealing money from a backpack. Judy commented on one boy’s poor eye contact and had to use a hand gesture to remind him to look at her. “Look at me when I’m speaking!” “Stand up straight!” Further, Judge Judy hates it when you are smiling at the wrong time. “Wipe the smirk off your face!”
Our clothing and personal appearance are important means of nonverbal communication. If you wear a Mohawk in Judy’s courtroom, she lets you know she’s not impressed. Many Americans consider a reluctance to make eye contact as rude, disrespectful, and hostile, and can demonstrate believability or dishonesty. Further, we avoid eye contact with someone we dislike. If someone has their arms folded after meeting you, it could mean that he is not enthusiastic about being around you. Through our facial expressions (smiling or a smirk at an inopportune time in this example), we reveal a great deal about our feelings and responses to other people.
Communication is 7% verbal and 65 to 93% nonverbal. Judge Judy has to consider the whole picture when determining whether a person is guilty or not. The nonverbal expression and the verbal message must be considered together. The nonverbal message is more accurate and is usually believed over the verbal message. Watching Judge Judy helped me see that whether we like it or not, we are being “judged” by our nonverbal communication in every aspect of our lives. One can learn a lot about nonverbal communication by looking no further than your living room TV. For a writer, non-verbal communication is just as important as the words in a conversation. Movement can reveal important details about a character’s personality, how they behave, whether subtle or blatant. Perhaps while watching your favorite show you will see just what authors need to emulate in our stories, and if you are a writer, you can gain a few nonverbal communication ideas to add to the characters in your story.
Mary Vine is an author, publisher, speaker and retired educator. She writes contemporary and historical romantic fiction, a time travel series, and inspirational children’s books, the BIG GUY UPSTAIRS, BIJU SILVER LINING and DRAGON GILBY. Mary, and her husband can usually be found in Southwest Idaho or Northeast Oregon. To learn more about Mary Vine,