Have you ever walked away from a person, event or situation and felt confused, and the experience made you feel uncomfortable and uncertain? You are not alone. Most likely, the subconscious cues—the nonverbals you saw—didn’t match what you heard. So what to believe, your eyes or your ears?

If you are like most people, you believed your eyes. Words are only a small part of communication. The most influential part of communication is your nonverbals, so it is important to understand what messages your nonverbals are sending.

Nonverbal communication is more than your body language, it is also what you do with your voice, breathing, listening and even how you interact with the environment you are in. Your nonverbals often destroy or produce the results you want, such as inspiring employees to do better work, calming angry customers, creating fans in the marketplace, and closing sales or not.

Your individual success depends on what you do to prepare yourself for interactions with others. Developing an understanding of nonverbal communication allows you to choose from a wide range of actions. The benefits of choosing your nonverbal communication are clear:

* To support what you are saying by complementing or adding to your verbal message. A manager with a palm up gesture is far more effective when complimenting an employee than one with a palm down gesture, since palm up matches the message Good job!

* To reinforce the verbal, use a visual aid to support the message. Oftentimes a message needs to be repeated if it’s delivered only with words. If you use gestures, handouts, flip charts, or other visual aids to support your message, the listener is not dependent on you alone for the message. Visual reminders allow listeners to process the information at their own speed.

* To emphasize or stress the importance of what is being said, either positively or negatively. A jump for joy or high-five will bring a different response than a foot stomp or eye-rolling.

Have you ever bought something you really didn’t need—or hadn’t intended to purchase—and later wondered why did I buy that? Most likely, it was because the salesperson saw nonverbal behaviors that let them know you were intrigued. The salesperson was looking for cues such as:

* One or both eyebrows raised.
* An upturn in the mouth.
* A slight sideways tip of the head.
* A lean in toward them (the salesperson) or the object of your desire.
* An audible umm.

As more of these nonverbal signals form a pattern, the salesperson knew with a high degree of certainty that with just a few more of the right words: Bingo, they had a sale. They read you like a book.

On the other hand, nonverbal communication that contradicts your words can burden the listener with the task of sorting out mixed messages. Consider the statement “I’m fine” from someone whose nonverbals are shallow breathing, clenched jaw, narrowing of the eyes, and a dropped chin. These all lead the listener to believe the speaker is indeed not fine.

We all know that communication is necessary to keep our personal connections strong and healthy. Recognize and remember that people communicate on many levels. Be aware of your own and observe others’ facial expressions, eye contact, posture, hand and feet positioning, torso movement, and even how close or far away they are when they communicate. You want to use your nonverbals for communicating your feelings and what you’re thinking by knowing:

* The positive intention of your message.
* The desired outcome.
* The content or what you want to say.
* The context of your message.

Depending on context, people might also send mixed messages when the nonverbal is the only communication. For example, you notice an interaction between a mother and young child. The mother has a raised eyebrow, direct eye contact with the child, a tip of the head, and a slight lean of the body toward the child. The mother is sending a message of delight or surprise. In a different context, the same set of behaviors could be sending the message, No, don’t do that.

When everybody is on the same page, what we say can be a complete success. We all feel good about the interaction and achieving our goals. Other times, it can end in total disaster with hurt feelings, confusion, anger, and, worse yet, tears or ruined relationships. If positive relationship-based communication is to be at the heart of what we say, then we must realize that being a trusted, influential communicator requires a shift in thinking about how we view our verbal and nonverbal messages.

Consider this scenario: Once again, Amy was bent over her computer finishing the report that both she and Dick were supposed to give to the board of directors tomorrow. Dick had promised to finish it up, but instead said he had to do research. To Amy, the research looked like just playing around on the Internet. From his cubicle Dick yelled, “Hey, I’m hungry. What about getting something to eat? It sure would make it easier to finish up the report.” The words had barely left his mouth before Amy was screaming, “This is your report too, why don’t you ever work on it? And while you’re at it, you go get the food for a change!” Dick was dumbfounded. “It was just a suggestion,” he said. It probably was, but consider what Amy heard and didn’t see. Dick was yelling to be heard across the cubicles. What Amy heard was Dick shouting and issuing a command. What she didn’t see was that Dick’s palm was turned up in a seeking gesture, his head was slightly tipped to the side, and he was smiling.

Too often the message heard differs from the message sent, especially when emotions are involved. How each person perceives the context of the message, the emotional state of both the listener and the speaker, and each person’s intentions change the perception of the “rightness” or the “wrongness” of what is being said. As the example shows, both the speaker and the listener have their own unique filters that delete, distort, and generalize what was said and heard. Accepting that the original message may not have been received in the way it was intended is essential to keeping the lines of communication flowing, and to understanding intentional gestures and nonverbal influence.

Author's Bio: 

Sharon Sayler, MBA, is a Communications Success Strategist who trains professionals on how to become stronger, more influential communicators and leaders. She teaches people how to communicate with confidence and clarity by matching their body language to what their mouth is saying. Sharon's new book What Your Body Says (and how to master the message) teaches business leaders and communicators how to make their body match what their mouth is saying. www.WhatYourBodySays.com

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