What Is Unconscious Communication?

Esther Ejim

Unconscious communication is a term used to describe the unintentional forms of communication that often occur on a subconscious level. That is to say that unconscious communication is always unintentional, and the people who transmit communication in such a manner are often unaware that they are doing so. Unconscious communication may be interpersonal or intrapersonal. It may also be verbal or nonverbal.

Crossing the arms gives the person a negative and defensive appearance.
Crossing the arms gives the person a negative and defensive appearance.

Intrapersonal unconscious communication occurs between a person and his or her subconscious. Examples of this form of communication include dreaming, hypnosis and the communication that occurs in a person’s mind during the cognitive process. For instance, a person may hear a song that makes him or her feel happy. That person does not remember ever hearing the song before. Unknown to him or her, the song was a lullaby that person's mother used to sing to him or her as a baby. Even though he or she made no conscious effort in that direction, the song had been stored in the long-term cognitive memory only to be retrieved and associated with happier times unconsciously. A person under the effects of hypnosis may also have intrapersonal communication with his or her subconscious.

Smiling can be a form of unconscious communication.
Smiling can be a form of unconscious communication.

Interpersonal unconscious communication is more varied than intrapersonal communication. This type occurs between two or more people. A person may transmit unconscious communication verbally through things like inflections in the voice, stuttering, voice cadence, pitch and unguarded speech. For instance, a person who is normally eloquent and articulate may unconsciously give away the fact that he or she is lying by stuttering or by unknowingly changing the cadence in his or her tone of voice. This type of unconscious giveaway can often say more than the person actually intended to convey. It can affect interpersonal relationships because the people who perceive such a subtle unconscious giveaway may or may not be happy with the message it is sending.

Studying a person's body language can give insight into what they are feeling.
Studying a person's body language can give insight into what they are feeling.

Communication entails not only the verbal process but also the nonverbal process, as people often study the words and body language in order to decipher what a person is actually trying to say or hide. Unconscious nonverbal communication includes gestures like crossing the arms defensively, shifting slightly away from people as an unconscious means of creating distance, and tapping the fingers with impatience. Another example of unconscious interpersonal communication is humming with joy. If a person is happy, he or she might start communicating signals of such happiness, unconsciously. The person might be unaware of such unconscious communication, which may include things like constantly smiling and generally exhibiting more exuberance than before.

Intrapersonal unconscious communication occurs between a person and her or his subconscious.
Intrapersonal unconscious communication occurs between a person and her or his subconscious.
Unconscious communication can set the tone of a relationship.
Unconscious communication can set the tone of a relationship.
Unconscious communication may occur during hypnosis.
Unconscious communication may occur during hypnosis.

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Discussion Comments


This makes me think that nonverbal communication as an unconscious motion that takes on symbolic meaning. Then it depends on context of expression and how people communicate without speaking. Can physical expression make people talk to each other and can it be understood as speaking? Or disabled people, like blind or deaf people and how they communicate with fully functional people. How can people understand a person only from body language or facial expression?


@Emilski - Reading people during interviews can be a very tricky process. I once had a panel interview with three different individuals in the company. Things started off well, I felt. After a little while, I noticed that they were starting to lose eye contact with me and weren't giving me many cues like head nods or smiles.

In the end, I actually got the job. I found out later that the reason I wasn't getting much unconscious feedback from them was that I was the 5th person they had interviewed that day, and they were all just getting tired of asking the same questions.

A final thing that I would add about unconscious communication, especially for interviews or presentations, is that they more you practice an action, the more it becomes habit. I used to get terribly nervous in public speaking situations, but after I started giving more talks and practicing more, I got to the point where it was nothing to stand in front of a hundred or more people and talk.


@jmc88 - I have used the same techniques in a job interview but in reverse. One of the keys of a job interview is being able to read the body language and subtle cues given out by the person you are meeting with.

Matching the body language of the person you are talking to is very important and something easy that you can do. If the person is not using many hand gestures, it could be a sign that they are not yet comfortable talking to you in which case you may want to try to find ways to be more welcoming. At the same time, having someone who is using lots of hand movements should give you a cue to possibly relax a bit and use more movements yourself.

As with any interview, a lot of how you act should all come down to your own interpretation of what is happening, and you should adapt to the situation as you go.


@cardsfan27 - I have also found that you can also use unconscious forms of communication consciously against other people. I am generally a friendly person and don't mind talking with strangers when we're sitting next to each other somewhere. Other times, though, I might not feel like talking for one reason or another.

Just recently, I was on a flight where I had not been feeling well for most of the day. I had a headache, and the plane was not helping matters much. The person who was sitting next to me tried to start a conversation with me, but I was more interested in trying to relax. I wasn't rude about the situation, but I simply answered the person's questions with short answers and avoided asking any follow-up questions. After that, I crossed my arms and set back in the seat to hopefully give them the impression that I was not interested in talking.

I guess it worked, because I was able to rest for the rest of the flight. I think knowing what some of those signals are can work in your favor sometimes.


I love learning about the different methods of unconscious communication. Learning a lot of the different types of body language can be very beneficial in a variety of instances.

I used to have a job where I would meet and talk with landowners about their property. In some cases, the owners were very welcoming and glad to learn about their land and hear what I had to say. Besides generally being more talkative, people who are comfortable around you usually use more hand and body gestures while talking. At the other end of the spectrum are people who are either nervous to talk with your or don't want to talk with you period. Like the article says, these people might subconsciously cross their arms and avoid making eye contact.

Being aware of these things can help you make changes to the way you are talking and acting as well as determining when you've overstayed your welcome.

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