Non-verbal communication – how to make it work for you
Our face has a language all of its own. So has our body. We communicate not just with our voice; the tones, phrases and language we use, but with non-verbal communication as well … it’s called body language!
The subtle nods, shifts in position, hand gestures, facial expressions and other body movements make up a complex melting-pot of messages that confirm what we want to say and authenticate our feelings towards the person we are talking or listening to. The problem is that those non-verbal signs, whether automated or contrived, can give out the wrong message completely and so exacerbate an already tense situation. Carried out with some thought, and maybe even a little practice, positive body language can be a useful instrument in your communication toolbox.
Positive Non-Verbal Communication
In a face-to-face situation, particularly a heated one, the words and phrases used aren’t the only elements needed to create a calming effect. The extra information, which comes from non-verbal communication, can often either make or break the outcome.
Think about these following aspects of positive body language and their effects.
- Uncross your arms. A crossed arms posture can show contempt, act as a barrier or show disinterest.
- Relax, but not too much. Keeping a straight back but relaxing the shoulders shows attentiveness and stifles the raised shoulders of feeling tense. Relaxing too much and slouching might indicate disinterest.
- Maintain eye-contact. This shows interest and is a sign of respect. Blink and look away momentarily (to prevent staring) but look at the person speaking as much as possible without it becoming uncomfortable.
- Make relaxed movements. When we are feeling alarmed or confronted we can often make fast and jerky movements with our hands and body. If we are relaxed our body tends to relax. Try to keep your body relaxed even though you might not be feeling calm.
- Signal non-aggression. Generally ‘squaring’ up to someone can signal aggression. By standing slightly side on and using open hand gestures you are signalling non-aggression. Just because you might not be an aggressive person does not mean that you would not be signalling aggression.
- Get the distance right. Whether sitting or standing it’s important to be close enough to show a willingness to engage, but not so far that you become out of touch. A position of around four feet or so from the other person shouldn’t occupy their personal space and should feel comfortable for both.
- Smile and nod. The occasional smile shows an air of warmth but it should not be false. It may only need to be for a second, but it should be genuine. An accompanying nod affirms the smile and can infer agreement.
Positive body language can come naturally!
Learning the basics and practicing them regularly will help to naturally integrate them into the way you communicate. When difficult situations arise, these basics will instinctively shine through.