I was moved today by this image and accompanying caption from Richard Branson.
It got me thinking. You know, nonverbal communication really is powerful stuff! In fact, we don’t need to say a word to communicate a whole lot!
I’ve often said that when you have more than one human being in a room, they are communicating with each other–even if they are not saying a word!! Not speaking is communicating something.
When I sit down with my clients to help them sort out their issues and communicate their thoughts, concerns, opinions, and needs to each other respectfully… a really impactful part of their communication happens without their words. It happens nonverbally in their body language, gestures, attitude, demeanour, and in the way they show up in the process before they even open their mouth to speak.
I can certainly support the commonly quoted notion that the overwhelming majority of our communication happens nonverbally. I know how subtle yet incredibly powerful nonverbal communication can be!! In fact, I think that nonverbal communication becomes even more important, it speaks even louder, when emotions such as anger or fear are at a heightened level.
The way one holds his posture in the chair speaks volumes. The way she leans in when she is listening communicates loudly. The ever-so-subtle raising or furrowing of an eyebrow communicates a lot! Heavy sighing, the tilt of the head, the tapping of fingers—it all sends a message! And it does so in an instant. An authentic smile at the appropriate time can end a 10-year battle. The inadvertent rolling of the eyes can set the resolution process waaaay back.
Here’s a simple but effective technique you could try to ensure your communication is actually saying what you want it to say:
In face-to-face communication (and particularly in those interpersonal exchanges that involve heighten emotions) become a “participant observer” in your own communication process. In other words, let’s say you are communicating with someone at work about an issue or concern that you are having with him/her… make a point to observe your own behaviour as if you are watching yourself communicating—observing both your verbal and nonverbal behaviours. Figuratively speaking, step outside yourself and pay attention to how you might be coming across to the other person. Ask yourself:
- Are my nonverbal behaviours actually sending the message that I intend?
- What is the quality of my communication at this moment?
- What am I saying to my colleague when I am not saying anything?
- Is my behaviour communicating something different than I intend to communicate?
- Are my words and my nonverbal communication behaviour aligned and “saying” the same thing (or am I saying one thing and my body language saying another)?
If you are not communicating to the other person what you actually intend to convey, then you are miscommunicating! And often, we are unaware of the miscommunication. And this is where the technique of observing our own communication process can be absolutely invaluable! We might intend to communicate the message “I am listening,” or “I care,” or “I want to understand you.” Yet our body language, gestures, reactions, silence, or attitude might actually be sending out the message that “I am not listening,” or “I don’t care,” or “I have no intention of trying to understand you.”
As I ponder Mr. Branson’s quote again…“Communication; the thing humans forgot when we invented words” it acts as a gentle reminder to me that communication is much more than words…. lest we forget how powerful is our ability to communicate–indeed to connect! to bond! to repair! to relate!—beyond words.
I’m listening…. and I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Reflecting upon your own experiences with nonverbal communication in the workplace, in what ways have you been successful in communicating nonverbally?
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- You can learn more about assigning percentages to portions of verbal and nonverbal communication, and how context matters by checking out this Psychology Today article.
- Loud & Clear: The True Impact of Nonverbal Communication (projecteve.com)