Us humans are neurobiologically wired for connection with others. Effectively connecting with those around us helps our overall mental health and well being: having a secure social support system can actually improve mental health and also act as a defense against anxiety. Feelings of loneliness or overwhelm could be reduced just by reaching out for the supportive presence of another person.
Nowadays, we have so many different channels through which we can “communicate” or “connect” with other people without actually being in their company: telephone, cell phone, email, texting, instant messaging, Skype, SnapChat, Instagram, etc.; each of these undoubtedly provide convenient and accessible ways of immediately connecting with others, at a cost though: being unable to connect and communicate with and without words at the same time.
Even though it might seem simple or like second nature, communication is quite an intricate skill that all of us need to practice and use wisely so that our relationships with others and with ourselves stand on firm and respectful foundations. In the same way that we had to learn how and when to use emojees appropriately in online communications, learning to use different styles of communication that set and maintain the tone of conversations is crucial.
Rather than trying to confront all of the different parts of effective communication all at once, I propose that we approach this skill in a systematic way: learning about non verbal forms of communication (in this article), then about distinct styles of communicating (Communication Part 2). Helpful techniques and ways to practice appropriately communicating will be explored in both articles. Let’s get started!
Whether it is through physical gestures, facial expressions, physical distance, or body language, many messages are both sent and received via non-verbal forms of communication. Because all communication patterns are so unique, it is not reasonable to try to generalize an estimated percentage of exactly how much communication is verbal relative to non-verbal in every interaction; however, it can rightly be said that actions speak louder than words.
Through body language, it is evident when what is said does or does not correspond with underlying beliefs, attitudes, or confidence/honesty levels. Perhaps eye contact is avoided or a person gets fidgety when dishonest comments are made or physical distance increases and arms/legs are crossed when nervousness is present. There are countless different ways even the slightest action or gesture can get mismatched with words expressed out loud; the commonality in such cases is that the message sent does not adequately or accurately transmit all of what the sender intends. Compare this to what happens when AutoCorrect inserts a similarly spelled word that means something other than what you really want to include or send in your message and contrasts with the tone of the ongoing conversation. Confusion, frustration, and misunderstandings characterize such exchanges. Sadly, such scenarios are not at all uncommon.
Getting comfortable and familiar with your nonverbal behaviour/body language is a first step to increasing your awareness of how your body language speaks and if this is consistent with what you verbally say; adjusting it and knowing what to watch out for comes from frequent practice. Awareness of your own body language and nonverbal behaviours are skills that can be learned and practiced either on your own and/or with a supportive partner. Here are some tips for working on and practicing non verbal forms of communication and increasing attentiveness to what you are “saying” in any given exchange:
- Notice your posture during communications: Are you sitting or standing? Do you slouch or is your posture straight? Is your head held high or drooping? Are your hands clenched or relaxed?
- Notice what you feel emotionally as well as what you feel physically in your body.
- What is your gut saying to you? Do you notice an inconsistency between what you want/need to say and what your body language is saying?
- Notice the tone and volume/pitch/speed of your voice.
- Do you make or avoid eye contact? What is your gaze like? A cold and piercing stare? Downcast eyes? A friendly and open gaze?
- Do you smile, smirk, frown or try to suppress your facial expression?
- Are your arms/legs crossed? Are your hands on your hips or hanging loosely at your sides?
- How/where are you sitting/standing relative to those with whom you communicate?
- Are you sitting/standing still or moving around/fidgeting?
- Be mindful your presence (ie notice, with all of your senses what is going on inside and around you).
Here are some other tips for practicing effective communication:
- Stand in front of a mirror so you can see if your facial expressions and body language are consistent with what you want to say.
- Record your voice saying what you want to say. Does the sound of your voice match with what you intend to say?
- Practice/rehearse communicating with a good friend or partner. Ask for their honest feedback.
- Keep a journal of what has worked for you/your successes as well as what you would like to or need to work on or practice more.
Moving With the Beat of Your Own Drum
Often, when two or more different songs play at the same time, the sound produced is not overly pleasant; it might be best described as disruptive and clamorous noise! When the words that come from the mouth are in opposition to what the body is saying, a similar kind of confusion ensues. Both “voices” can get pretty loud and their beats could clash…
Getting more familiar and in tune with these two forms of communication can be quite interesting: you could learn or discover a lot about yourself and what you say without saying a single word! It is inevitable that a mismatch between what is said verbally and nonverbally will happen every now and again and that is completely fine! We’re human and we are all fallible. We also all have the option to tune into our verbal and non verbal instruments so the melodies are in harmony; so that we say what we mean and mean what we say.