In every interaction we have with another person, be it online, in person, by email, or text, we are conveying a message. Some of that message is in the specific content we share or the message we want to get across, but even more of our communication is in our non-verbal cues.
Learning how to identify our non-verbal cues as either helping in providing a uniform message or detracting from the information we want to share is an important part of personal development. It is also a critical aspect of leadership and becoming an effective communicator in all areas of life.
What is Non-Verbal Communication
The best way to think of non-verbal communication is how we express ourselves without language. Think of a time when you were talking to someone and you knew immediately they were not interested in your message or they did not think you were right, even though they had not said a word. This was their non-verbal messaging shining through loud and clear.
Research has shown that the percentage of messages or information shared using non-verbal communication is about seventy to ninety percent. There are some types of non-verbal communication that are universal, while others are more cultural or situational.
Some important parts of non-verbal communication include:
- Eye contact – eye contact can be positive or negative, depending on the rest of the facial expressions. Staring is typically considered to be aggressive or hostile, while blinking and dilation of pupils is typically a sign of happiness or willingness to engage in conversation.
- Proxemics – how close or far away we stand from people sends a message. We tend to be more comfortable in close range with people we like and trust, while we step away from people who are not familiar or who are perceived as a threat.
- Tone, cadence, and pitch – the way our voice sounds is an indicator of the emotions we are feeling. Inflections in a sentence or emphasis on one word can change the meaning of the content completely.
- Haptics – touching is another form of non-verbal message. A gentle touch on the arm can signal sympathy or a request for attention, while touching can also be used to demonstrate a demand for attention or a need for power.
- Body movement and posture – sitting slightly forward and leaning into a speaker conveys interest and agreement, while leaning back and crossing the arms and legs often signals disinterest or disagreement. Other types of posture, including slouching, standing, or leaning against something, can also convey a message of disinterest or lack of focus.
Alignment of Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication
Consider how your verbal and non-verbal communication is aligned to avoid sending mixed messages. For example, if you are asking for attention but slouching back in and chair and not making eye contact, it is less likely that others will respond. Changing your posture and making eye contact makes it more likely that your words will be heard and you will get the desired response.