Research has shown that from 55 to 65 percent of our communication is nonverbal.
That means we need to pay attention to skills we can learn that communicate warmth and attentiveness through nonverbal communication. Warmth is one of the major building blocks in learning effective communication.
Nonverbal communication can be done through body movement, voice quality and environmental surroundings.
We can communicate care and concern through how we express ourselves through facial expressions and postures. If we are endeavoring to have a conversation with someone and sit with arms folded and body turned away from the person, we are conveying disinterest and come across as cold and indifferent.
We communicate emotions through facial expressions – are we maintaining eye contact, showing interest with a look of concern, or are we straight-faced and looking bored. Maintaining eye contact shows interest. If we break eye contact too often we communicate we are too busy for them or we don’t care about what they are saying.
Are we distracted by our phone, or the television, or other activities going on in the room? Looks can express both positive and negative emotions. Through our facial expressions we will show either pleasure or displeasure, interest or disinterest, sorrow or joy, acceptance or rejection by how we allow our face to express what we are experiencing internally.
Voice quality is communicated by voice level, pitch and fluency of speech. Voice level can show fear, embarrassment, insecurity and arrogance. Pitch can give clues to such emotions as anger, disappointment, frustration or joy.
If I am unsure of myself or nervous, I may speak hesitantly, stumbling over words because of anxiety or lack of self-confidence. Tone of voice reflects how we really feel. We all can pick out the real meaning of what someone says by the tone of the words spoken.
For example, let’s take the sentence, “I did not say you were stupid.” Depending on where the emphasis is put, the words take on different meanings. If I say, “I did not say you were stupid,” the implication is someone else did. “I did not say you were stupid,” implies “but I thought it.” “I did not say you were stupid,” means “but I said someone else is.” “I did not say you were stupid,” says, “But you are now.” “I did not say you were stupid,” conveys “But you are something else.”
So you can see that our words plus tone of voice and inflection change what we really want to communicate.
How we respond to our environmental surroundings gives clues to what we are trying to communicate. We all know when our “personal space” is invaded and someone crosses the line with our comfort zone in how close they sit or stand to us. Learning to respect other’s space is crucial to whether or not they stay open to a conversation and interaction with us. This dynamic is different in different cultures, so it is good to know who we are in a conversation with and what might be regarded as respect or disrespect. Our goal is to communicate from the heart in a manner in which the intended message can be received.
Years ago I learned this acrostic that helps me remember these important nonverbal skills:
S – Square: Face the other person squarely.
O – Open: Practice staying in an open posture.
L – Lean Forward: Lean forward slightly to show interest.
E – Eye Contact: Maintain eye contact without staring.
R – Relax: Be as relaxed as possible to help the other person relax.
Let’s learn how to communicate positively with our nonverbal skills: body posture, voice quality and awareness of other’s comfort zones in their personal space.