How to Improve NON-VERBAL Communication
The many different types of nonverbal communication or body language include:
Facial expressions. The human face is extremely expressive, able to convey countless emotions without saying a word. And unlike some forms of nonverbal communication, facial expressions are universal. The facial expressions for happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust are the same across cultures.
Body movement and posture. Consider how your perceptions of people are affected by the way they sit, walk, stand, or hold their head. The way you move and carry yourself communicates a wealth of information to the world. This type of nonverbal communication includes your posture, bearing, stance, and the subtle movements you make.
Gestures. Gestures are woven into the fabric of our daily lives. You may wave, point, beckon, or use your hands when arguing or speaking animatedly, often expressing yourself with gestures without thinking. However, the meaning of some gestures can be very different across cultures. While the OK sign made with the hand, for example, conveys a positive message in English-speaking countries, it’s consider offensive in countries such as Germany, Russia, and Brazil. So, it’s important to be careful of how you use gestures to avoid misinterpretation.
Eye contact. Since the visual sense is dominant for most people, eye contact is an especially important type of nonverbal communication. The way you look at someone can communicate many things, including interest, affection, hostility, or attraction. Eye contact is also important in maintaining the flow of conversation and for gauging the other person’s interest and response.
Touch. We communicate a great deal through touch. Think about the very different messages given by a weak handshake, a warm bear hug, a patronizing pat on the head, or a controlling grip on the arm, for example.
Space. Have you ever felt uncomfortable during a conversation because the other person was standing too close and invading your space? We all have a need for physical space, although that need differs depending on the culture, the situation, and the closeness of the relationship. You can use physical space to communicate many different nonverbal messages, including signals of intimacy and affection, aggression or dominance.
Voice. It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. When you speak, other people “read” your voice in addition to listening to your words. Things they pay attention to include your timing and pace, how loud you speak, your tone and inflection, and sounds that convey understanding, such as “ahh” and “uh-huh.” Think about how your tone of voice can indicate sarcasm, anger, affection, or confidence.
How to improve nonverbal communication
Nonverbal communication is a rapidly flowing back-and-forth process that requires your full focus on the moment-to-moment experience. If you’re planning what you’re going to say next, checking your phone, or thinking about something else, you’re almost certain to miss nonverbal cues and not fully understand the subtleties of what’s being communicated. As well as being fully present, you can improve how you communicate nonverbally by learning to manage stress and developing your emotional awareness.
Learn to manage stress in the moment
Stress compromises your ability to communicate. When you’re stressed out, you’re more likely to misread other people, send confusing or off-putting nonverbal signals, and lapse into unhealthy knee-jerk patterns of behavior. And remember: emotions are contagious. If you are upset, it is very likely to make others upset, thus making a bad situation worse.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress, take a time out. Take a moment to calm down before you jump back into the conversation. Once you’ve regained your emotional equilibrium, you’ll feel better equipped to deal with the situation in a positive way.
The fastest and surest way to calm yourself and manage stress in the moment is to employ your senses—what you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch—or through a soothing movement. By viewing a photo of your child or pet, smelling a favorite scent, listening to a certain piece of music, or squeezing a stress ball, for example, you can quickly relax and re-focus. Since everyone responds differently, you may need to experiment to find the sensory experience that works best for you.
Develop your emotional awareness
In order to send accurate nonverbal cues, you need to be aware of your emotions and how they influence you. You also need to be able to recognize the emotions of others and the true feelings behind the cues they are sending. This is where emotional awareness comes in.
Being emotionally aware enables you to:
Accurately read other people, including the emotions they’re feeling and the unspoken messages they’re sending.
Create trust in relationships by sending nonverbal signals that match up with your words.
Respond in ways that show others that you understand and care.
Many of us are disconnected from our emotions—especially strong emotions such as anger, sadness, fear—because we’ve been taught to try to shut off our feelings. But while you can deny or numb your feelings, you can’t eliminate them. They’re still there and they’re still affecting your behavior. By developing your emotional awareness and connecting with even the unpleasant emotions, though, you’ll gain greater control over how you think and act. To start developing your emotional awareness, practice mindfulness meditation.
Once you’ve developed your abilities to manage stress and recognize emotions, you’ll start to become better at reading the nonverbal signals sent by others. It’s also important to:
Pay attention to inconsistencies. Nonverbal communication should reinforce what is being said. Is the person saying one thing, but their body language conveying something else? For example, are they telling you “yes” while shaking their head no?
Look at nonverbal communication signals as a group. Don’t read too much into a single gesture or nonverbal cue. Consider all of the nonverbal signals you are receiving, from eye contact to tone of voice and body language. Taken together, are their nonverbal cues consistent—or inconsistent—with what their words are saying?
Trust your instincts. Don’t dismiss your gut feelings. If you get the sense that someone isn’t being honest or that something isn’t adding up, you may be picking up on a mismatch between verbal and nonverbal cues.
Evaluating nonverbal signals
Eye contact – Is the person making eye contact? If so, is it overly intense or just right?
Facial expression – What is their face showing? Is it masklike and unexpressive, or emotionally present and filled with interest?
Tone of voice – Does the person’s voice project warmth, confidence, and interest, or is it strained and blocked?
Touch – Is there any physical contact? Is it appropriate to the situation? Does it make you feel uncomfortable?
Intensity – Does the person seem flat, cool, and disinterested, or over-the-top and melodramatic?
Timing and place – Is there an easy flow of information back and forth? Do nonverbal responses come too quickly or too slowly?
Sounds – Do you hear sounds that indicate interest, caring or concern from the person?