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What Is Manual Communication?

Esther Ejim
Updated May 23, 2024
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Manual communication refers to a system in which people communicate with each other through means other than verbal communication. Such types of communication could include a combination of hand signals, facial gestures, and other types of body signals. Manual communication could be used on its own, or in combination with or as a supplement to verbal communication. It can be used in a variety of settings such as a means of communication with the hearing impaired, as a supplement to teaching those with reading or learning disabilities, and as a means of social communication.

As a means for instructing hearing impaired students, manual communication is very important. This is because it is their principal means of communication. Sign language is an elaborate language developed specifically for the purpose of communicating with the hearing impaired. It consists of different types of hand gestures and other body signals that may be used to convey meaning or to converse with other individuals.

People who have learning disabilities, like dyslexia, that make it difficult for them to read, will benefit from a combination of manual communication in addition to reading. Manually communicating what the books contain makes it easier for them to comprehend the contents. Teachers and students also use manual communication while interacting with each other in the classroom. For instance, a teacher might ask a question, and the students will raise their hands. This is a form of manual communication indicating that they want to answer the question. If the teacher points at anyone, that will be a signal for the person to answer the question and for others will put their hands down.

In the business community, the study of the unconscious forms of manual communication can affect business relations. For instance, a financial representative that is trying to get a customer to open a bank account might read the response of the customer by studying unconscious or involuntary signals like hand or foot tapping, crossing the legs, and shifting the eyes away from the representative. All of these are signs of disinterest. The same may apply in business negotiations and during business meetings with clients.

Other people also make use of this form of communication in the course of everyday interactions. Smiling is a form of such communication, and waving the hands is also a form of manual communication. Hugging, rolling the eyes in exasperation, and even blushing are other signs of this means of communication.

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Esther Ejim
By Esther Ejim , Former Writer
Esther Ejim, a visionary leader and humanitarian, uses her writing to promote positive change. As the founder and executive director of a charitable organization, she actively encourages the well-being of vulnerable populations through her compelling storytelling. Esther's writing draws from her diverse leadership roles, business experiences, and educational background, helping her to create impactful content.

Discussion Comments

By sunnySkys — On Jul 26, 2012

@dautsun - Manual communication is definitely pretty important in our society, and in other societies as well. A friend of mine went to Japan for a study abroad, and they have different gestures over there than we have that mean a bunch of different things. Not only did my friend have to worry about knowing the language, she had to learn Japanese manual communication also!

I imagine this would be true of any country you visit, because manual communication isn't completely universal.

By dautsun — On Jul 26, 2012

@JessicaLynn - I can see how something like mirroring would work as a form of manual communication, as long as you're not too blatant about it. It's almost like you're showing someone you're on the same wavelength as they are, and I can see why it would make someone more comfortable.

Anyway, this article got me thinking about how many manual communication gestures there are in our society that everyone knows. For example, we all know that a wave usually means "goodbye." Clapping is a pretty universal form of expressing enjoyment for a performance. I could probably go on and on!

By JessicaLynn — On Jul 25, 2012

So basically, it sounds like manual communication encompasses things like sign language and agreed upon gestures like raising your hand to answer a question in classroom. But it also extends to things that are unconscious, like body language. Very interesting.

I've had a little bit of experience in sales, and you can use what you know about manual communication to read your customer, as the article said. But you can also use it to influence the customer too.

For instance, there's a technique called something like "mirroring and matching" that helps you do this. When you use this technique, you basically mirror the customer's body language, which is supposed to make them more comfortable.

By golf07 — On Jul 25, 2012

I think that eye contact is one form of manual communication that can say a lot about who you are. I was always taught when I meet someone to look them in the eye.

If someone always looks down and has a hard time making contact, it may mean they don't feel confident about themselves or are trying to avoid something.

I often talk with my hands when I am verbally communicating. For me, these two forms of communication go hand in hand. If I had to sit on my hands while I was telling a joke or story, I would have a hard time with that.

I am a much better communicator when I can use a combination of verbal and non-verbal communication.

By Mykol — On Jul 25, 2012

One form of communication that everyone recognizes no matter what language they speak is a smile. This is a universal sign that is understood by everyone.

Facial expressions play more of a role in our lives than what we realize many times. When I am in a new or unfamiliar situation I try to "read" someone by watching their facial expressions and body language.

This can really tell you a lot about someone whether they realize it or not. If someone is sitting there with their arms crossed the whole time, it is often an indication they are not interested, bored, etc.

If they are leaning forward, it often shows they are interested and eager to learn more. It is pretty easy to read the body language of a child, but this is not always as easy to do with adults.

The more I focus on it, the better I have become at reading people. I never have to guess too hard when it comes to reading my kids, but some adults can be really hard to figure out no matter what.

By LisaLou — On Jul 24, 2012

I have a friend who has two autistic children, and they often use sign language as a way to communicate with them. Many times it is easier for them to connect with them using sign language than verbal communication.

It seems easier for kids of all ages to communicate manually. When you think about how frustrating it would be for someone who has trouble communicating verbally, you can understand why sign language is so beneficial.

My friend uses a combination of verbal and manual communication with her kids. With time, she has learned which method of communication will work best depending on what the situation is.

By SarahSon — On Jul 23, 2012

When I was in college I took a sign language course which was really interesting. I already knew how to sign the alphabet, but this class taught us how to communicate using sign language using more than just the alphabet letters.

One other neat thing we got to do in this class is meet some deaf people in our local community. This gave us the opportunity to use the sign language we were learning to communicate with someone who used this as their main way of communicating.

It also opened up my eyes to a completely different world, and gave me an inside view into how those who are hearing impaired live and communicate.

I think the interactions with the lady I connected with were much more beneficial than the classroom training I received on sign language.

Esther Ejim

Esther Ejim

Former Writer

Esther Ejim, a visionary leader and humanitarian, uses her writing to promote positive change. As the founder and...
Learn more
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