IT’S NOT WHAT YOUSAY…….IT’S HOW YOU The importance of non-verbal SAY IT! communication This article looks at the impact of non-verbal communication on our everyday lives. It provides insights into how you can improve your communication skills by becoming more aware of the cues that you give out and will help you understand those you receive and how the two interact
Up to 75% of our message is made by non-verbal communications. Non-verbal (otherwise known as body language) is a vital aspect of effective communication, both in our work and personal lives. It is something that is around us all of the time, whether we want it to be or not. This article is designed to give an overview of many of the key aspects of the process, to enable you to be more aware and thus you take a greater interest in something that may have operated largely within your subconscious.As with all aspects of communication it is an area that can be shaped and improved, by becomingmore aware of the signals that we give out and receive from others we can be more able tounderstand and interpret those signals– and how the two interact and occur as result of eachother. Non-verbal communication occurs through the gestures we make, our posture, our position, eyecontact, how fast / slow, loud / quietly we speak and the tone of our voice.How important is Non-verbal communication?The way you listen, look, move and react tell the otherperson whether or not you care and how well you’relistening. The non-verbal signals that you send eitherproduce a sense of interest, trust, and desire forconnection, or they generate disinterest, distrust andconfusion.Non-verbal communication can provide vital cluesthrough: o Repetition: They repeat and reinforce the message the sender is making o Contradiction: The complete opposite of the above, which is very confusing for the receiver o Substitution: They can communicate the message as effectively as the verbal message, and often in a more vivid manner than words could convey o Complementing: They add to or complement the words. A pat on the back increases the impact of verbal praise o Accenting: They add weight to the verbal message – beating one fist into the palm of the other hand for example.
How can you become more aware of the signals you send & receive?Since non-verbal communication is a rapidly flowing back and forth process it requires your fullconcentration and attention. Emotional self-awareness and understanding of the cues you’resending, along with the ability to accurately pick up the cues others are sending you is essential. Ifyou are planning what you’re going to say next, daydreaming, or thinking about something elseyou are almost certain to miss non-verbal clues and other subtleties.Some tips for successful non-verbal communication: o Stay relaxed. Stress affects your ability to communicate. When stressed you are more likely to misread signals, send out confusing or off-putting signals and maybe even lapse into other counter-productive patterns of behaviour. o Be aware of inconsistencies. Look for any signals that don’t match with the verbal communications. Avoiding direct eye contact, fidgety movements etc. o View non-verbal communications in the round. Don’t read too much into a single gesture or other cue from an individual. Consider a range of signals that you’re picking up. Also be aware of what signals you might be sending out that might be affecting the signals being sent out to you. Are you being consistent? Below you will find an explanation of some of the clues for different elements of Non-verbal communication Types of non-verbal communication Evaluating your non-verbal communication skills Facial expressions – the human face is What does your face say about you? Is it extremely expressive and able to express inexpressive and fixed like a mask? What do countless emotions. The expressions for you see when you look into the faces of happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, others? and disgust are common to all cultures. Body movement and posture – Think Do you hold your body still, immobile or how your perceptions of other people are relaxed? Be aware of the amount of tension influenced by the way they sit, walk, stand, in your shoulders and jaw and also the or hold their head. Your posture, bearing, degree of tension or relaxation in the person stance and other subtle movements you’re communicating with. communicate a wealth of information about you. Gestures – How we wave, point, beckon How do you feel when the person speaking and use our hands when we’re to you is either waving their arms about communicating is often done subconsciously. wildly or is completely motionless? If they
BUT the meaning of many gestures varies in are beating the fist of one hand into the different countries and cultures, so it’s palm of the other what does this make you important to use them carefully to avoid think. Seek local advice on the meaning of misinterpretation. any gestures that result in a reaction that you didn’t expect or intend Eye Contact – This is the dominant sense Are you missing this source of connection for most people and is especially important (avoiding), are too intense (staring), or just in non-verbal communications. The way you right in yourself and with the person you are look at someone communicates many things, looking at. Do they look away when you look such as, interest, affection, hostility, or at them, stare at you (making you feel attraction. Eye contact is also important in uncomfortable?) or does it feel about right? maintaining the flow of conversation and gauging others reactions to you. Touch – Key messages are communicated What feels good is relative to the individual, through the following: a firm handshake, a their culture, the situation and how well you timid tap on the shoulder, a warm bear hug, know each other. Be aware of how you like a reassuring pat on the back, a patronising to be touched and who you like to touch pat on the head, or a controlling grip on your you. Are you aware of any differences arm between what you and the other person like? Space – We all need a physical space Have you ever felt “trapped” by another around us. How much depends on the person who insists on standing very close to culture, the situation and the closeness of you? Try to give people the space that you the relationship. Use of physical space would like, but be aware that they might feel communicates intimacy, aggression, comfortable with more or less than you. dominance or affection. Voice – Speech sounds, such as tone, pitch, Does your voice project warmth, confidence, volume, inflection, rhythm and rate are all and delight or is it strained and choked. important communication factors. People Does it seem flat, cool or disinterested, or “read” the voice as well as listening to the over the top and melodramatic? What do words. They can communicate powerful you hear as you listen to other people? clues as to our true feelings Remember every person’s preferences are different. This key element is missing during phone and text conversations. How often have you judged a person by their tone of voice only?How to improve your non-verbal communication skills.You can become more effective at non-verbalcommunication by doing a number of fairlystraightforward things. The first thing to do is toincrease your awareness of the signals that yousend out subconsciously. You can easily observeyourself and the cues you give out by eitherrecording a conversation between you and afriend, colleague or your partner using a videocamera. When you watch the play back payparticular attention to any discrepancies betweenthe spoken word and body language. You should
equally pay attention to the voices – that is the tone, pitch, pace and volume of the words spoken.Did they complement or contradict the words themselves? Equipped with a better understandingof your default position you can then try to modify and control the cues you give out, and beaware of how your cues are received and returned. This is a never ending process of learning andrefinement, but the more you put in the more you will get back, in terms of the effectiveness ofyour communications.Key things to remember.o Effective non-verbal communication is critical to ensure you get your messages received in the way you intended.o Every person is different so don’t make unilateral judgements about specific elements of their non-verbal communications, asses them through time and with regard to as many elements as possibleo Be aware of the impact of your own non-verbal communication on others and amend yours as soon as you are aware that specific elements are working well or badly. It is important that you move from your comfort zone closer to theirs as this will make them more responsive to your verbal messages – thus meaning that more of your key messages will be received and understood the way you intended them to be!Credits / further readingThe language of Emotional Intelligence – Jeanne Segal, Ph. D.Non-verbal Communication – Albert MehrabianThe Power of Non-verbal Communication – Henry H CaleroBodily Communication – Michael Argyle