Nonverbal communication sometimes says it all

Communication is a common word and a common interaction that begins to develop at birth. As infants, we quickly learn to communicate throughout the early stages of life; crying to communicate a need, motioning to convey we are finished with our food and pointing to things we want or places we want to go.

As we age, communication becomes much more complex. No longer are we simply communicating with our parents, family or caretakers but we also have a need to communicate to the world to maintain both our personal and professional relationships.

Communication is an essential part of everyday life. We use it to maintain relationships, to persuade people to act in a certain way or simply to express information to someone else. We use it in school, at work, at home and in maintaining outside friendships. We use it in the grocery store, on public transportation, in restaurants and the list can go on.

Today, we communicate with many different avenues: face-to-face, phone calls, texts, books, letters, Facebook messages and comments, emails, snaps, tweets and pictures. However, most of these communicative avenues do not allow for nonverbal interpretation.

Albert Mehrabian, a professor of psychology at UCLA, conducted a study in the 1970s where he suggested that communication is 55 percent body language, 38 percent tone of voice and only 7 percent actual spoken words. His research has been repeated in lectures and books around the world and, while the exact percentages are debatable, it serves as a good reminder that communication is far more than the words you speak. Our words are brought alive in meaning by both our body language and the tone we speak with.

This nonverbal communication often gets lost when we send an email to our boss or a text to our friend. Because of this, it is important to be sensitive to this topic when both sending messages and receiving them.

An email may read rather abrupt and critical on a screen but would it if we had been directly in front of that person when receiving the message? Would inflection in our voice have changed the perceptual meaning intended? Consider this next time you draft a new email at work or are surprised by a response you receive.

Face-to-face communication can be just as challenging as we no longer have a screen between us and the other person. This can leave some people feeling vulnerable, shy or timid and that’s OK!

Recognizing that we feel like this is the first step in developing better communication skills. In fact, sometimes being a good communicator means becoming better at actively listening to others, not necessarily speaking more.

Listening and being able to decipher the true meaning behind someone’s words can help alleviate some of our uncertainty behind communicating our own thoughts because we have a better idea of how the other person feels about the topic and perhaps what their reaction to our message will be.

These assumptions, even if they are incorrect, can help ease the vulnerability we may feel. Asking open-ended questions and actively listening can provide great insight into other’s opinions on a topic.

A good communicator is direct, speaks clearly and confidently while showing respect to others and their views. Practice is key in perfecting these communication skills. Being intentional about how we communicate and interact with others can help us create positive change in our daily relationships.

While some of these interactive characteristics may seem rather easy or some even unconsciously natural, by taking a survey of how we communicate with others, we can recognize our weaknesses and take steps to become better communicators.

For some it may be a tone of voice that we mistakenly insert into a conversation or lack thereof. For others, it may be a lack of clarity in our words and body language. For example, a greeting could be interpreted as rather cold if a handshake, kiss or other cultural greeting does not follow it.

While these are not new ideas, it is important to step back and analyze the anatomy of good communication so we can be intentional about how we interact and be reminded that communication is much more than speaking words.

Nonverbal cues are just as, if not more important, and the avenues in which we communicate could be affecting the translation of our messages.


Logan Roche is with Hale Opio Kauai, Inc.


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