Have you ever walked away from a conversation or meeting with someone, not knowing exactly why you felt uncomfortable or devalued? You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know how it feels!
Without being aware of what happened, you picked up on the other person’s nonverbal messages: the blank look, the averted gaze, the unenthusiastic tone of voice, the dismissive shrug. Hmmmm.
The person you were speaking with said all the right things, but somehow you left feeling a dismissive coldness that was convincingly covered by a facade of politeness. With nothing tangible to speak of, you decide you’re probably just being oversensitive. So the situation is overlooked and goes unaddressed.
Those negative, subtle, and seemingly small underlying messages that we’re not consciously aware of reveal our true feelings. Just because they aren’t obvious, doesn’t mean they aren’t damaging to the individual and your organization. They can cause major problems by wearing down and infecting a person’s otherwise healthy self-esteem and negatively affect their performance. They can unleash a negative virus that infects your effectiveness as a leader and undermines morale, team performance, and creativity.
Every day we respond to thousands of nonverbal cues and behaviors. From our handshakes to our hairstyles, nonverbal details reveal who we are and impact how we relate to other people. No matter what we think we’re saying, our words, gestures, and tone of voice can actually communicate something entirely different. The following tips can enhance your ability to communicate effectively.
First of all, learn to read the nonverbal signals of other people. All of these signals can convey important information that isn’t put into words. Online you’ll find a great deal of nonverbal communication information and tutorials. An excellent resource is Stephen Young’s book “Micro Messaging, Why Great Leadership is Beyond Words.”
Look for incongruent (disagreeing) behaviors. Actions speak louder than words! If someone’s words do not match their nonverbal behaviors, you should pay careful attention. When the verbal and nonverbal parts of a message send the same message, the listener believes your message.
Concentrate on your own tone of voice which conveys a wealth of information, ranging from enthusiasm to disinterest to anger. Start noticing how your tone of voice affects how others respond to you.
Use good eye contact. When people fail to look others in the eye, it can seem as if they are evading or trying to hide something. On the other hand, too much eye contact can seem confrontational or intimidating.
If you are confused about another person’s nonverbal signals, don’t be afraid to ask questions. A good idea is to repeat back your interpretation of what has been said and ask for clarification. An example of this might be, “So what you are saying is…”
Practice. By noticing nonverbal behavior and practicing your own skills, you can dramatically improve your communication abilities.