Silence TV: Nonvebal vs. Verbal Communication

13 Jul

Have you ever sat down with a group of friends, put a TV show on silent, and made up a completely random story about what might be happening? I remember recently a co-worker and I were watching Dora the Explorer in Spanish. Since neither one of us spoke that language, we really did not have a clue as to what was going on. So, we had fun and made up the story line that Dora and her friends were on their way to Boston Market. It was funny to do, but it also helped me realize how many assumptions can be made just based on the body language and facial expressions of a conversation. For this week’s assignment, I watched a TV show on silent to see how many different assumptions I made before turning on the sound.

The TV show I decided on was one I had never seen before. Perhaps some of you have heard it … it is called “How I Met Your Mother.” I’m not a big fan of TV, so don’t be alarmed that I have never seen this show before. In fact, when I watched it without any sound the first time, I labeled the characters, G(1), G(2), B(1) and so forth. Just in case some of you have never seen this TV show either and don’t know any of the characters’ names, here’s a quick reference for you:himym

The episode I picked was from season 1, episode 16, entitled “Game Night.” Below you will find a YouTube link of a snippet of this episode when Barney decides to “suit up.”


The first time I watched this episode, I turned the volume off to see if I could pick up on the story line based on nonverbal communication, including body language and facial expressions. Based on this initial evaluation, I assumed what the characters’ relationships were with each other, as well as what they might be feeling and expressing to each other.

* Characters’ Relationships

I believe that this TV show revolves around the five characters that all have a close friendship. The different scenes in this episode, which included a restaurant/bar and an apartment setting, revealed the close bond that these five characters have. For example, all five of the characters remained with in personal spatial zone, which according to O’Hair & Wiemann (2012), this zone ranges from about eighteen inches to four feet and is use to “communicate with friends, relatives, and occasionally colleagues” (p. 143). In addition, throughout the episode, they also displayed a “friendship-warm touch,” which “conveys liking and affection between people who know each other well” (O’Hair & Wiemann, 2012, p. 145). Through these two different types of nonverbal communication, I could sense that these five characters have a close friendship.

I also assumed that two of the characters, Lily and Marshall, were in a romantic relationship. Whenever the characters were seated together, Lily and Marshall sat just a bit closer together. In the beginning scene at the restaurant, Lily and Marshall’s shoulders touched each other. From these cues, I sensed that they shared more of an intimate spatial zone and more of a love-intimacy touch(O’Hair & Wiemann, 2012, pp. 143, 145). These forms of led me to make the assumption that Lily and Marshall were romantically involved with each other.

* Feelings and Expressions

Since I was limited to only nonverbal behaviors and communication, I had to pay close attention to facial expressions and body language to determine what the characters were expressing and feeling to each other. In the beginning scene, all the characters were seated around at a restaurant or bar. It appeared that Ted was trying to get Lily and Marshall to do something (what this something is, I wasn’t sure of until I listened to it with sound) through positioning his body closer to them and vividly using his hands and facial expressions to describe this event. Barney did not seem to be a fan of this, as his face clearly showed disapproval, and he waved his finger “no” to support this disapproval. Barney appeared to continue question Ted, causing Ted to get upset and turn his body towards Barney in defense. However, Barney continued to tried to pursued Lily and Marshall to do something, and Lily reluctantly agreed by rolling her eyes.

The setting shifts to an apartment, where all of the characters are seated, with an additional girl (who I discovered is named Victoria). It seems as if Marshall is trying to explain how to play the game using colorful facial expressions and animated hand motions. When Ted took the first time, Marshall read the card, and Victoria answered the question. After she provided the answer, Barney appeared surprised by this response when he raised his eyebrows. Barney followed through with his surprise by questioning Victoria, which caused Ted to looked shocked by what Barney had just asked. This prompted Lily to ask a question, causing Barney to sit up in the chair abruptly. It appeared that Barney wanted to answer whatever question Lily had asked. Yet his facial expressions showed that he “didn’t know,” although his body language was displaying the contradictory message that he really did know. At this point, Lily got up and retrieved a video tape. Barney showed nervousness when he jumped out of the chair and shred the tape, letting his friend know that he did not want them to see what was on that tape. Lily produced another copy of the tape, which contributed to the growing look of embarrassment painted all over Barney’s face. Barney’s protest against seeing that video was evident through his body language, as he tried to stop Lily from putting it in the VCR. However, Ted jumped in the way, which told Barney that he did want to see what was on the video. The video tape revealed a younger version of Barney, who appeared very downcast and sobbing while singing. At this point, Barney removed the tape and walked out of the apartment.

The next scene was back at the restaurant or bar, where the characters (including Victoria) were seated, except Barney. He showed up a few seconds later, of which everyone initially displayed empathetic looks. However, these were quickly replaced with smiles, which prompted Barney to act as if he was leaving. All of the characters extended their hands, as if to tell him that they really did want him to stay. Barney sat back down, and Lily’s face showed empathy as she asked him something. This lead into a series of flashbacks from each character that revealed an embarrassing moment. These ranged from Marshall being discovered by Lily’s students in the bathroom, Ted throwing up on Robin’s carpet, and someone hearing Lily and Marshall having sex over the phone. After each story was told, each of the characters displayed an embarrassed look. This helped Barney to tell a bit more about the background of the video, which included him discovering that his then-girlfriend was cheating on him, so he turned his hippy look into a businessman by “suiting up.” (See the above YouTube clip for this part of the episode.)  After Barney had finished sharing his story, he appeared to be sad by hanging his head and putting his hands over his eyes. All of the characters immediately showed a sense of sadness on their faces and leaned their bodies toward Barney to show empathy. However, Barney jumped up and lit his face up with a smile. He appeared to be satisfied that he managed to get all of his friends to share an embarrassing story while acting as if he was depressed over this then-girlfriend leaving him. All of the characters were shocked and then laughed when they realized what Barney had just done.

Watching this episode without any sound was challenging, but I was able to follow the story line through the use of body language, facial expressions, and even hand motions. All of these nonverbal communication skills allowed me to pieces together that this episode was centered around sharing embarrassing moments of each of the characters, of which Barney tricked them into do by acting that he was embarrassed and sad about the video tape and his ex-girlfriend cheating on him.


After watching without sound, I decided to re-watch this episode with sound to discover if my assumptions about the characters and the plot were accurate based on the interpretation I made of the nonverbal communication I observed.

While my assumptions were fairly accurate, there were several that had to be corrected:

* The entire show is essentially stories of how a child’s mother and father met. This was a voice layover in the beginning of the episode that could only be heard. It revealed that Marshall was always good at games and won almost every time, which is why they decided to have a game night.
* In the beginning scene at the restaurant, Ted is actually asking everyone (not just Lily and Marshall) to be nice to his new girlfriend, Victoria. In addition, he also asked that no one tell Victoria about his feelings for Robin. This is why Lily rolled her eyes. Furthermore, Barney was not showing his disapproval, but rather making fun of Ted for not telling Robin or Victoria about his feelings for Robin.
* The romantic relationship (or the previous one) between Robin and Ted was not something I picked up on through nonverbal communication, as it appeared that they were just friends.
* In the apartment, Lily did not actually ask Barney a question, but rather stated that she ran into someone who knew Barney and couldn’t remember her name. As she was spouting of names, the name “Shannon” came up, and this caused Barney to jump. There was a voice fluctuation, which clearly indicated that he knew who Shannon was, yet he refused to acknowledge her.
* Barney was nervous because Shannon had given Lily a tape for Barney. Once again, Barney’s voice changed to a high pitch, indicating that he did not want others to see this tape.
* Lily didn’t have two copies of the tape, but rather she gave Barney a fake tape before producing the actual copy.
* My assumptions were correct about Barney not wanting his friends to see the video tape, and that the video tape revealed a very sad Barney.
* In the restaurant, my assumptions were also correct that his friends were very empathetic and apologetic when Barney arrived, as well as his friends laughing about the tape.
* I predicted correctly that each of the friends shared an embarrassing story in order to get Barney to open up about his embarrassing moment.
* I was correct about Barney’s embarrassing story, which included his girlfriend cheating on him. However, I did not expect that Barney was planning to go off to the Peace Corp, but his girlfriend left him for a more successful man.
* Finally, I was correct in my assumption that Barney was just tricking them to get his friends to share an embarrassing story.

If this had been a show that I watched regularly, I believe that my assumptions would have been more accurate. Knowing the background information about the characters and the kind of relationships between the two would have enabled me to pick up on more nonverbal cues between Robin and Ted, as well as between the others, In addition, I would have also known about the relationship between Victoria and Ted. If I had known more about this show, I would have been more in tune to how all the characters interact and communicate with each other, both verbally and non-verbally.

Completing this exercise really gave me a unique perspective on communication. I realized how essential verbal communication is, as well as how much nonverbal communication accentuates verbal communication.  In addition, I also grasped the fact that nonverbal communication can say a lot about your conversations, even to those who are not actively participating. This helped me learn that I need to watch my nonverbal communication to ensure that I don’t send the wrong message to those who may be watching me, including little eyes. Finally, I grew more aware that one can’t assume they know everything just based on nonverbal communication. If this were to occur, a lot of information would go missing, making the conversation ineffective. In order for a communicator to be effective, both verbal and nonverbal communication need to be utilized appropriately and efficiently to truly embrace effective communication.


O’Hair, D., & Wiemann, M. (2012). Real communication: An introduction. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

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Posted by on July 13, 2013 in Communication, Week 2


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