01 Jun 2015 21:01 IST

Are you expressing more nonverbally?

It’s a critical form of communication that reveals true emotions and intentions

The base for any successful relationship, whether personal or professional, is good communication. Although, if we actually pay attention to how we communicate, we will find that majority of the time it is much more than words, they are nonverbal cues. The ability to comprehend and use nonverbal communication, or body language, is a influential tool that can help us connect with others, express what we really mean, find our way out of challenging situations, and build better relationships.

Unconscious but natural

Nonverbal communication is a critical form of communication, unconsciously done, but a natural way that reveals our true emotions and intentions. It also provides insight into the feelings and intentions of those around us. A blink of the eye, a shrug of the shoulder, a clench of the fist, a frown, tap of the foot, a raise of the eyebrows, the speed or loudness of voice, the eye contact or lack of it – all these nonverbal behaviours send strong messages and they cease to stop even when we stop speaking. In fact, even in our silence, we are still communicating nonverbally.

Nonverbal communication cannot be imitated. One must have come across several pieces of advice, such as those on how to sit, how to walk or shake hands in order to appear confident, convincing or assertive. However, unless one feels truly confident and in charge from within, it won’t work, one can’t fake this. One cannot have complete control over nonverbal cues, he/she is constantly, but unknowingly, sending off signals about what he/she is really thinking and feeling. And the harder one tries, the more odd the gestures are likely to come across.

There are many different types of nonverbal communication.

The face, for instance, is the most expressive part of the body, which, without saying a word can express countless emotions. People often form an opinion about others based on their perception by observing the way they sit, walk, stand up, or hold their head. The way one moves and carries oneself communicates a wealth of information to the world. Likewise, we communicate a great deal through touch. A firm handshake, a hesitant tap on the shoulder, a bear hug, a supportive pat on the back, a kiss on the forehead, or a controlling grip of the arm – all these actions convey several things to the receiver. This can be perceived in different ways, by different people depending upon their past experiences.

We all have come across situations where we felt uncomfortable during a conversation because the other person was standing in close proximity and in a way trying to invade our space. We all have a need for physical space, although, that need differs depending on the culture, the situation, and the closeness of the relationship. You can use physical space to communicate many different nonverbal messages, including signals of intimacy, aggression, dominance, or affection.

Saying a lot without speaking

When we speak, apart from listening to our words, people “read” our voices. The content may not be all that is important, the style also matters and the things listeners pay attention to include timing and pace, volume, tone and inflection, and sounds that convey understanding. Voice, in a subtle way, can express sarcasm, anger, affection, or confidence. It’s not just what one says; but “how” one says it that is of significance.

Nonverbal communication has a huge impact on the eminence of one’s personal and professional relationships. If, during a conversation, one is planning what he/she is going to say next, daydreaming, or thinking about something else then certainly one will miss nonverbal cues and other subtleties in the conversation. In order to fully understand what’s going on, one needs to stay focused on the moment-to-moment experience.

The first and foremost things one needs to learn before reading body language and nonverbal signs are the ability to manage stress and recognise emotions. Having said that, here are a few tips for reading the nonverbal signals sent by others.

Pay attention to discrepancies. Nonverbal communication should emphasiSe what is being said. Is there a similarity between the person’s talk and his/her body language?

For example, look at nonverbal communication indicators in their entirety. Don’t be over engrossed in reading a single gesture or nonverbal cue. From eye contact to tone of voice to body language, taken together, are the nonverbal cues consistent or inconsistent and are they in sync with what the said words?

Trust your gut feeling

Don’t dismiss your gut feelings. If you get the sense that someone is not being honest or that something is not adding up, you maybe picking up on a mismatch between verbal and nonverbal cues.

Nonverbal communication is a fast flowing back-and-forth process. Successful nonverbal communication depends on one’s ability to manage anxiety, be acquainted with own emotions, and understand the signals one is sending and receiving. But unfortunately, many people send confusing nonverbal signals without even knowing it. When this happens, both relationship and conviction are damaged. Hence, pay attention, and follow these simple rules to get better at managing your nonverbal communication.


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