Nonverbal Communication: Noticing Cues
Posted by Anni M.
When we think of the word communication, the first thing that comes to mind is language. Indeed, language is the most precise communication tool we have but it’s only one of the many ways we communicate. Nonverbal communication is just as important, though it only manifests itself in-person. In fact, nonverbal cues can often tell us more than words alone, and the information we glean can be more direct and personal than heavily curated speech. Learning to detect and interpret nonverbal cues is a difficult skill to master for those who don’t understand it intuitively. Autistic children, for example, classically struggle with noticing nonverbal cues. However, a little extra attention to facial expressions and body language can help build a nonverbal awareness that will improve your interpersonal communication skills considerably.
Notice Incongruent Physical Behaviors
Nonverbal cues are often most telling when they contradict a person’s words. Most of us are unable to control our body language. Our posture and facial expressions often betray our inner emotions, even when we try our best to put on a brave face. For example, a coworker may say she is happy about a new assignment, but her downward cast eyes and hunched shoulders tell a different story.
Listen for Tone
Though it is auditory, tone of voice is another nonverbal cue. I have particular trouble controlling my tone. When I’m stressed, my voice gets tinnier and thin. I talk faster and with more insistence. When I’m sad, my voice loses its lilt. I’m more monotone and dull even when I try to inject enthusiasm into my words. Listening carefully for changes in tone can tell you a lot about the inner emotional world of a coworker. It helps if you know the person reasonably well to begin with. If you don’t, it may be difficult to tell the difference between a typical tone and an affect.
Make Eye Contact
Making eye contact is very important, but too much eye contact can be creepy and off-putting. Experts recommend about five seconds of sustained contact at a time. This amount demonstrates your attentiveness and assertiveness without making you seem overly aggressive or intense.
Context is always a very important factor in communication. This goes for nonverbal cues too. In some contexts, overly formal or stiff postures are expected, while in more relaxed settings a stiff posture may suggest stress or dissatisfaction. Always take your nonverbal cues as a whole and consider them as a part of the whole.
As a Creative Communications Strategist, Victoria is known for her electrifying Keynote Performances™ and the transformational workshops and coaching sessions she creates for elite executives, high performing teams, thought leaders and entrepreneurs..