Nonverbal communication is just as important — if not more important — than verbal communication. Sometimes we focus so much on what we are saying or what’s being said, we don’t think of the nonverbal ways we are communicating.
There are common types of nonverbal communication, including body movement, voice quality, space and territory. Interestingly enough, people tend to focus more on negative nonverbal communication than what is actually being said.
With that being said, we should make sure we are displaying positive nonverbal communication when we can. Here are three simple ways you can improve your nonverbal communication.
1. Body movements include using gestures to illustrate the message you are trying to convey verbally.
For example, you don’t want to send mixed messages by mismatched expressions. I once engaged in a conversation with a client where she verbally expressed remorse and sincerity in her tone for hurting someone, but she smiled the entire conversation.
Avoiding eye contact also is viewed as a poor nonverbal gesture. It can be interpreted as disinterest or dishonesty. Bad posture or slouching while someone is talking can be viewed as disinterest or that the speaker’s words are not important. Pointing fingers often is perceived as an aggressive, threatening behavior. Fidgeting may give off signals of nervous energy and a lack of confidence.
What I like to call the “bobblehead syndrome,” in which the listener continuously nods, could be viewed as rushing the speaker and an overall disinterest. After all, if you are nodding to everything, are you really just that much in agreement with everything? Shifting eyes may be a sign of uncertainty or lack of honest.
2. Voice quality also is important.
We should strive to remember that it’s not always what we say, but how we say it. In a working environment I can tell my supervisor, “I feel that you are not being helpful” and it can be taken several different ways. Again, it’s not what is being said, but how it is said. Be careful of your tone when you speak. It has the power to take a simple sentence meant with no ill intent and turn it into a chaotic mess.
We also want to consider the volume at which we speak. Take note if you are raising your voice in anger or frustration. A raised voice can be perceived not only as disrespectful, but also a threat even if we mean nothing by it.
3. Space and territorial boundaries are especially important in nonverbal communication.
In order to communicate effectively, we have to be aware of our space as well as the space of others. I can recall engaging in a conversation with a co-worker who had no concept of this idea. Communicating with her looked like a scene from a “Saturday Night Live” sketch. We would literally start in one area of the room and as she moved closer, I moved farther away. This would go on until eventually I was up against a wall with nowhere to go.
I finally had to inform her that her lack of respect for personal space was bothersome. I realized I often missed a lot of what she was verbally trying to convey because my goal was to get her out of my personal space. Once this issue was addressed, we were able to communicate more effectively. Be aware of how others feel about their space. It is also equally important to be culturally competent and to know what is accepted in different cultures.
When we are able to improve our nonverbal communication, it enhances our verbal communication. It allows us to communicate more effectively whether we are the speaker or the listener and creates a better way of communicating for all.