Communication is so much more than what we say.
In fact, most of our communication is nonverbal. When interacting with others, we respond to tone, body language, facial expressions, and volume far more than the actual words that are being said.
On the other side, our own body language and expressions say far more about what we’re thinking and feeling than our words.
Animals and young children are very tuned in to our nonverbal communication and rely on it almost exclusively to read the situation.
Here are but a few ways that we communicate nonverbally.
Types of Nonverbal Communication
A lot of us are unaware of our body language. We may feel confused or surprised when others respond to our nonverbal cues instead of our verbal cues.
Some examples of less desirable nonverbal behaviors include not facing the person who is talking, sitting with arms crossed and feet outstretched, gesticulating wildly, foot-tapping, trembling, door slamming, or standing in a dominant position over someone.
Notice if your body language is in alignment with your verbal message. If it isn’t, what’s going on? Are you showing that you are engaged by facing the person and nodding your head? Do you look threatening or threatened? What are you truly trying to communicate?
Similarly, be aware when you are interacting with someone who’s body language is out of alignment with their verbal communication. Remember that actions speak louder than words.
You communicate volumes through your facial expression. Your face lets people know if you’re engaged in the conversation, are bored, angry, sad, or not taking a person seriously. When we roll our eyes, look tuned out by keeping our face expressionless, or avoid eye contact, we are communicating in a way that is not particularly kind, loving, or respectful.
Clicking our tongue, tsking, sighing, whistling, snorting, etc. are all ways that we nonverbally express ourselves. For example, sighing might be our indirect signal that we are bored, frustrated, tired of talking, disgusted, or feeling defeated. Do you make sounds and noises when you communicate? Do you use them passive-aggressively? Just notice.
Tone of voice is one of the most influential elements of communication. We humans are excellent at differentiating tones in the human voice. Even if we’re speaking kind words, our tone can convey sarcasm, anger, pity, sadness, all kinds of emotions that might directly contradict what we’re saying.
Surprisingly, research shows that our rate of speech is even more influential than our tone. For example, when we talk a mile a minute, we are less likely to be taken seriously. Some of the information that we glean from rate of speech include things like the speaker’s comfort, knowledge, desire to connect, or desire to control an interaction.
Volume and Intensity
Are you aware of the volume and intensity of your speech? Notice if your voice is the loudest one in the room or if people are frequently asking you to speak up because they can’t hear you.
When we are angry, excited, upset, or deliriously happy we may raise the volume and/or the intensity or our speech. When we feel a lack of confidence or self-esteem, we may speak at a whisper.
How to Change
Notice the way you communicate nonverbally and any unhelpful or even destructive habits you might have developed.
Are you a chronic eye-roller? Do you tend to look at your phone during conversations? Do you
We develop most of our most negative nonverbal habits when we’re young. Because of this we may not be aware that we’re doing them or realize the negative impact they have on our relationships.
You can rest assured that those around you are aware of them, particularly because there is often an irrational, juvenile flavor to them. Pouting, door slamming, yelling, walking away, ignoring, and interrupting are just a few examples.
Once you’ve identified unwanted habits, think about what nonverbal communication patterns you want to develop instead. Because nature abhors a vacuum, it is important that you consciously replace an undesirable behavior with a more desirable one, or else you are apt to replace it with another undesirable behavior.
Think about what you are trying to achieve. What behaviors might be more in alignment with your values and intended outcome?
Perhaps begin with something small but powerful, like putting your phone down when interacting with someone. Think about how you might feel when you give your full attention to an interaction with another person. Envision how this simple shift in behavior might lead to healthier, happier relationships
Be patient with yourself, because changing habits, especially habits as deeply engrained as these, can be challenging.