Non-Verbal Communication Tips

by mulberry

Did you know that nearly 75% of what we communicate is done through non-verbal means? Here you can begin the process of learning the basics of better non-verbal communication.

Why is Non-Verbal Communication Important?

Non-verbal communication generally includes any behavior that communicates messages or meaning other than words. Among many things, it includes facial expressions, body movements, posture, gestures, and other sounds that are not words. Non-verbal communication sends very strong messages and is often said to cancel verbal messages. In other words, actions may indeed speak louder than words!

Estimates indicate that non-verbal communication makes up between 78% and 93% of all communication between people. One estimate indicates that 38% of a message is communicated via the voice and other sounds, 55% by gestures and body language, and only 7% by words.

Just as languages differ between societies, so does non-verbal communication. The meaning of some gestures and body language can vary from one place, or one culture, to another. Those who strive to understand it and to use it effectively must keep this in mind.

Before discussing a few non-verbal communications tips, let's first establish exactly what non-verbal communication is.

Non-Verbal, Vocal Communication

As a child, you may have been told to "watch the tone of your voice", or that "it's not what you said, but how you said it" that got you into trouble. Probably, the idea that your voice alone communicates messages, is not new to you. The speed at which you talk, your rhythm, the pitch of your voice, the loudness, and where you place the stress within a sentence, can all vary the meaning of a statement greatly

For instance, if I say "I didn't say that", the meaning would vary based on which word I stress.

I didn't say that. (this might mean I didn't say it, but someone did)

I didn't say that. (this might mean I didn't say it but I thought it)

I didn't say that.(this might mean I didn't say that, but I did say something else.)

Our message is also influenced by other sounds or pauses we might make. For instance, a big sigh before speaking this statement will communicate exasperation or impatience possibly. Laughter, "growling", and other sounds are also important in communicating meaning.

The pitch and intonation of your voice also communicates information. Think of times when you have talked to a very small child or even a pet. They know immediately whether or not they are in trouble, even if the words mean nothing to them, just by the "tone" of your voice and loudness. Our use of pitch and intonation can vary the meaning of words such as the difference between the following statements:

"You are going with us." (this indicates a command)

"You are going with us?" (with the rising pitch, it is a question)

How a listener will perceive your message will be vastly different between these two statements.

Gestures and Body Language

Facial expressions can be powerful communicators as well. Smiling, frowning, and rolling the eyes are examples. Imagine the difference in the message communicated when you state "Hey, you did a great job with that" and you roll your eyes, versus the message communicated when you state the same thing while smiling. The listener will understand the difference between sarcasm and genuine praise.

Other forms of body language which influence meaning include such things as turning away from someone, dozing off, closing your eyes, standing further away, standing closer, waving, pointing, strumming your fingers on the table, resting your head in your hand while talking/listening, etc. These actions can signal the difference between interest and disinterest, patience and impatience, attending and ignoring, defensiveness and openess, agressiveness and passiveness, and so forth.

These may seem like small nuances, but if you remember that communication isn't just about what you say, then you will do a better job of communicating what you mean.

Tips for Better Non-Verbal Communication

Just the Basics for Beginners

Most non-verbal communcation is automatic and the individual is not even aware that they are communicating in this way. For this reason, we need to be more conscious of our non-verbal behaviors to assure we communicate what we intend. Additionally, we need to become aware of the non-verbal communication of others to assure we "read" them correctly.

Here are a few tips for interpreting and communicating nonverbal messages, remember however, that non-verbal signals vary among cultures:

  • Listen. This means working to understand what the speaker is saying and asking them to clarify things when you are in doubt as to their meaning. This can help to avoid misinterpretation of both verbal and non-verbal messages.
  • Maintain eye contact. Eye contact, or lack of it, is a strong non-verbal indication of your level of interest, honesty, sincerity, and even confidence.
  • Watch the other person's non-verbal communication. You can sense when they are becoming defensive and adjust what you are doing. Leaning or turning away, looking away, and arm crossing generally indicate you're losing a listener. You can see when you've talked too long or offended them.
  • Uncrossing your arms/legs, raising your eyebrows, rubbing your chin, and leaning forward are all ways of showing interest to a listener.
  • Occasionally, a light touch on the arm if things aren't heated can establish a positive interaction.
  • Nodding your head can encourage someone to continue speaking and/or can indicate things you agree upon. Of course, it shouldn't be excessive.
  • Modulating your voice to keep volume down and to assure things don't sound accusatory can help in preventing an escalation.
  • If you have an appointment to discuss something important, don't keep them waiting. Being late demonstrates disrespect and increases anger. Acknowledge and apologize for your lateness.
  • In general, avoid pointing directly at someone. It is often interpreted as aggression.
  • Use gestures, especially gesturing with the palms up, as it indicates openess or a relaxed state.
  • Sitting while facing someone is non-threatening and open. Standing and crossing your arms is more aggressive. Sitting sideways to the person is like a "cold shoulder".
  • Speak more slowly when communicating longer, more complicated messages.
  • When the person speaking appears distressed, emotional…allow them more time to communicate. A period of silence can be helpful.
  • If someone's words don't match their non-verbal communication, generally "go with" the non-verbal message.
  • Avoid any distracting habitual non-verbal behaviors like excessive throat clearing, yawning, and sighing.
  • When a listener uses self-touching it often indicates anxiety and rubbing their face in particular can sometimes indicate stress.

Some of the materials below will offer more extensive information and additional non-verbal communication tips.

Nonverbal Communication in Human Interaction

An introductory text designed for courses on Nonverbal Communication.

$227.95  $14.96
The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work (Bk Business)

The workplace is a "blink" world. Studies show we form opinions of one another within 7 seconds of meeting, and that 93% of the message people receive from us has nothing to ...

$21.95  $2.99
What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People

Read this book and send your nonverbal intelligence soaring. Joe Navarro, a former FBI counterintelligence officer and a recognized expert on nonverbal behavior, explains how ...

$19.99  $7.80
You Don't Say: Navigating Nonverbal Communication Between the Sexes

More than words, it's nonverbal cues that have the power to improve-or impair-our interactions with the opposite sex at home and in the workplace. In fact, 90% of ...

$15.95  $7.73
Updated: 11/15/2011, mulberry
 
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Richard on 07/11/2013

Hi. The percentages you quote for the amount of communication being non-verbal are common on the internet and various self help books. Do you have a source for these figures? Many books seem to just repeat the figures from another book. Has there beeen any study to show these figures are correct?

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